Stealing Apples

 

Bill Shepherd, Myrtle Coffey, Emmett Cagle, George and Jim, Claude and Nooge Smith, and Callie and I got tired after the Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Blackjack School house, so we wandered off across Wheeler’s orchard.

We found some apple trees just loaded with good, ripe juicy apples. Even a barrel had some in it.

Every one of us knew we shouldn’t do it, and certainly we weren’t hungry,

But why not help ourselves?

There was not a soul in sight, so we decided to try and get by with taking a few. They would never be missed from that world of apples, anyway. We settled that each one of us could have three or four. The boys could put theirs in their shirts, and Callie, Myrtle and I could tuck up our skirts to hold three or four.

Stealing? Yes, we knew it! We also knew that Mr. Wheeler was a stingy old codger who would never, ever give any of us any apples.

We were talking about him, too loud, I know. Gleefully we shouted each other down, gloating over the biggest apples. Heavenly bliss, stealing apples, throwing down on the softly plowed ground the small ones, and laughing about it. No one but us would ever know, we said.

So busy were we that we never heard anyone around until Mr. Wheeler grabbed my arm and growled, “Go put them apples back in them there barrels!”

I let out my God awfullest blood curdling yell and stopped everyone in his tracks. Jim and Nooge (Nugent) fell from the tree like a couple of apples, but came down feet first and on the run.

“Stop!” the old man’s voice cracked like a whip – that’s when I saw the switch he was holding.

Quickly I tried to drown out his voice by squalling louder. I was scared, too,

because that was a big old switch and I knew I deserved being beat to death with it. (And I expected to be, too!)

“Put. Them. Apples. Back. In. That. Barrel!” He accented every word through clenched teeth.

Scared and disgusted looks were on everyone’s face except Jim and Nooge.

They were cutting it through the fence row and out of range. They left a high trail of dust behind them, marking the trail of their flight.

The rest of us eyed them enviously, but were trapped.

Mr. Wheeler called each one of us by name and one by one made each of us empty our shirts and skirts into the barrel.

That was when I missed George. The old man was still holding my arm and I needed George to peel me away from him. I called and called George – I was still crying and sniffling after a fashion. Jim was already gone, so I’d have to go back to the wagons alone. Now I was really afraid.

Maybe George heard the fear in my voice, for he dropped from an apple tree near where the old man and I were standing.

This must have startled Mr. Wheeler (I know it did me!) because he let loose with that switch, flailing first at George, then going after the rest of us.

Hot, dirty. scared, and guilty we scattered fast, and ran back toward the school house.

We were a sorry looking bunch of kids when we got back to the school house and the wagons. It seemed to me that all Blackjack was watching our return. Some came to meet us.

But guess who didn’t meet us? The two thieves who got away with it. Jim and Nooge were sitting on the spring seat of the wagon, munching apples and smart alecing.

“Where in the world have you all been?” they asked.

The aftermath? Our parents made us go back and help Mr. Wheeler sort his apples for market. Our pay? One apple each for about three days work apiece. And oh, yes, Jim and Nooge had to help, too!