The Apple That No One Ate by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay

The other evening we went to dinner with a gentleman whom it pleases our fancy to call the Caliph.

Now a Caliph, according to our notion, is a Haroun-al-Raschid kind of person; one who governs a large empire of hearts with a genial and whimsical sway; circulating secretly among his fellow-men, doing kindnesses often not even suspected by their beneficiaries. He is the sort of person of whom the trained observer may think, when he hears an unexpected kindness-grenade exploding somewhere down the line, “I’ll bet that came from the Caliph’s dugout!” A Caliph’s heart is not surrounded by barbed wire entanglements or a strip of No Man’s Land. Also, and rightly, he is stern to malefactors and fakers of all sorts.

It would have been sad if any one so un-Caliphlike as William Hohenzollern had got his eisenbahn through to Bagdad, the city sacred to the memory of a genial despot who spent his cabarabian nights in an excellent fashion. That, however, has nothing to do with the story.

Mr. and Mrs. Caliph are people so delightful that they leave in one’s mind a warm afterglow of benevolent sociability. They have an infinite interest and curiosity in the hubbub of human moods and crotchets that surrounds us all. And when one leaves their doorsill one has a genial momentum of the spirit that carries one on rapidly and cheerfully. One has an irresistible impulse to give something away, to stroke the noses of horses, to write a kind letter to the fuel administrator or do almost anything gentle and gratuitous. The Caliphs of the world don’t know it, but that is the effect they produce on their subjects.

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As we left, Mr. and Mrs. Caliph pressed upon us an apple. One of those gorgeous apples that seem to grow wrapped up in tissue paper, and are displayed behind plate glass windows. A huge apple, tinted with gold and crimson and pale yellow shading off to pink. The kind of apple whose colors are overlaid with a curious mist until you polish it on your coat, when it gleams like a decanter of claret. An apple so large and weighty that if it had dropped on Sir Isaac Newton it would have fractured his skull. The kind of apple that would have made the garden of Eden safe for democracy, because it is so beautiful no one would have thought of eating it.

That was the kind of apple the Caliph gave us.

It was a cold night, and we walked down Chestnut street dangling that apple, rubbing it on our sleeve, throwing it up and down and catching it again. We stopped at a cigar store to buy some pipe tobacco. Still running on Caliph, by which we mean still beguiled by his geniality, we fell into talk with the tobacconist. “That’s a fine apple you have there,” said he. For an instant we thought of giving it to him, but then we reflected that a man whose days are spent surrounded by rich cigars and smokables is dangerously felicitous already, and a sudden joy might blast his blood vessels.

The shining of the street lamps was reflected on the polished skin of our fruit as we went our way. As we held it in our arms it glowed like a huge ruby. We passed a blind man selling pencils, and thought of giving it to him. Then we reflected that a blind man would lose half the pleasure of the adventure because he couldn’t see the colors. We bought a pencil instead. Still running on Caliph, you see.

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In our excitement we did what we always do in moments of stress–went into a restaurant and ordered a piece of hot mince pie. Then we remembered that we had just dined. Never mind, we sat there and contemplated the apple as it lay ruddily on the white porcelain tabletop. Should we give it to the waitress? No, because apples were a commonplace to her. The window of the restaurant held a great pyramid of beauties. To her, an apple was merely something to be eaten, instead of the symbol of a grand escapade. Instead, we gave her a little medallion of a buffalo that happened to be in our pocket.

Already the best possible destination for that apple had come to our mind. Hastening zealously up a long flight of stairs in a certain large building we went to a corner where sits a friend of ours, a night watchman. Under a drop light he sits through long and tedious hours, beguiling his vigil with a book. He is a great reader. He eats books alive. Lately he has become much absorbed in Saint Francis of Assisi, and was deep in the “Little Flowers” when we found him.

“We’ve brought you something,” we said, and held the apple where the electric light brought out all its brilliance.

He was delighted and his gentle elderly face shone with awe at the amazing vividness of the fruit.

“I tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “That apple’s much too fine for me. I’ll take it home to the wife.”

Of course his wife will say the same thing. She will be embarrassed by the surpassing splendor of that apple and will give it to some friend of hers whom she thinks more worthy than herself. And that friend will give it to some one else, and so it will go rolling on down the ages, passing from hand to hand, conferring delight, and never getting eaten. Ultimately some one, trying to think of a recipient really worthy of its deliciousness, will give it to Mr. and Mrs. Caliph. And they, blessed innocents, will innocently exclaim, “Why we never saw such a magnificent apple in all our lives.”

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And it will be true, for by that time the apple will gleam with an unearthly brightness, enhanced and burnished by all the kind thoughts that have surrounded it for so long.

As we walked homeward under a frosty sparkle of sky we mused upon all the different kinds of apples we have encountered. There are big glossy green apples and bright red apples and yellow apples and also that particularly delicious kind (whose name we forget) that is the palest possible cream color–almost white. We have seen apples of strange shapes, something like a pear (sheepnoses, they call them), and the Maiden Blush apples with their delicate shading of yellow and debutante pink. And what a poetry in the names–Winesap, Pippin, Northern Spy, Baldwin, Ben Davis, York Imperial, Wolf River, Jonathan, Smokehouse, Summer Rambo, Rome Beauty, Golden Grimes, Shenango Strawberry, Benoni!

We suppose there is hardly a man who has not an apple orchard tucked away in his heart somewhere. There must be some deep reason for the old suspicion that the Garden of Eden was an apple orchard. Why is it that a man can sleep and smoke better under an apple tree than in any other kind of shade? Sir Isaac Newton was a wise man, and he chose an apple tree to sit beneath. (We have often wondered, by the way, how it is that no one has ever named an apple the Woolsthorpe after Newton’s home in Lincolnshire, where the famous apple incident occurred.)

An apple orchard, if it is to fill the heart of man to the full with affectionate satisfaction, should straggle down a hillside toward a lake and a white road where the sun shines hotly. Some of its branches should trail over an old, lichened and weather-stained stone wall, dropping their fruit into the highway for thirsty pedestrians. There should be a little path running athwart it, down toward the lake and the old flat-bottomed boat, whose bilge is scattered with the black and shriveled remains of angleworms used for bait. In warm August afternoons the sweet savor of ripening drifts warmly on the air, and there rises the drowsy hum of wasps exploring the windfalls that are already rotting on the grass. There you may lie watching the sky through the chinks of the leaves, and imagining the cool, golden tang of this autumn’s cider vats.

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You see what it is to have Caliphs in the world.

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