The Seven Apples
I don’t want to be called a sissy," said Melwood as he threw his cap down in the corner. "Please, Mother, let me go on a hike with the gang tonight. Chuck isn’t as bad as you think. He’s the best leader we’ve ever had."
Melwood frowned as Mother said firmly, "No, son, I would rather you didn't go. Just forget about the hike. And please bring up a pan of apples from the basement."
"OK," said Melwood. "How many shall I bring?"
"I want six of the nice red Jonathans. You may fill the pan up with the others."
Melwood placed the six red apples carefully in the bottom of the pan. They fit exactly. Then he took some of the spotted ones that Mother used for sauce and pies, and brought them up.
"Thank you, son," she said, smiling as she removed all but one of the cooking apples to another pan.
"That one you left is too spotted for baking," said Melwood. "Shall I get you another good one for the middle?"
"I'm not going to bake these this time. I shall keep them on the shelf for another purpose. We will leave these seven just as they are in the pan."
Melwood thought it strange, but he put the pan on the shelf as Mother directed.
Two weeks passed. The gang, under Chuck's leadership, had taken two more hikes. The vivid accounts of the fun they'd had were almost too much for Melwood. In the stillness of the study period he could almost hear his pulse throb as he reread the note from Chuck: Why do you always have to listen to your mother? Why do you have to tell her everything? Sissy! We'll be down on Third Avenue waiting for you at 7:00 sharp. If you don't come this time, just consider yourself out of the gang. Chuck.
"Out of the gang'sissy'why tell Mother?" Melwood never kept any secrets from his mother. She was his best pal, even though she didn't approve of the gang. Perhaps she was jealous and wanted him all to herself; maybe he was a sissy after all! Well, he would show them he wasn't a sissy. He would still be in the gang.
When the dismissal bell rang, Melwood closed his history book, crumpled the note from Chuck, and slipped it into the wastebasket as he walked out. Chuck was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. "It's your last chance, you know, to be in the gang," he said.
"OK, I'll meet you at 7:00. I'll show you I'm not a sissy."
Mother was concerned about Melwood that evening. He was so restless and kept watching the clock. Finally he told her he had a headache and went to his room.
It was 6:40. Mother was busy in the kitchen washing dishes. Now was his chance to slip out. Would she become anxious about his headache and come into his room and find him gone? Well, she would know he wasn't a sissy anyway. He was still an active member of the gang.
The boys were all waiting on Third Avenue when Melwood arrived.
"Hi, Mel!" they greeted.
"Hurrah!" said Chuck. "We knew you weren't a sissy. Come on, gang; we're headed for the old mill!"
Away went the boys, with Chuck in the lead. After exploring the old building for several minutes, they gathered in the room that had once been the office, to await instructions from Chuck.
"Let's light up first, then get down to business." Taking a package of cigarettes from his pocket, Chuck passed them around to the six boys.
"I don't smoke," said Melwood. "Thanks just the same."
"You don't smoke!" echoed Chuck with a sneering laugh. "Aw, come on, you'll get used to it'we did. It takes more than one drag to make a man out of a sissy, you know."
"Well, all right, give me a light."
It didn't require many puffs to produce a real headache. What would Mother say if she could see him now? What would Dad say? Dad didn't smoke. Was Dad a sissy?
Melwood didn't like Chuck's jokes, either. In the midst of a big laugh, Melwood slipped outside for a breath of fresh air. He did not like the choking sensation in his throat. If that was what the gang called fun, he would rather be called a sissy. They were still laughing in the office'they wouldn't miss him.
Mother was still in the kitchen when he entered the house. Did she know he had been gone?
Suddenly on the still night air came the sound of the fire siren. Mother went to the window to watch the fire trucks passing down Third Avenue.
"There must be a fire at the old mill," said Mother in a subdued voice. "I can see the red glow and the smoke in that direction."
The old mill! Melwood buried his face in the pillow and tried to think. How did it happen? What if Chuck and the gang were still in the old office? No, they surely got out in time. He wanted to watch the fire from the window with Mother, but she would smell his breath and know he had been smoking. Anyway, his head really did ache terribly now; he would rather stay in bed.
The next morning Melwood's head still felt dull and heavy, but he went to school. The fire at the old mill seemed to be the main topic among whispering groups. Melwood occasionally heard bad remarks about the gang members. What if someone told the officials that he had been with them? It would break Mother's heart if he were sent to reform school. That would be far worse than being called a sissy.
Melwood went with a number of children after school that evening to view the ruins of the old mill. It was a total loss. Nothing remained but a few charred bricks and ashes. What if it had been his cigarette that had caused the fire?
Mother was taking a pie out of the oven when Melwood returned home.
"Oh, good, apple pie for supper!" He hung his cap on its proper hook and began to give an account of the mill fire.
Mother seemed to know all about it. She even supplied him with additional information.
"How do you know so much about the fire?" Melwood asked.
"An investigator called this afternoon, thinking you had been with the gang last night. I told him he was mistaken, that you had been at home with a headache and that you were no longer a member of the gang. I'm afraid Chuck led the boys into serious trouble. Will you get that pan of apples that you put on the pantry shelf some time ago? I think we can use them now."
A swarm of tiny fruit flies arose as Melwood placed the pan of apples on the table. The once-spotted center apple was now hopelessly withered and brown. A brown spot appeared on each of the rosy ones where they had touched it.
Mother didn't say a word as Melwood thoughtfully gazed into the pan. She put her arm across his shoulder, and he put his arm around her.
"Now I know why you saved this pan of apples, Mother. It was to show me what Chuck was doing to our gang."
Then he told her of his decision at the mill, and how he would rather be called a sissy all the rest of his life than to be a member of that kind of gang.
Mrs. John F. Underhill