OLD JOHNNY APPLESEED
By Elizabeth Harrison
Many years ago on the sparsely settled prairies of America
there lived an old man who was known by the queer name of "Johnny
Appleseed" His wife had died long ago and his children had grown
up and scattered to the corners of the earth. He had not even a
home that he could call his own, but wandered about from place to
place, with only a few friends and little or no money. His face was
wrinkled, his hair was thin and grey, and his shoulders stooped.
His clothes were old and ragged and his hat was old and shabby.
Yet inside of him was a heart that was brave and true, and he felt
that even he, old and poor as he was, could be of use in the world,
because he loved his fellow-men, and love always finds something
As he trudged along the lonely road from town to town, or made for
himself a path through the unbroken forest, he often thought of
the good God, and of how all men were children of the One Father.
Sometimes he would burst out singing the words of a song which he
had learned when he was a young man.
"Millions loving, I embrace you,
All the world this kiss I send!
Brothers, o'er yon starry tent
Dwells a God whose love is true!"
These words, by the way, are a part of a great poem you may some
day read. And they once so stirred the heart of a great musician
that he set them to the finest music the world has ever heard.
And now the great thought of a loving God and the great music of
a loving man comforted the lonely traveller.
The old man wandered about from village to village, which in those
days were scattered far apart, with miles and miles of prairie land
stretching between them, and sometimes woodland and rivers, too,
separated one village from the next. At night he usually earned his
crust of bread and lodgings by mending the teakettle or wash-boiler
of some farmer's wife, or by soldering on the handle of her tin
cup or the knob to her tea-pot, as he always carried in one of his
coat pockets a small charcoal stove and a bit of solder. He always
carried under his arm or over his shoulder a green baize bag, and
when the mending was done he would oftentimes draw out of this
green bag an old violin and begin to play, and the farmer, as well
as his wife and the children, would gather around him and listen
to his strange music.
Sometimes it was gay and sometimes it was sad, but always sweet.
Sometimes he sang words that he himself had written, and sometimes
the songs which had been written by the great masters. But mending
broken tinware and playing an old violin were not the only things
he did to help the world along. As he wandered from place to place
he often noticed how rich the soil was, and he would say to himself,
"Some day this will be a great country with thousands of people
living on this land, and though I shall never see them, they may
never read my verses or hear my name, still I can help them, and
add some things to their lives."
So whenever a farmer's wife gave him an apple to eat he carefully
saved every seed that lay hidden in the heart of the apple, and
next day as he trudged along he would stoop down every now and then
and plant a few of the seeds and then carefully cover them with the
rich black soil of the prairie. Then he would look up reverently
to the sky and say, "I can but plant the seed, dear Lord, and Thy
clouds may water them, but Thou alone can give the increase. Thou
only can cause this tiny seed to grow into a tree whose fruit
shall feed my fellow-men." Then the God-like love that would fill
his heart at such a thought would cause his face to look young
again, and his eyes to shine as an angel's eyes must shine, and
oftentimes he would sing in clear rich tonesó
††"Millions loving, I embrace you,
††All the world this kiss I send!
††Brothers, o'er yon starry tent
††Dwells a God whose love is true!"
And he knew that God dwelt in his heart as well as in the blue sky
When the cold winters came and the ground was frozen too hard for
him to plant his apple seeds, he still saved them, and would often
have a small bag full of them by the time that spring returned
again. And this is how he came to be called "Old Johnny Appleseed."
Though nobody took very much notice of what he was doing, he still
continued each day to plant apple seeds and each evening to play
on his violin.
By-and-by his step grew slower and his shoulders drooped lower
until at last his soul, which had always been strong and beautiful,
passed out of his worn old body into the life beyond, and the
cast-off body was buried by some villagers who felt kindly towards
the old man, but who never dreamed that he had ever done any real
service for them or their children. And soon his very name was
forgotten. But the tiny apple seeds took root and began to grow,
and each summer the young saplings grew taller and each winter they
grew stronger, until at last they were young trees, and then they
were old enough to bear apples. As people moved from the east out
to the wild western prairies they naturally enough selected sites
for building their homes near the fruitful apple trees, and in
the springtime the young men gathered the blossoms for the young
maidens to wear in their hair, and in the autumn the fathers gathered
the ripe red and yellow apples to store away in their cellars for
winter use, and the mothers made apple sauce and apple pies and
apple dumplings of them, and all the year round the little children
played under the shade of the apple trees, but none of them ever
once thought of the old man who had planted for people he did not
know, and who could never even thank him for his loving services.
Each apple that ripened bore in its heart a number of new seeds,
some of which were planted and grew into fine orchards from which
were gathered many barrels of apples. These were shipped farther
west, until the Rocky Mountains were reached. In the centre of each
apple shipped were more seeds, from which grew more apple trees,
which bore the same kind of apples that the wrinkled old man in
the shabby old clothes had planted long years before. So that many
thousands of people have already been benefited by what the poor
old man in the shabby old coat did, and thousands yet to come will
enjoy the fruits of his labor.
It is true he never wore the armour of a great knight and never held
the title of a great general. He never discovered a new world,
nor helped his favorite to sit on the throne of a king. But perhaps
after all, though ragged and poor, he was a hero, because in his
heart he really and truly sang, as well as with his lips:
††"Millions loving, I embrace you,
†††All the world this kiss I send!
†††Brothers, o'er yon starry tent
†††Dwells a God whose love is true!"
For the greatest of all victories is to learn to love others even
when they do not know it. This is to be God-like, and to be God-like
is to be the greatest of heroes.