Summer was fast slipping into fall, the days drawing ever shorter, the evenings lengthening bit by bit. A hint of the frost and snow to come lay underneath the sunshine which still streamed down on Spences Bridge day after day, making itself known in a sudden sharp wind, or a chill when one passed out of the sun for a few moments.
For Jessie Smith and her family, the fall was a time to begin to rest after the bustle and exhaustion of the spring and summer. The orchards, so long neglected by the previous owner, had responded to the Smith family’s care and attention, and now their fruit – particularly their apples – was shipped all over the world. It was this subject which formed the topic of conversation one evening, as the shadows lengthened across the lawn and the sun disappeared beyond the hills.
“England seems such a very long way away,” said twenty-year-old Bella. “It’s odd to think that some of our apples are there now.”
“And further than London,” said her younger sister Peggy. “Do you remember when Johnnie put the Twenty-Ounce Pippin in the box of regular export apples? And asked the person who received the box to write and let us know where the apples ended up?”
“And that very nice man from Bournemouth wrote to us!” said Bella. “He had told the story to the newspaper, and sent us the clipping about the enormous apple that had come all the way from British Columbia. How long it must have taken them to get there!”
“Aye, not so long as it took your father and I to come here,” said her mother. “A fortnight, it was, just to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool to Boston, to say nothing of the trip on to Spences Bridge by train and then coach. That was in 1884, nigh on twenty-five years ago. Now you can board the train here in Spences Bridge, and ten days later be standing outside Buckingham Palace, trying to get a glimpse of the King!”
“I should like to see the King,” said eleven-year-old Alice, the youngest of the Smith children. “I think I would be a bit frightened, though. He looks very grand in the picture hanging in the schoolhouse.”
“He has every right to look grand,” said her mother, a note of gentle reprimand in her voice. “Yet I have heard His Majesty is a good man, and that is what matters.”
“I wonder if he has ever had one of our apples,” said Peggy.
“How would the King taste one of our apples?” asked Alice, looking around as if she half-expected the Monarch to appear behind her.
“Well, we did send apples to the Royal Horticultural Show again this year,” said Bella. “Since the King is the Patron of the Society, he is sure to go there to see the display. I only hope our apples arrived safely, and were not damaged.”
“They will not be damaged,” said her mother reassuringly. “You are the best packer I have ever known, Bella; better even than I was. Should the King chance to see our apples, he will see the finest fruit he is ever like to.”
“The King of England eating our Spences Bridge apples!” said Peggy with a laugh. “Oh, how I wish that could be so!”
In London, the sense of tension at the Royal Horticultural Society Exhibition Hall was growing. To the casual eye all seemed well, but King Edward’s secretary, Sir Francis Knollys, knew that his employer was growing increasingly impatient. The Society’s President, Sir Trevor Lawrence, did not look a happy man, as attempt after attempt to locate the desired produce led to nothing. Sir Francis was pondering the appropriateness of a quip about a “fruitless search”, and had reluctantly abandoned the idea as too dangerous when an aide rushed up and whispered something in Sir Trevor’s ear. The President’s face broke into a smile, and he approached the King.
“Your Majesty will be pleased to know that we have found the apples about which you were enquiring,” he announced. “This way, if you please.”
He led the way through the rows of stalls, piled high with fruits and vegetables and all that could be made from them, from points all over the globe. Finally he stopped in front of a table bearing several wooden boxes which the Smith family would have recognized instantly. In one of them, nestled amongst a cloud of cotton batting, were a number of golden-yellow apples, their skin seeming to glow softly. Sir Francis waved a hand.
“Grimes Golden apples, sir, from the Widow Smith of Spences Bridge, British Columbia,” he said proudly.
“Excellent, Sir Trevor. And is it permitted that I sample one?”
“Of course, Your Majesty,” replied Sir Trevor. The King’s hand hovered over the box for a moment; then he selected one, raised it to his mouth, and bit deeply into it. A moment later he beamed in delight.
“Now that is an apple!” he exclaimed, and took another bite. “Quite the finest I have ever tasted.”
“Fit for a King, even,” murmured Sir Francis under his breath.
“I heard that, Knollys,” said the King. “And you have hit the nail on the head. Apples fit for a King, indeed!”
The King? Ay, ay – no less than he,
None other than His Majesty;
His car already comes to stand
At Islington’s exhibit grand,
Ingenuous to a high degree –
“I’ve come,” he says most graciously,
“Those luscious Golden Grimes to see
Of Widow Smith’s from fair B.C.”