At the Edge of the Orchard

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9780008135294: At the Edge of the Orchard

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier
1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.
Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in "At the Edge of the Orchard," her most graceful and richly imagined work yet."

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About the Author:

Tracy Chevalier is the "New York Times" bestselling author of seven previous novels, including "Girl with a Pearl Earring," which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2016 Tracy Chevalier

BLACK SWAMP, OHIO

Spring 1838

 

They were fighting over apples again. He wanted to grow more eaters, to eat; she wanted spitters, to drink. It was an argument rehearsed so often that by now they both played their parts perfectly, their words flowing smooth and monotonous around each other since they had heard them enough times not to have to listen anymore.

What made the fight between sweet and sour different this time was not that James Goodenough was tired; he was always tired. It wore a man down, carving out a life from the Black Swamp. It was not that Sadie Goodenough was hung over; she was often hung over. The difference was that John Chapman had been with them the night before. Of all the Goodenoughs, only Sadie stayed up and listened to him talk late into the night, occasionally throwing pinecones onto the fire to make it flare. The spark in his eyes and belly and God knows where else had leapt over to her like a flame finding its true path from one curled wood shaving to another. She was always happier, sassier and surer of herself after John Chapman visited.

Tired as he was, James could not sleep while John Chapman’s voice drilled through the cabin with the persistence of a swamp mosquito. He might have managed if he had joined his children up in the attic, but he did not want to leave the bed across the room from the hearth like an open invitation. After twenty years together, he no longer lusted after Sadie as he once had, particularly since applejack had brought out her vicious side. But when John Chapman came to see the Goodenoughs, James found himself noting the heft of her breasts beneath her threadbare blue dress, and the surprise of her waist, thicker but still intact after ten children. He did not know if John Chapman noticed such things as well—for a man in his sixties, he was still lean and vigorous, despite the iron gray in his unkempt hair. James did not want to find out.

John Chapman was an apple man who paddled up and down Ohio rivers in a double canoe full of apple trees, selling them to settlers. He first appeared when the Goodenoughs were new arrivals in the Black Swamp, bringing his boatload of trees and mildly reminding them that they were expected to grow fifty fruit trees on their claim within three years if they wanted to hold on to it legally. In the law’s eyes an orchard was a clear sign of a settler’s intention to remain. James bought twenty trees on the spot.

He did not want to point a finger at John Chapman for their subsequent misfortunes, but occasionally he was reminded of this initial sale and grimaced. On offer were one-year-old seedlings or three-year-old saplings, which were three times the price of seed- lings but would produce fruit two years sooner. If he had been sensible—and he was sensible!—James would simply have bought fifty cheaper seedlings, cleared a nursery space for them and left them to grow while he methodically cleared land for an orchard whenever he had the time. But it would also have meant going five years without the taste of apples. James Goodenough did not think he could bear that loss for so long—not in the misery of the Black Swamp, with its stagnant water, its stench of rot and mold, its thick black mud that even scrubbing couldn’t get out of skin and cloth. He needed a taste to sweeten the blow of ending up here. Planting saplings meant they would have apples two years sooner. And so he bought twenty saplings he could not really afford, and took the time he did not really have to clear a patch of land for them. That put him behind on planting crops, so that their first harvest was poor, and they got into a debt he was still paying off, nine years on.

“They’re my trees,” Sadie insisted now, laying claim to a row of ten spitters James was planning to graft into eaters. “John Chapman gave ’em to me four years ago. You can ask him when he comes back—he’ll remember. Don’t you dare touch ’em.” She took a knife to a side of ham to cut slices for supper.

“We bought those seedlings from him. He didn’t give them to you. Chapman never gives away trees, only seeds—seedlings and saplings are worth too much for him to give away. Anyway, you’re wrong—those trees are too big to be from seeds planted four years ago. And they’re not yours—they’re the farm’s.” As he spoke, James could see his wife blocking out his words, but he couldn’t help piling sentence upon sentence to try to get her to listen.

It needled him that Sadie would try to lay claim to trees in the orchard when she couldn’t even tell you their history. It was really not that difficult to recall the details of thirty-eight trees. Point at any one of them and James could tell you what year it was planted, from seed or seedling or sapling, or grafted. He could tell you where it came from—a graft from the Goodenough farm back in Connecticut, or a handful of seeds from a Toledo farmer’s Roxbury Russet, or another sapling bought from John Chapman when a bear fur brought in a little money. He could tell you the yield of each tree each year, which week in May each blossomed, when the apples would be ready for picking and whether they should be cooked, dried, pressed or eaten just as they were. He knew which trees had suffered from scab, which from mildew, which from red spider mite and what you did to get rid of each. It was knowledge so basic to James Goodenough that he couldn’t imagine it would not be to others, and so he was constantly astonished at his family’s ignorance concerning their apples. They seemed to think you scattered some seeds and picked the results, with no steps in between. Except for Robert. The youngest Goodenough child was always the exception.

“They’re my trees,” Sadie repeated, her face set to sullen. “You can’t cut ’em down. Good apples from them trees. Good cider. You cut one down and we’ll be losing a barrel of cider. You gonna take cider away from your children?”

“Martha, help your mother.” James could not bear to watch Sadie work with the knife, slicing uneven steaks too thick at one end, too thin at the other, her fingers threatening to be included in their sup- per as well. She was bound to keep cutting steaks until the whole ham was chopped up, or lose interest and stop after only three.

James waited until his daughter—a leaf of a girl with thin hair and pinched gray eyes—continued with the slicing. The Good- enough daughters were used to taking over the making of meals from their mother. “I’m not cutting them down,” he explained once more to Sadie. “I’m grafting them so they’ll produce sweet apples. You know that. We need more Golden Pippins. We lost nine trees this winter, most of them eaters. Now we got thirty-five spitters and just three eaters. If I graft Golden Pippins onto ten of the spitters, that’ll give us thirteen eaters in a few years. We won’t have so many trees producing for a while, but in the long run it will suit our needs better.”

Your needs. You’re the one with the sweet tooth.”

James could have reminded Sadie that it was she who put sugar in her tea, and noticed when they were running low and nagged James to go to Perrysburg for more. Instead he doggedly set out the numbers as he’d done several times over the last week when he’d announced his intention to graft more trees this year. “That’ll make thirteen eaters and twenty-five spitters. Add to that fifteen of John Chapman’s seedlings he’s bringing us next week, and that takes us to fifty-three trees, three more than we need to satisfy the law. Thirteen eaters and forty spitters, all producing in a few years. Eventually we’ll have more spitters than we do now for cider. And we can always press eaters if we have to.” Secretly he vowed never to waste eaters on making cider.

Slumped at the table, her daughter moving lightly around her as she prepared supper, Sadie watched her husband through her eyebrows. Her eyes were red. “That’s your latest apple plan, is it? You gonna go straight past the magic number fifty to fifty-three?”

James knew he should not have used so many numbers to explain what he wanted to do. They bothered Sadie like wasps, especially when she had applejack in her. “Numbers are a Yankee invention, and we ain’t in Connecticut now,” she often reminded him. “Ohioans don’t care a spit about numbers.” “I don’t want to know exactly how many mouths I got to feed—I jest want to put food on the table.”

But James could not help himself: it comforted him to count his trees, to mull over the number, add another Golden Pippin, remove a mongrel spitter that was a result of one of John Chap- man’s visits. Solid numbers held back the woods surrounding their claim, so dense you could never count all the trees. Numbers made you feel in charge.

Today Sadie’s response to the numbers he laid out in his argument was even blunter. “Fuck your numbers,” she said. “You ain’t never gonna reach fifty, much less fifty-three.”

Disrespect for numbers: that was what made James slap her—though he wouldn’t have if she’d still held the knife.

She responded by going for him with her fists, and got in a jab to the side of his head before he wrestled her back into her seat and slapped her again. At least she didn’t manage to catch an eye, as she had done once; his neighbors enjoyed teasing James about the shiner his wife had given him. Buckeye, they called it, after the chestnuts so common in Ohio. Lots of wives sported buckeyes; not so many husbands.

The second slap split Sadie’s lip. She seemed puzzled by the sight of her own blood, and remained seated, the bright drops spotting her dress like fallen berries.

“Get your mother cleaned up, and call me when supper’s ready,” James said to Martha, who set down the knife and went to get a cloth. Martha was his favorite, being gentle and never challenging him or seeming to laugh at him as some of his other children did. He feared for her each August when the swamp fever arrived. Almost every year one of his children was picked off, to join the row of graves marked with wooden crosses in a slightly higher spot in the woods not far from the cabin. With each grave he’d had to clear maples and ash to make space to dig. He’d learned to do this in July, before anyone died, so that the body did not have to wait for him to wrestle with the trees’ extensive roots. Best to get the wrestling out of the way when he had the time.

---

I was used to his slaps. Didnt bother me none. Fightin over apples was jest what we did.

Funny, I didnt think much about apples fore we came to the Black Swamp. When I was growin up we had an orchard like every- body else but I didnt pay it no attention cept when the blossom was out in May. Then Id go and lie there smellin some sweet perfume and listenin to the bees hum so happy cause they had flowers to play with. That was where James and I lay our first time together. I shouldve known then he wasnt for me. He was so busy inspectin my familys trees and askin how old each was—like I would know—and what the fruit was like (Juicy like me, I said) that finally I had to unbutton my dress myself. That shut him up a while.

I never was a good picker. Ma said I was too quick, let too many drop and pulled off the stems of the rest. I was quick cause I wanted to get it done. I used two hands to twist and pull two apples and then the third would drop and bruise and wed have to gather all the bruised ones separate and cook em up right away into apple butter. Beginnin of each season Ma and Pa would get me pickin till they remembered about that third apple always droppin. So they put me on to gatherin the windfalls that were bruised and damaged from fallin off the tree. Windfalls werent all bad apples. They could still be stewed or made into cider. Or theyd have me cookin or slicin rings to dry. I liked the slicin. If you cut an apple across the core rather than along it you get the seeds makin flowers or stars in the middle of the circle. I told John Chapman once and he smiled at me. Gods ways, he said. Youre smart to see that, Sadie. Only time anyone ever called me smart.

James wouldnt let me touch the apples on his trees either. His precious thirty-eight trees. (Oh I knew how many he had. He thought I wasnt listenin when he was rattlin through his numbers but drunk or not I heard him cause he repeated himself so much.) When we was married back in Connecticut he learned real quick how many apples I spoiled. So in the Black Swamp he got some of the children to pick em—Martha and Robert and Sal. He wouldnt let Caleb or Nathan pick, said we were all too rough. He was like a little old woman with his trees. Drove me crazy.

---

James headed out behind the cabin, past the garden they’d begun turning over now the ground was no longer frozen, and out to the orchard. Upon settling in the Black Swamp, the first thing the Goodenoughs had done after building a rough cabin close to the Portage River was to clear land for the orchard so as to plant John Chapman’s apple saplings. Every oak, every hickory, every elm he cut down was an agony of effort. It was hard enough to chop up and haul the trunk and branches to set aside for firewood, or for making bed frames or chairs or wheels or coffins. But extracting the stumps and roots almost killed him each time he hacked and dug and pulled and ground. Prying out a stump reminded him of how deeply a tree clung to the ground, how tenacious a hold it had on a place. Though he was not a sentimental man—he did not cry when his children died, he simply dug the graves and buried them— James was silent each time he killed a tree, thinking of its time spent in that spot. He never did this with the animals he hunted— they were food, and transient, passing through this world and out again, as people did. But trees felt permanent—until you had to cut them down.

He stood in the melting March dusk and surveyed his orchard— five rows of trees, with a small nursery of seedlings in one corner. It was rare to see space around individual trees in the Black Swamp; normally there was either open water or dense woods. The Goodenough orchard was not spectacular, but it was proof to James that he could tame one small patch of land, make the trees do what he wanted. Beyond them, wilderness waited in the tangled under- growth and sudden bogs; you had to take each step with care or find yourself up to your thighs in black stagnant water. After going into the swamp, to hunt or cut wood or visit a neighbor, James was always relieved to step back into the safe order of his orchard.

Now he counted his apple trees, even though he already knew that he had thirty-eight. He had expected the requirement for settling in Ohio of fifty viable fruit trees in three years would be easy to achieve, but he had been assuming apple trees would grow in the swamp as they had done on his father’s farm in Connecticut, where the ground was fertile and well drained. But swamp- land was different: waterlogged and brackish, it rotted roots, encouraged mildew, attracted blackfly. It was surprising that apple trees could survive there at all. There were plenty of other trees: maple was abundant, also ash and elm and hickory and several kinds of oak. But apple trees needed light and dry soil or th...

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Book Description Book Condition: New. Publisher/Verlag: HarperCollins UK | A rich and powerful new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring. | What happens when you cant run any further from your past?Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting eaters while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from spitters. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be. | Format: Paperback | Language/Sprache: english | 426 gr | 222x153x22 mm | 304 pp. Bookseller Inventory # K9780008135294

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Book Description Harper Collins Publ. UK Mrz 2016, 2016. Taschenbuch. Book Condition: Neu. Neuware - What happens when you cant run any further from your past Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting eaters while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from spitters. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be. 291 pp. Englisch. Bookseller Inventory # 9780008135294

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Book Description Harper Collins Publ. UK Mrz 2016, 2016. Taschenbuch. Book Condition: Neu. Neuware - What happens when you cant run any further from your past Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting eaters while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from spitters. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be. 291 pp. Englisch. Bookseller Inventory # 9780008135294

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Book Description Harper Collins Publ. UK Mrz 2016, 2016. Taschenbuch. Book Condition: Neu. Neuware - What happens when you cant run any further from your past Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting eaters while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from spitters. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs - a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Goldrush California. Haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier, memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be. 291 pp. Englisch. Bookseller Inventory # 9780008135294

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