beneath the apple tree

Inman rounded the bend in the dirt road; and suddenly, one of the most fantastically beautiful sights he had ever witnessed shocked him into non-movement.

Stretching far off into the distance was an orchard of apple trees. Typically, Inman might have felt depressed by such a sight, for surely they would have belonged to some rich businessman; and no doubt that this businessman had fences and dogs and all manner of dangerous objects set out to guard such a treasure as an apple orchard.

But this grove of trees was clearly wild and free. There were no tall fences, and no prowling dogs; the trees were not arranged into neat rows, designed to allow slaves to walk amongst the towering plants and pluck the rich, red rubies from the boughs of the tree; rather, they were located randomly about the field.

Inman took a hesitant step towards the field, unable to believe his good fortune. Lately, more than ever, he had grown so sick and weary of the wild dogs, of the incessant insects, of the roving Home Guard patrols which looked for an excuse to kill him that he could not imagine a sight more welcome than this orchard. He took another step, and another, until he was sprinting towards the trees. He ran to the base of the nearest one, reached up, and pulled down an apple. It was huge, ripe, and rich; he bit into it. The apple was the sweetest thing he had ever tasted.

He ate three apples before collapsing, contented, to the ground. He propped his traveling gear behind his head and rested at the foot of the tree. He hadn't felt this at ease in a long time. With a yawn, he drifted off to sleep.

Hours later, when the sun was some distance past its zenith, the sound of galloping hooves awoke Inman. His eyes snapped open. There, approaching on the road, three men on horses. With no time to hide, Inman calmly and casually reached into his pocket. His palm closed around the cool metal of his pistol; he carefully thumbed back the hammer.

–You there! called the lead rider. Inman didn't move. Get up! Carefully, slowly, Inman rolled to face the men. He did not rise.

The men trotted their horses nearer and sidled up beside Inman. Each man held a long rifle in one hand while grasping the reins of his horse with the other. Inman spied, stitched onto each man's sleeve, the stars and bars of South.

–Who are you? demanded the lead man.

–Just a weary traveler, responded Inman.

The three men exchanged glances, and then nodded. –You're under arrest for desertion of the Confederate Army.

Inman blinked, his face not betraying any internal emotions. He remained silent.

–Didn't you hear me? I said that you're-

There was the crack of thunder as Inman jerked his finger and fired his pistol. The bullet struck the man who was talking in the chest; with a cry, he tumbled off the side of his horse.
Before the two other men had an opportunity to respond, Inman pulled the gun out of his pocket. He smashed the hammer back down with the flat of his palm, fired a second time, and then cocked the gun a third time before taking aim and shooting at the third member of the Home Guard.

Each man had tumbled off his horse, and the animals had galloped off, terrified by the sound of the six-shooter. A shame, Inman thought to himself. He could make wonderful time if he could get his hands on such a fine creature as an Army regulation horse.

He moved slowly over to the three downed men. The first two were clearly dead; one with a wound in his chest, the other shot through the belly. But the third man was groaning and moving slightly. Inman walked over to him, and flipped him onto his back.

The man had taken a bullet through the shoulder. A painful wound, and it would likely rob him of movement in that limb for months, but he was sure to live. Inman placed his hands on his knees and stooped over him.

–You have any cigarettes? he asked. The injured man just muttered some incoherent nonsense. Inman repeated his request.

–Yeah, mumbled the man. In my coat pocket. Don't kill me.

Inman unbuttoned the man's wool coat and rifled through the pockets there. He soon uncovered a fine cigarette case. He opened it and discovered a half dozen cigarettes and just as many matches. He closed the case and flung it back towards his traveling sack.

–Come on, spoke Inman. Up you go.

He grabbed the man's uninjured arm and pulled him up. The man rose to his feet, staggering. Inman walked him to the dirt path.

–Now, there's a town about three miles down that way, he said, pointing. Just keep on walking, and you'll be fine. They have a hospital there. The man started to walk off in the direction indicated to him.

Inman reached out, grabbed the man by his healthy shoulder, and spun him around. He gripped the man by the lapels of his jacket and pulled him close, until their faces were nearly touching.

–If I find you coming back for me, I won't shoot you in the arm. I'll shoot you in the head. He wrapped his hands around the wound and squeezed. The man let out a gasp of pain and grimaced.

–Now go. Get out of here. Don't come back. He turned the man around and pushed him down the road. The man walked off at a slow pace.

Once the soldier was out of sight, Inman made his way back to his traveling bag. He tucked the cigarette case into the folds of the sack; he then reached up and brought down four of the biggest, juiciest looking apples he could find, and placed these in his bag as well. He would've taken more, but they would not have fit.

As Inman set off on the road, he felt no sympathy for the two dead men who were now sprawled between the trees of the orchard. The Home Guard was not interested in returning men to the Confederate Army; they were interested in exerting their wills over the lives of others. They knew nothing of Inman; they merely guessed at his desertion. They were simply looking for an excuse to arrest him. They would've arrested Robert E. Lee if they had discovered him resting beneath the apple tree.

Rejuvenated and revitalized, Inman made his way southwards down the dirt road.