“Don’t Set Under the Apple Tree With Nobody Else But Me”

He ain’t bein’ mistreated, I seen to that.

Cousin Marie-France, she ain’t got it in her, though once she’s a daydreamin’, she be plumb lost to this world and fully stepped in the that.   But now Luce, she is a whole ‘nother case in entirety.  That she got into this here sit-ia-tion, well, I got to keep my eyes peeled!  I made her swear (and Lord help me if Mama finds out! She’d like t’tan my hide!), she ain’t touched him nor bully-whipped him, nor even spit his di-rection.

Luce may be a load o’things, but she ain’t no liar, says I.

To date, that is.

Hey Lo.  Liam Goodwell here.  Third son of the Goodwells, the Denton County Goodwells.  You heard tell o’ me, I’m shore.

R’ at least, the Goodwells, I reckon.  (Lord, forgive me my prideful and elevated spirit, amen!)

As always, these here are true as true can be, the livin’s and dyin’s and shoutin’s and hollerin’s and eatin’s and singin’s and workin’s and playin’s of the Goodwells o’Denton County and furrer flung, my kin fer generations come and gone and them on ahead, as I live and breathe, so help me Lord Jesus. (An’ like I said, forgive me my shortcomin’s, like pride and arrogance.   Fer Lord,  I ain’t quite feelin’ the warmth of forgiveness jest yet.)

Well, here’s how this here story went….

Cousin Marie-France , she went and foun’ herself a soldier.  Now, being aged thirteen, and long-legged and lean and runs like a gazelle, I never doubted once she couldn’t ketch a feller, r’ hightail it from one, when the time come.  I jest never ‘spected the time was commencin’.

And yet, that there, it sums it up.  Marie-France, she went and caught herself a soldier.  It’s the furtherin’ of the tale is what confounds me, to this very writin’.

Out north o’town, other side from the Goodwell place, there lay an ol’ abandoned quarry, sheer cliffs and piles o’ gravel and chat.  Out on past, once upon a time a secret, is what’s been come to be called, a “Holdin’ Camp.”

What is a “Holdin’ Camp?” you ask? (That there, that’s a writin’ technique called personalization, made to engage the reader personal-like in what I happen to be sayin’.  Miss Meadow, down to the school, she encourages me to write more authentic and true, an’ while I shore do believe in my heart o’hearts that be what I BEEN doin’, Hellfire! I do want to please Miss Meadow, sure!)

(An’ Lord, forgive me fer my cursin’.  It slips ever’ now and then.)

I need a great deal of forgivin’, it ‘ppears.

But I digress.

This here “Holdin’ Camp,” why, it is a camp, and it shore is fer holdin’ somethin’.

Somethin’ like fellers!

Somethin’ like soldier fellers!

Somethin’ like GERMAN PRISONER O’WAR soldier fellers!

Ain’t many weenie roasts out there, I reckon!

Well, push come to shove, my wiry, head-in-the-clouds girl cousin Marie-France Mickelwait, out to pickin’ flowers over the bridge, she come across this big ol’ half man, half boy, half starved, and half lucid, hear her tell it.  Though truth be told, she only tol’ me and Luce, her ever’ready partners in adventure and crime.  Needed some help and comeraderie and someone to share her secret.  But by herself, ‘fore we even knew, she done subdued this feller, knocked him upside the head, tied him up rodeo-style and plucked him under a tree, ‘fore promisin’ to come back and look to his comfort and safety.

Marie-France, she ain’t got a bad bone in her.  But I ain’t found a day yet when I’m bound nor eager to cross her.

Suspicions arose, twixt Luce and me, though, when we caught sight of that girl a’sneakin’ slices o’ham’n cornbread into a bag at her feet durin’ dinner, the giant midday meal couple weeks back. Our families, bein’ family, we share all sort o’chores and plantin’s and harvestin’ and big ol’ giant repasts, they come along as a bonus!

An’ there we was, a ‘repastin’ to who laid a chunk, when Luce, she hauled off and kicked me somethin’ fierce under the wood plank table.  Lots of practice ‘llowed the upper half of me to remain stock-still and stone-like, while the bottom part of me writhed in pain.  Luce, she don’t hold no punches, nor kicks.  Law!

Well, whist I was fixin’ to stomp them girly feet with my hard-soled boots, she give me the look, slidin’ her eyes Marie-France’s way.  And sure as shootin’, that girl was a’stealin’ and a’stashin’ food!  Now there was plunty to go ’round.  We let it go till the watermelon spittin’ begun, then we grabbed that girl and her stolen loot, and wrested her behind the smoke house.

“You fin’ some new stray dog?”  Luce fairly hissed.  Marie-France was always savin’ some stray or injured animal.  An’ while that be a noble endeavor, says I, the loft  she shares with her sister and the Mickelwait twins (they got a set, too!) can smell like a pigpen, if she ain’t careful.

Marie-France scuffed the dirt some, “No, it ain’t like that.”

Luce hissed some more, “You tryin’ to put you on some pounds?”  Luce always did think Marie-France was on the frail side, though I ain’t never seen them go after it beyond a couple o’pushes and shoves and little kid dustups long past.  Don’t know just who I’d put my money on.  If I was to bet.

Which I don’t.

Hardly never.

(Lord Jesus, bless my soul, I am a sinnin’ fool!)

Them dark brown leather shoes with which Marie-France was shod, and what was once upon a time my sister Livvie’s,  was dirtied up so much now they was the color of Missouri red clay.  Her cheeks was gettin’ to be the same color.  She rubbed them real hard, took her a deep cleansin’ breath, then clinched her fists and pulled herself up to her full height.  Which was near as tall as me and Luce.  When’d she sprout up like that?

But then, she laid in.

She tol’ us ’bout the whole shebang, how she found this feller, feared this feller, then trussed him and promised to return and save his life.  Or his soul.  One and the same, I reckon.

An’ she aimed to keep her promise.  She also vowed she would not be returnin’ him to the “Holdin’ Camp.”  This here’s where the story broke down, fer this feller, he was the enemy!  He’d jest as like to kill us as look at us!

“Marie-France!” She near always listened to straight talk comin’ from me.  I, truth be told, am known for straight shootin’. “It’s the law!  You’re bound to return this feller, and posthaste!  This is harborin’ a fugitive!  This feller, he’s a danger to you and yer family, and us and the whole of Denton County!”

“It ain’t like that,” she first mumbled, then louder and stronger, “It ain’t like that, Liam!”

“Well, you best tell me what it IS like, then, ’cause I find this German feller, and I’ll haul is enemy backside back to where he belongs, I tell you what!”

She grabbed my arm and pinched inside my elbow till I squealed.  “You’ll do no sech thing, Liam Elias Ephriam Goodwell!  I mean it!”

Now, Marie-France, she has her these flashin’ brown eyes.  Filmy and sweet like them of a newborn foal of a normal day, but pointy and poppin’ when it ain’t, an’ this day it ain’t.

And why in the name of the Heavenly Father Luce stood by and let Marie-France go, why, I’m still abashed.  Even more so when, “C’mon, then, let’s us go see,” said Luce, marchin’ with purpose ‘out back aimin’ for the bridge and beyond.

Well, the rest o’that day’s story’ll wait for another day, I ‘spect.  We found the bugger, left jest whar Marie-France said, under a crab apple tree t’other side o’ the bridge.  Trusses loosed but not discarded.  Been there all night, but jest like them stray dogs and broken birds Marie-France saves and nurses to health and devotion, this German feller, more boy than man, he’d waited fer her return.

Been a couple o’weeks, now, an’ twixt the three of us kin, we been stealin’ out to beyond the meadow other side o’the bridge, bringin’ odds and ends of comfort, and bigger’n bigger stealin’s from the dinner table.  We built a leanto fer the feller, sat in silence, a’watchin’ the Choctaw river amble by, stood calm as Mama’s cukes when the sheriff come by, queryin’.

An’ still he stayed, quiet and mute now, bump from Marie-France’s cold-cock near fully undiscernible.

An’ still he stayed.

We, us three, are in a spot.

What DOES a body do with a ex-caped German soldier prisoner o’war?  One we hid in the woods and fed and made comfortable for more’n two weeks?  One who was satisfied to stay put, as his lot is durned near next to re-fined?

We, us three, we are in a spot.

***************

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