THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER

By

Lois Overton, aka Foxhole Filly








"Oh, pray to my blonde... heel fay bone, fay bone, fay bone," Kirby sang under his breath as he stumbled through the burnt stubble of the field.  He swiped a grimy-sleeved forearm across his face and squinted up at the sky.  The hot sun seemed to bore down clear into his skull, leaving him feeling dazed.  Or was it the pain that burned in his shoulder?  Or maybe the pounding in his brain was the result of the recent meteor shower.  No... not a meteor shower... what was it?  It was on the tip of his tongue along with the words to the ditty he'd heard his friend singing in French so often he knew it by heart.  Damn his shoulder hurt!  He looked down, hoping to see that the wound was gone... all healed up, but blood still streamed between his fingers.  So what was a heel fay bone anyway?  That Caje... he just never made any sense.  Kirby shook his head and resolved to straighten him out as soon as he got back home... wherever that was.

A root grabbed the toe of his boot, sending him sprawling face first into the dirt.  A ragged stalk raked his face dangerously close to his eye.  Touching his cheek, he found blood on his fingertips.  "Son-of-a... !"  he screamed.  "Leave me alone!"  Pushing himself up to his knees, Kirby grabbed the stalk with his good arm, yanking at it with all the strength he could muster.  He ripped it from the earth, then he smashed it into the ground repeatedly until he was sure it was dead.  That'll teach it!  Satisfied that it would never hurt another GI, he flung the stalk far down the row, and then bent over in pain, his face pressed into the dirt.

Gotta watch them roots.  Kraut roots.  Don't want to survive an artillery barrage only to be done in by crops.  That's it!   Kirby smiled at the successful recollection.  Not a meteor shower!  It was an artillery barrage that had shaken his brain until it felt like it would explode.

Kirby looked around and realized for the first time that he was alone.  Where was everybody?  Where had they gone?  Wasn't he supposed to be with Sarge and Caje and Billy?  And where were the Krauts?  He knew they had to be out there, too.

Think!   The private urged himself.  Get your head straight or you're in big trouble.  Which direction is our lines?  Shading his eyes with his hand, he looked at the sun high overhead, moving neither north, nor south, nor east, nor west.  So which way is home? Move, dammit, so I can see which way you're going.  Krauts got to you, huh?

Kirby staggered to his feet.  Turning in a 360-degree arc, he surveyed the terrain, seeking something... anything... that might help him know which way to go.  Nothing.  The sun was too bright and made his head hurt.  If it went away, he might feel better.  Maybe he should pray to the blonde again.

Squinting, he could make out a small house and several ramshackle outbuildings a short distance across the field.  Making a final swipe of his cuff across his bloody cheek and over his eyes, Kirby lumbered off wearily toward the farm ahead.  Maybe the blonde was finally working for him.  Better yet, perhaps she lived there.  Ha, Caje... you don't have to tell me what heel fay bone means!  I'm gonna find out for myself.
 

By the time he reached the cluster of buildings, exhaustion had overtaken him, and he moved as if he were walking through quicksand.  As his legs threatened to give way beneath him, he reached out and grabbed the corner of a large stone structure.  He couldn't remember when he'd been so tired.  He slumped against the wall, enjoying the coolness of the stones against his cheek.  Though his vision wavered, he could make out what appeared to be a house.  It was badly in need of paint.  A thin row of flowers lined a walk that led to the front door.  Frayed sheets flapped on a clothesline.  He observed several other buildings, perhaps, equipment sheds.  A quick movement at the edge of the house caught his eye.  He turned just in time to see a man, fumbling at his belt, disappear into a tiny building to the rear, the door banging shut behind him.

The structure Kirby leaned against was most probably a barn.  It was large and sturdy.  Looking all around, but observing no movement, he sidled around the corner and worked his way to the large, gaping door.  A few scrawny chickens clucked out of his way.  He tried to shush them, but they continued their noisy scratching.  Kirby was sure that the sound would bring someone to check things out, but his luck held.

He peeked around the corner of the door; no one seemed to be there.  He stumbled inside and over to a heavy, crude post, where he slid his back down, his legs finally giving way.  The barn was fragrant with hay and the odor of fresh feed.  A rather bony cow stood in a stall at the rear, watching Kirby with soft, brown eyes.  "What you lookin' at?"  he scowled pressed his hand against his shoulder as if he could push out the pain.  "Oh pray for the blonde, heel fay bone, fay bone, fay bone."  Kirby mouthed the words under his breath as he watched the cow chewing.   "Oh pray for the blonde, heel fay bone dormer."  His voice trailed off, and he grew incredibly tired.  His brain was still playing tag with his skull, and all he could think of was getting some shut-eye.

The front stall was empty, its crude gate hanging open crookedly on a pair of rusty hinges.  Behind him, a pile of fresh hay beckoned him to come lie down to rest, but on a purely instinctive level, Kirby was still a soldier, and the thought struck him that to fall asleep in the stall would leave him terribly exposed. Someone lived in the house and was bound to come into the barn sooner or later. He needed sleep, but he needed to find a safe place to do it.  He also needed a weapon.

He scanned the building.  Not much there.  A pitchfork was carelessly jabbed into the hay mound.  It would be a deadly instrument, but hard for him to hold and manipulate with one arm.  Several shelves had been affixed on the wall.  Kirby rose with an audible groan and walked over to examine the jars and cans that stood on them.  From the smell of them, there was nothing of use to him. Hard to fight off Krauts with turpentine.  He spotted a rake and a shovel hanging from nails on the walls, and next to them, a small hand scythe. Kirby limped over and pulled down the curved blade, testing the edge with his thumb.  It would have to do.  He stuck it in the back of his belt, feeling somehow safer with the feel of the blade against his back.

That took care of a weapon... now he needed sleep.  He spotted a ladder that led up to the loft.  That was more like it.  Keep to the high ground.  Releasing his shoulder, he grasped one high rung and placed his heavy boot on a low one.  Groaning, he heaved himself up. Holding the nearest rung with his bad arm, he reached up and pulled on the next one. Little by little he struggled up the ladder.  "I'll pray for my... ugh... blonde, heel fay... ungh... bone fay... ungh... bone." At last he reached the platform and just managed to slide his body onto the timbers before he passed out.

**********

Kirby's mouth was dry.  He opened his eyes, unsure of where he was for a moment.  His shoulder throbbed unmercifully.  Above his head, a spider crawled across the web it had spun between the beams of the roof.  It worked relentlessly at its spinning, oblivious to the war or the soldier hurting beneath it.

"Maudit animal stupide!" a high-pitched voice below him shrieked.  "Je devrais te vendre aux boches et  les laisser te faire cuire pour dîner."

Kirby quietly rolled over to peek below him. He was perched directly over the stall where the cow still chewed contentedly.  But a large, pale horse now stood in the far stall, its body pressed up against the wall of the barn.  Then Kirby observed a hand moving underneath the animal's belly.  The hand slapped the horse, and the animal moved over to the near side of the stall.  As it did, a slender boy appeared behind it, pulling himself up from the floor where he sat.  He removed a dark wool cap, and a cascade of hair fell down to his shoulders.  Kirby sucked in his breath.  This was no boy.  It was a girl... a woman.  She shook her head, and a halo of brown swirled about her flushed face.

I guess the blonde couldn't make it, Caje.

The woman brushed at her clothes, spreading a dark substance over the pants and shirt.  She slapped her cap across the horse's side.  "Regarde ce que tu m'as fait," the girl said quietly, using the back of a hand to straighten the wire rimmed glasses that were askew on her nose.  The horse moved its head around and tried to nuzzle her neck, but she pushed him away, speaking to him with anger in her voice.  Yet Kirby could tell by the way she spoke and touched the horse that she was not really so mad.  She wiped perspiration from her forehead, leaving a dark streak on her cheeks, and walked to the barn door, scanning the barnyard.

The woman returned to the horse, finished removing its harness and slung it over the top rail of the stall.  Kirby expected her to leave; instead, she pulled a stiff brush off a nearby window ledge and began brushing the horse's heavy sides.  The soldier watched with fascination.  Having been raised in the city, the only horses he'd seen had policemen sitting on them.  He'd never been this close before.  He observed the way the horse's flesh rippled and shivered beneath the brush.  Its nostrils flared; it shook its head.  As she brushed, the girl ran her hands over its flanks and smoothed the hair between its ears.  The animal seemed to be enjoying it, and it nickered softly at her attention.  Kirby also enjoyed watching the girl, appreciating the way her pants clung tightly to her body, and how her hips moved with the stroking.

When the girl was done, she replaced the brush on the ledge and shut the stall door behind her.  Then she looked down at her brown-streaked clothes and arms.  Shaking her fist at the horse, she pulled a bucket off the wall and disappeared outside, returning in a few moments, the bucket sloshing.  She opened a large wooden box and removed a coarse blanket from it, then set the bucket on the closed lid.  She dropped the blanket beside her.  Unaware that she was being observed from the loft, she unbuttoned the soiled blouse and tossed it on the ground.  Then she toed off her brown-caked shoes and unzipped her pants, dropping them on the pile.  When her clothes lay on the barn floor, Kirby stopped noticing the pain in his shoulder altogether.  He quietly pulled himself closer to the edge for a better view.

She was a small woman, lean and athletic looking.  Kirby's eyes widened, and he ran his fist over his dry mouth.  I ain't praying to the blonde no more.  He rested his chin on his forearm, watching the woman's every move.

The girl dipped her hands into the bucket.  She swirled her hands a moment and then rubbed her wet hands across her face.  Leaning over, she splashed several handfuls of water over her body.  She dribbled water over her shoulders.  It ran down her back. Kirby watched the trickle disappear down her flesh.

When she squatted in front of the trunk, out of his line of sight, he pulled himself forward on his belly and stretched out to see her again, steadying himself by holding onto a board.  Without warning, the board cracked loudly under his weight.  He sought a handhold, but found only air.  With a yowl, he pitched forward into the void and crashed down from the loft. His good arm flailed as he landed on the cow munching contentedly, sliding to the ground where he landed on his back in the pile of hay.  The animal looked down at the interloper with wide, hysterical eyes and mooed loudly.

The woman shrieked and grabbed the blanket, wrapping it around her body.  Holding the blanket closed with the pressure of her upper arms against her sides, she grabbed the pitchfork and moved slowly toward the cow stall.  A low moan issued from deep in the hay pile.

"Sortez de là," she hissed, her words more convincing than her trembling voice.  She prodded him with the tines.

"Sorry, but I don't think I can. I'm hurt."

"You... you are Americain!"  The girl stepped forward and pushed a tine of the pitchfork against his cheek.

"Lady, if you're gonna use that thing, you better use it now.  'Cause I can't stop you."

She drew the pitchfork from his face to his arm, pushing it to his side, revealing the frayed, bloody hole in his field jacket.  "Mon dieu!  Vous êtes blessé!"

Her eyes rose to the splintered remains of the board over Kirby's head.   She looked over to the spot where her soiled clothes lay in a pile and hitched up the blanket defiantly, her eyes ablaze.  "Quelle sorte d'animal es-tu?"

"Look, lady, I don't parlay no Francais.  I'm hurt."  He held up a hand, showing her the blood that covered his fingers.  "I need help."

The girl looked at the soldier and relaxed the pitchfork a bit.  Then, spying the scythe that had fallen from his pants and now lay next to him, she swung the fork back up protectively.

"Wait a minute," he cried out, raising both hands in surrender.  "I'm not using this.  It ain't even mine."  He kept his eyes locked on hers as he lowered one arm bit by bit until he could touch the blade.  "Look... see?  I'm just gonna hand this over to you." Kirby felt the point of one tine pushing the skin at his neck. "Easy with that thing. I bleed easy." He lifted the scythe by the sharp tip and tossed it at her feet, returning his good arm to surrender position.  "See?  You got me helpless now."

Kicking the scythe away with a bare toe, she looked around.  "You alone?  What you do here?"  She pulled back the pitchfork again, but her body was still tense.

"I'm alone.  We was tryin' to get to the railway station at some town? I forget which one...and I got caught in an artillery barrage.  I don't know how I got here.  I guess my brain was kinda scrambled for a while from the concussion."

The girl tipped her head and looked at him questioningly.

"You know?"  He brought his fingers together and then let them explode.  "Boom!"  He tapped on his head and demonstrated the resulting confusion.

"Oui.  I understand.  Boom.  The bad head."

"Me... Kirby.  You?"  Kirby read the confusion on her face.  He tapped his chest.  "Kir-by. My name is Kir-by.  You?"

"I understand you.  Je m'apelle Michelle.  My name."

"I'm wounded. I still need help."

The girl looked around again.  She lowered the pitchfork and made her way to the open door, surveying the barnyard.  Then she returned to the American.  "You got bad trouble," she whispered.

"You're tellin' me."

"Non.  My papa.  He in house.  If he come out, he find you."  She pushed her glasses up on her nose with a finger.

"Well, I ain't done nothin' to you, so how mad can he be?"

"You do not understand.  Mama is French.  Papa is German.  Papa not like Americains.  He would fight for Hitler if his leg not been bad hurt in other war.  If he find you, he turn you over to the boches."

"Look, lady... if you don't help me, I'm gonna die."  Kirby knew that his wound was not fatal, but figured milking the situation wouldn't hurt.  Just to grease the way, he rolled his head back and moaned.

Oh, you pain," she cried.  The pitchfork clattered against the wall of the stall as she dropped to her knees beside him, his moan overcoming any remaining fears.  She ran her fingers over his forehead and back over the close cropped hair on his head.  "Michelle not let you die."

Kirby watched her out of the corner of his eye.  He moaned again, his eyes pleading.  "Help me... Michelle."

She held the blanket tightly.  A tear slid down her cheek.  "I help. I help."

Michelle rose and offered her hand to the soldier, but the blanket started to slip from her body.  It was clear that she could hold the blanket, or she could help the American.  But she could not do both.  She checked the door again, then removed a few articles of clothing from the wooden box and slapped them against the stall door.   A cloud of dust rose up.  She shooed the horse to the far side of the stall and looked at the soldier lying beside the cow.

"You stay or I get..." She tipped her head toward the pitchfork and shook her finger at him.  Then she stepped into the horse's stall and dropped the clothes on the stall divider, keeping watch on Kirby the whole time.  "What you say your name, soldier?"

"Kirby. My name's William G. Kirby."

"Keerby? I like that."

"Kir-by," he repeated.

"You see a lot of action, Keerby?"

"Enough."  He watched her bare arms stretch up and slip into the sleeves of a plaid shirt.  "How far are we from the Kraut... er... I mean German lines?"

She mulled over the meaning of his words a moment. "Non, Keerby."  She pointed straight down.  "German army."  Then she pointed toward the barn door and waved her hand.  "American army."

"You mean to tell me that I'm behind the German lines?"

"Oui," she said simply, bending out of sight.  He heard the rustle of cloth.  "Behind German lines."  A zipper zipped.  Finally, she appeared beside him, dressed in a wool shirt and a pair of tan men's pants. Her feet were still bare.

"You hide.  Papa maybe come."  Michelle reached down to the injured soldier and tried to pull him to his feet, but he collapsed back down when he put weight on his right foot.  She moved closer to Kirby.  Putting an arm around his waist, she helped him to a standing position.

"Where you gonna put me that Papa ain't gonna be looking?"

Scanning the barn, her attention was drawn to the loft Kirby had dropped from a short time before. "There. Papa not look there.  You be safe."

"Hey, I got up there once, but I don't think I could do it again."  He pointed down to the foot he held gingerly off the floor.  "Might be broken."

"You go up.  I help. You go up or papa turn over to Germans.  Choose."

"You make a convincing argument, lady." He hobbled over the few steps to the ladder and hung on for support.

"See... not broken."  Michelle tapped her fingers against her pursed lips as she thought. A strand of straight, dark hair fell across her face, and she hooked it behind her ear.  Moving to the rear of the barn, she pulled a long rope from a nail.  She looped it over her shoulder and scrambled up the ladder. A heavy metal ring was suspended from the center beam of the roof.  She fed the end of the rope through the ring and let both ends hang to the floor.  She climbed down and wrapped the end of the rope under his armpits, knotting it securely.

"Hey, wait a minute, lady..."

"No lady. Michelle."

"Sorry.  Michelle... there's no way you're strong enough to be able to hoist me up there if that's what you got in mind."

"I not strong enough. Daisy do."

"Daisy?"

"Oui... Daisy."  She pointed to the stall where the horse stomped the ground.  "She strong."  She pulled a harness from the stall on the other side of the barn.  After working it into place, she led the horse out of the stall and secured the other end of the rope to a ring on the harness.

"Keerby, you must help. Daisy pull, you hold ladder. You help Michelle?"

"We, we," Kirby responded.

Michelle took hold of Daisy's harness and led her forward.  The rope grew taut and pressed into Kirby's armpits.  As he had done a short while before, he grasped a rung above his head, but this time he had little to do but pull on the rungs and move his feet up the ladder.  Regardless, sweat popped out on his face and sreamed  down his back and underarms.  By the time he had made it to the loft platform again, his clothes were soaked.

While Kirby lay panting in the hay, Michelle untied the knots, releasing the rope. Then she led Daisy back into her stall. The scythe was replaced on the wall, and then she climbed to the loft where Kirby lay weak and unmoving.  After undoing the rope, she dropped it to the ground below them.

Michelle helped Kirby across the boards to the rear of the loft, pulling a sack of feed over so that he could rest his back against it. Removing his heavy web belt, she dropped it in the hay above the soldier's head. Then she helped him remove his soiled, bloody jacket. Unbuttoning his shirt, she pulled it off him too, tossing them both in the hay.  The wound was a perfectly round hole; blood oozed from it.  "Oh," she cried, hiding her face in her hands, " I be sick.  I no like blood."

Kirby reached up and ran his fingers down her cheek.  "You have to be strong, Michelle.  I need you to help me.  Do you think you can do that?"

"Oui," she sniffed, "I try."  With the tip of a finger, she touched the left side of his chest near the open wound.  It hurt big?"

"Yeah, it hurts big.  I need it bandaged."

"I do it."  She looked around the loft.  "I have no strings."

"Strings?" Kirby scrunched his brow and looked at her.

"You know?" She placed her hand over her own shoulder and slapped it with the other.

Kirby was flummoxed for a moment.  "Oh... bandages."

Michelle nodded.  "Ah, oui.  Bandages.  I have no bandages."

"I got what you need."  He reached up for his first aid pouch and groaned, eyes rolling back toward the ceiling beams.

"What wrong?"  Michelle pulled the soldier forward and peeked behind him. A second hole, a torn, ragged one, dripped blood down his back. "Mon Dieu! You have been shot twice!  Oh, Keerby!"  Her voice shook.

"No, I haven't.  This one," he touched the wound on his shoulder, "is an entry wound.  It's where the bullet went in.  The other," he signaled over his shoulder, "is an exit wound. Where it came out."  Michelle's eyes were wide with wonder.  Kirby reached to his belt and unsnapped the pouch, pulling out a wrapped bandage and a packet of sulfa.  "Here."  He handed the packet to her.  "Open this and sprinkle it on the wound.  It'll keep it from getting infected."

"Oui, Keerby."  She tried opening the envelope with her fingers, but she was unable to make the slightest hint of a tear in the wrapper.  When she looked at him quizzically, Kirby motioned that she should tear it open with her teeth.  Michelle stuck the end in her mouth and yanked.  The packet ripped open and powder sprayed her lips and face.  "Oh, what I do!   I poisoned!"  She coughed, swiping her lips and tongue with her sleeve.  "It taste bad!  I die, Keerby?"

Kirby wiped the powder from her lips and smiled gently.  "No.  You won't die.  It's OK.  Here.  Let me have it.  I'll do it."

Michelle sat back on her haunches.  "I will do.  I help Keerby."  With resolution, she opened the torn edge of the packet and sprinkled it on the back wound.  She leaned him against the sack and reached into his bandage pouch, removing a second packet of sulfa.  Tearing it open more carefully this time, she sprinkled it on the entry wound.  He held the bandage packet between his teeth and ripped off the cover, handing the gauze to her.  She placed the pad over the exit wound, and then she laid him back against the feedsack pillow, bringing the long tails of the bandage to the front.

"I need another... ban-dage.  For this one."  She touched his shoulder; then she held out her hand to him.

"I don't have another.  I only have one."

But you must have more. I need." She looked inside his bandage pouch and then began going through his pockets.  Finally satisfied that he did not have a bandage, she sat back.  Her brow furrowed, and she chewed on her fingernail as she considered what to do.  Spotting Kirby's shirt, she grabbed it up.  Quickly inspecting the pockets, she shook out a pack of cigarettes and tossed them aside on the hay.  Then she wadded up the material and pressed it against his shoulder.  She brought the long ends of the dressing over his shirt and knotted them over the cloth.  "There" she tied the ends of the dressing into a neat bow, spreading the gauze loops and arranging the trailing tails over his chest.  She patted the bow.  "Michelle help Keerby."

The soldier looked at the handiwork. "Gee, thanks, that's the... uh... the nicest bandage I ever had.  You could be a nurse."  He smiled broadly at her.  "Or a dress designer."

A rumbling noise sounded and seemed to echo through the barn.  "Les boches! They come with... how you say... a tank!"

The American smiled sheepishly. "No Germans.  Not a tank."  He patted his stomach. "Hungry.  Starved.  Hey... you got any grub?"

The woman shook her head.  "No, we got no worm."

"No," he laughed, "not worms... grub.  Uh... food... chow."  He forked up an imaginary bit of food and ate it.

"Ah, oui!  You hungry.  I get food.  You wait... be quiet.  You very noisy man."  She shushed him with the tip of a forefinger to his lips.

He lay back in the hay and listened to her scrambling down the ladder.  The barn door banged shut, and then all Kirby could hear was the scratching of chickens in the dirt and the gentle swooshing of the cow's tail against her stall.  He was bone tired and in spite of the rumbling in his stomach, he was on the verge of falling asleep when he heard the door bang again.  There was a metallic clinking and then the sound of Michelle's ragged breathing as she struggled up the ladder.  Her brown hair appeared over the edge of the platform, then her smiling face.  She swung a booted foot onto the boards, pulling herself up and over.  Smiling at him, she shoved a heavy metal pail toward him.  Kirby lay unmoving and watched her, too tired to move.  She slid the pail by his side and crawled nearby.

"I bring good things.  You like big deal."

She pulled a faded red and white cloth off the top, followed by a dusty green bottle capped with a brown cork.  She pulled out a chipped glass, uncorked the bottle and poured him a drink.  Holding it toward him, he took it and drank greedily.

"This is bone. Tray bone."  He downed another big swig, and then a third, swirling the liquid in his mouth as he enjoyed the taste.

Michelle giggled, wiping a thin trickle that escaped down the corner of his mouth.  "I make myself.  From dandelions."

Kirby spat out the wine.  "You served me wine made from weeds?"  He wiped his lips with his sleeve.

"Non. Not weeds.  Dandelion.  It good.  And good for you.  She held out another, but he shook his head.

Michelle sat back on her heels.  She removed her glasses and wiped her sweaty face.  Then she perched them back on her nose and turned to the bucket beside her.  She pulled out a half of a chicken and large chunk of crusty bread.  Kirby eyed it, licking his lips.  And when she nodded permission, he tore into the meat.  The woman marveled that a man in such bad condition could devour so much.  As he finished with the bones, Michelle held out her hands, and he dropped them into her palms.  In between bites, he polished off the bread. When the chicken was gone, he licked each finger clean.  Finally, he issued a loud belch and patted the slightly rounded stomach that peeked over his belt.

"You hungry!" Michelle marveled as she moved the bucket aside in the hay.

"Well, I ain't had much more'n canned cheese and potted meat for a long time.  I don't remember when was the last time I had chicken.  Mercy, Mamzell."

Michelle giggled, holding out the bottle to him.  "You want more wine?"

Suddenly tired, Kirby leaned back against the feed sack and settled into it.  "Nah, I think I've had enough."  His eyes grew heavy and he struggled to keep them open.  "Listen, honey, I'd love to stay around and talk with you, but I'm about done in.  Could we continue this later?"

"No more wine?"

The soldier shook his head.

"You tired boy.  You sleep now."

Kirby nodded again as Michelle rose and began hauling over feed sacks, stacking them along Kirby's side.  Then she pulled handfuls of hay over the sack wall.  "Here, this make you safe.  Papa no look back here.  You be safe and ... uh..." she turned her eyes to the ceiling as she ran a list of words through her mind, "cozing."

"Cozy," Kirby muttered.

"Oui... that what I say.  Cozing."

But Kirby's head had already sagged onto his chest and his breathing evened out. .
 

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

"Michelle, espèce de maladroite.  Tu as laissé traîner cette bonne corde sur le plancher.  Me prends-tu pour la banque de France?  Tu crois que je peux acheter une nouvelle corde parce que tu es trop paresseuse pour ranger ce que tu prends."

The deep, booming voice awoke Kirby.  Must be Sarge.  Must be giving someone one of his pep talks.  He was about to call out to his sergeant when the voice spoke again.

"Viens ici. Remets moi ces choses à leur place.  Je ne suis pas ton serviteur.  J'ai du travail à faire."

No, that's definitely not the Sarge.  But who?  Kirby opened his tired eyes and looked up from beneath something.  He moved slightly and whatever he was lying on rustled.  Hay.  He was covered with hay!  It all came back to him in a flash.  The barrage, stumbling through the countryside with his brains scrambled.  The girl.  The loft.  The girl.  He smiled as he remembered the vision of her lithe body as she undressed.  "Kirby, what have you got yourself into," he whispered to himself shoving his good arm under his head.

He squeezed his eyes shut and listened to the man's voice clucking as he moved about the barn below him. Michelle's father, he thought. The German.  He shivered.

Below him he heard a second voice.  Michelle's.  She spoke quietly to her father.  It was all in French, and it might as well have been Swahili for all Kirby understood.  He heard clinking and creaking.  He heard the high-pitched sound of metal scraping on something hard, and then soft rustling sounds, followed by the sound of something soft raining delicately to earth.  The cow mooed.  The pitchfork lifting and throwing hay, he surmised.  Perhaps the clinking of the horse harness.  Finally, he heard a soft liquidy noise and the clip clop of hooves on the floorboards.  The barn door slammed.

Long minutes went by, marked only by a steady squirting sound. Chickens noisily entered the barn and scratched around. A bee buzzed somewhere nearby.  A cat hissed angrily, followed by a gay laugh below Kirby.  A wooden gate whined and then shut noisily.  The ladder creaked.

"Keerby," Michelle called softly, he voice nearby.  "Keerby, are awake?"

"Yeah," I'm awake."

Kirby heard her move through the hay, and then as she pulled off the layer that covered him, he could see her as well.  The girl sat beside him.  Her cheeks were ruddy from a fresh scrubbing, and for the first time, he noticed a line of freckles traveled across the bridge of her nose and cheeks.  Cute.  Real cute.  Her dark hair shone in the light that streamed through the window above them.  Instead of the men's clothing of the night before, she wore a brown skirt and white scooped blouse gathered with a ribbon bow in the front.  A small gold cross hung from a chain on her neck.

"Papa be gone.  We talk."

"He sounded kinda mad. You tell him about me?"

"Non," she laughed.  "I no do that.  I no stupid girl.  I leave good rope on floor.  He say I lazy girl." She held out a dented tin cup.  "This for you."  She helped him sit up, and he tipped the cup.  It was milk.  Not the kind like he had at home from the milkman. Different.  But good, nonetheless.  He was thirsty.  He quickly drained the cup and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Papa out plowin' the north 40?"

"Non.  He take mama to town.  She is sage-femme.  I don't know how you say.  She help babies born."

"Midwife."

"Oui.  Madame Gilbert has her baby today.  Papa take Mama to help... midwife."

He stretched the stiffness out of his body and leaned back against the sack.  "Ah, that's better.  When will they be back?"

"Gone long time. Madame Gilbert have slow babies."  She reached into her pocket and pulled out a chunk of bread.  "This for you."

Kirby took the loaf and ate it eagerly while Michelle backed down the ladder, returning shortly with another cup of milk, which the soldier gulped down.

Michelle seated herself next to Kirby again, facing him. She touched the scratch that coursed down his cheek. Does it hurt?

"Honey, I hurt all over."

She leaned over and gently kissed the crusted-over mark.  "There.  It feel better?"

He smiled up at her innocence.  "Yeah, tray bone."

Then she touched the bandage on his shoulder. "And this? It hurt?"

"Not bad. I'm lucky the bullet went clean through."

She touched his chest.  "You have nice chest, Keerby."

"What?  This old thing?  I've had it a long time."

My boyfriend, Antoine, he have much hairs.  You have none.  I like."  She reached up and scrubbed the short stubble on top of his head with the tips of her fingers.  "No much hairs anywhere.  Why you wear hair so short?"

"Well, it's easy to take care of.  And you don't get cooties with your hair short.  Soldiers got lots of cooties."

"Cooties?" she said slowly.

"Bugs."  Kirby demonstrated by scratching his chest.

"She laughed. "Poux."

"Poux," he repeated.  "I like that in French.  Sir, you have poux!"

She ran her fingertips across his bare chest to his good shoulder.  "Your skin is soft, but under is hard.  You have strong muscle."   Her delicate hand slid up and down his arm, squeezing his bicep.  Then she cut a path back across his chest.

Kirby grabbed her hand. "Honey, you better stop that.  You don't have any idea what your're doing.

"Oh, Keerby." She pressed her lips against his and kissed him hard.  A moment later, she sat back, then reached over and swiped her fingertips across his forehead.  "Keerby, you wet."

"Yeah, well, it's a little hot in here.  Maybe I'm getting a fever."  He touched his forehead.  "Definitely fever."

"My poor baby, Keerby."  She pulled off her steel rimmed glasses and tossed them into the hay; then she bent to kiss him again.  Kirby groaned.

A loud bawl below startled them.

"I forget Belle!" Michelle cried jumping up.

"Belle?"

"Oui. Belle.  Our cow."  There was another loud moo that was almost painful to hear.  "I milk Belle this morning.  I stop when I bring you milk.  I not finish.  I go.  She hurt."

"But what about me? I hurt too!"

"I be back soon," Michelle called up to him.  "I come, ma Belle."  She hurried down the ladder.
 

Kirby fell back in the hay, his head reeling.  That Michelle was some dame.  She had it all... gorgeous, great body, great kisser.  What more could a soldier ask?  Shortly, Kirby heard the familiar squirt, squirt, squirt.  He rolled over on his elbow and searched until he located the pack of cigarettes that had been dumped out the night before.  Then, considering that he was lying in a barn full of hay, he thought better of lighting it and stuffed the pack into his pants pocket.  He moved over to retrieve a shoe and heard... or felt... something crunch.  He reached beneath his elbow and pulled out a pair of glasses.

"Uh... Michelle," he called out, "what did you do with your glasses?"

"I take them off.  They up there.  Do not move big deal or you break."

Kirby held up the glasses by the bent rims, a piece of glass falling out and disappearing into the hay.

"You know, Keerby, I am loving America.  I be very happy there."

"You probably will," he said absentmindedly as he tried bending the temples back into position.

"You think your mama like me?  I will like your mama."

"Yeah, well I think that...wait.  What are you talking about?"  He stopped working on the frames and tossed them aside.  "Why would my mama like you?"

"Oh, no.  You think she hate Michelle?   I tell her she not losing a son but gaining daughter."

"Daughter?" Kirby swallowed hard.

"I not tell her how we meet. That be our secret.  We marry in America or here. What your army say about that?"

"Well, I don't... are you saying?"

"We be so happy, Keerby.  I be ready to go when Americains get here.  Will not be long now."  Michelle smiled up in his direction and blew him a kiss.

Kirby's mind raced.  She was the most magnificent woman he'd ever met.  But was he ready for a serious relationship?   She was talking marriage!  Still... He remembered the way her young body looked the first time he saw her.  He recalled the way her lips felt on his.  And then he remembered he still had a war to fight.  What had he gotten himself into?

Kirby burrowed into the feed sack.  Below him, Michelle hummed along to the squirt squirting of the milk into the bucket.  She sounded so happy.  How could he hurt her?  She was so innocent and trusting.  Suddenly, he felt like a rat caught in a trap.  And to add insult to injury, his shoulder was killing him.

A noise from below shattered Kirby's thoughts, and he froze in place.  He heard a deep voice speaking in German.  Papa is back, he thought.  Kirby found himself wondering how Papa looked, and for a moment he considered sliding over to the edge of the loft and taking a peek. Then he reconsidered.  Not a good idea.  Too much danger of making a sound, of getting him caught.  He wondered why he'd ever even considered such a foolish move.  Besides, the way his shoulder was throbbing, he doubted he could even get over there, let alone without making any noise.  So he lay back and cocked his head to hear more clearly, trying to imagine what was being said.  But it all sounded like gibberish to him.  Why can't these people speak a sensible language... like English?

Then Kirby realized there was a change in the voices.  Even though he understood nothing of what either of them said, there was something in Michelle's voice as it began to rise.  Dad must be a real bear.  Kirby could feel her fear.  It was then he remembered that Michelle's father was away.  He'd taken her mother to be a midwife.  Kirby's skin prickled as he realized that there was a Kraut in the barn.  Michelle hissed at the German, and then Kirby heard the sound of a slap, followed by another. He heard a thud and the sound of Michelle's throaty voice groaning.  She was crying.  She was terrified.

Kirby looked around the loft and sought a weapon... any weapon.  He thought of the scythe he'd had stuffed into the waistband of his trousers earlier, but he'd watched Michelle hang it back on the hook on the wall.  What he wouldn't give for his BAR.  He tried to push himself into a sitting position, but his shoulder was throbbing and refused to obey his demands. His head spun as he listened helplessly to the sound of scuffling, and Michelle's high-pitched voice.  He eyed the distance to the edge of the platform, considering that a 160-pound body falling from it onto another body was bound to do some degree of damage.  At least it might give Michelle a chance to get away, might stun the Kraut and allow her to save herself. It wasn't much, but it was something.  He pulled on the feed sack and slid his body forward a few painful inches.

Michelle seemed to be pleading with the German.  She was speaking rapidly, her voice moving around below him.  He heard a metallic clatter, then the sound of cloth ripping, and crying.

Kirby stopped when he heard the familiar creaking of the rungs of the ladder... and the sounds of the continuing struggle.  He drew himself up to look over the top of the sacks.  Peering hrough the straw piled up on top, he saw a hand and then Michelle's head appeared, her eyes full of pain and fear.  She started to haul herself over the edge of the loft when she suddenly plunged a few feet downward, her hands scrabbling for a hold.  She grabbed the edge of the ladder and held on for dear life.  She kicked her feet viciously beneath her.  For a moment, she made eye contact with Kirby.  He gritted his teeth and started to make a movement toward Michelle.  She shook her head and screamed, "NO!"

A final kick and she had freed herself enough to propel her body onto the platform.  Her blouse hung in tatters.  She crawled toward Kirby.  He pulled himself up on one of the sacks, but his legs gave way and he fell back into the hay, his head making a loud thunk on something hard.  Putting a hand above his head, he discovered the handle of the bucket Michelle had brought up loaded with food the day before.

Peeking through the hay, Kirby watched the German haul himself onto the loft.  He was a big, beefy brute of a man.  His uniform was dirty, and his face was grizzled with several days' growth of beard.  A vicious sneer cut across his face.  He watched Michelle slide back from him, trying to kick his hands away from her.

"Komm hier, meine Liebchen.  Ich werde dir gut sein, komm," he said as he crawled toward her on his hands and knees, speaking with deadly softness.  His eyes were on her body, exposed where he'd ripped her shirt.  She tried to pull the bits of cloth about her as she slid ever backward.

Finally, she had backed up against the feed sacks that hid Kirby from view.  The German reached out and touched her foot; then he ran his hand up her leg.  A hard laugh issued from his throat, and through the hay, Kirby could see the decay of two yellowing front teeth; he could almost smell the Kraut's stinking breath.  The German moved in closer, his hands on Michelle's body.  He said something as he sat with his knees straddling her.  He paused a moment to wipe the moisture from his lips, then slipped closer to her and reached to her throat.  He ripped the cross from her neck, and after examining it a moment, he shoved it into his breast pocket.

Kirby's hand tightened on the wire handle of the bucket.

The German's hand went to his belt buckle.

Heedless of the pain in his shoulder, Kirby summoned all his strength.  His arm muscles tensed, and the bucket sliced through the air.  It contacted the side of the German soldier's head with unbelievable force.  The German's face registered surprise, and before he could act to defend himself, Kirby had swung it again, catching the Kraut full in the face.  Blood streamed from the soldier's nose as the bone flattened with a sickening crunch.  The bucket came down again and again.  Eyes wide, Michelle watched the German fall forward as if in slow motion, landing on top of her.  She screamed as Kirby hit him for the last time, and the soldier was unmoving.  Kirby fell back, exhausted, and the bucket flew out of his hand, slamming against the wall and clattering noisily to the hard floor below them.  Michelle, pushed and struggled to shove the body off her until it finally flopped lifelessly onto the boards.  She scrambled over to Kirby, her body trembling.

"Oh, Keerby.  Keerby," she cried as she flung herself at his chest.  "Keerby, I so scared.  He want to hurt Michelle."

Kirby swung his arm over her shoulder and pulled her tightly against himself, ignoring the pain.  "Shh... shhh," he soothed.  "He can't hurt you now.  You're safe.  Kirby's here."  He reached up to wipe a stream of tears from her eyes and continued to hold her as her body shook.

Some time later, when her sobs had become sniffles, she pulled her head from his chest and sat up.  It was then she noticed the blossom of fresh blood coming from his shoulder. "Oh, Keerby... I no think you hurt.  You hurt bad?"

He squeezed her hand and shook his head. "I'm OK.  William G. Kirby is strong.  Takes more than one Kraut to get him."  He smiled reassuringly.

Michelle glanced at the dead German.  "If papa find, he cause big trouble.  What we do?"

"Well, I guess we just push him over to the corner and cover him with hay.  By the time your old man finds the body, the Americans should be here, and then you won't have to worry.  He'll just think that it happened in battle or something."

Michelle nodded.  "Oui.  I do."  On hands and knees, rolled the dead man toward the wall.  Kirby moved over to her, grunting and groaning, as he helped move the Kraut.  Once the German was in the corner, Michelle covered him with hay, and then she helped Kirby cover him with feed sacks.

"I guess that do."  She brushed her hands on her skirt.  "It not look bad?"

"It looks fine."  Kirby leaned back against the wall, suddenly exhausted.

Michelle put a cool hand on Kirby's forehead. "You feel bad, Keerby?  You not hot.  You cold?   I get you blanket."

"I'm fine... just tired."

"Keerby, you still take Michelle America?" she rested her head on his shoulder and her finger played absently on his chest.

"Well, look, Michelle.  You're a really sweet girl and all, but you know I still got a war to fight.  Going to America... well, that's a long way off."

"I wait.  I no mind, Keerby.  You save Michelle.  Michelle save you.  We good together."

"But if I took you to America... well, I'd want to be in love... and... "

"Oh, yes, Keerby.  You save Michelle.  She love you.  She love America.  You see."

"Michelle, look ... you just ain't getting'it... how do I say it... ?"  Kirby struggled to find the words.

"You hungry?" Michelle said suddenly.  "I get food... and wine... and we talk about America."  She made her way to the ladder and swung her long legs over, stepping on the first rung.

Kirby crawled away from the wall and followed her toward the edge of the platform.  "Look, Michelle, I don't think..."

Kirby stopped as he heard the creak of the barn door.  Michelle froze at the bottom of the ladder, eyes suddenly grown wide with fear.  Kirby flattened himself on the boards and tried desperately to remember whether he has seen a pistol on the German's belt.  What an idiot, he thought, not to have taken care of that earlier.  Where is my mind?  He began to crawl toward the body.  Shoes scuffled on the hard floor beneath him.

"Please," Michelle cried.  "Please no hurt.  I give you anything.  No hurt."  Tears welled in her eyes.

"Damn, not again!"  Kirby said under his breath.

"Please, no hurt me," she sobbed.

"Caje!" a voice called from below.  "Come in and tell this young woman that we don't mean her any harm."

Kirby pulled himself over to the edge and looked down. Directly below him, Sarge stood in front of Michelle.  The sergeant raised the Thompson toward the ceiling, the butt resting against his hip and held his hand out to indicate that he was there in peace.  Billy and Doc stood behind him in the doorway.  Caje trotted into the barn and stood next to Sarge.

"Hey, Sarge!" Kirby called out.

Saunders looked up and beheld the face of his BAR man grinning down at him.  "Kirby, what the hell are you doing up there?"

"Hiding from the Krauts.  This is Michelle.  She's the farmer's daughter.  She hid me here.  And took care of my wound."  He pointed to the red-tinged shirt tied on his chest.

The squad looked over to the woman. She reached up and pulled the remains of the blouse around her.

"Whoa!" Billy muttered. "How come I get hurt, and I get taken care of by an 80 year old grandmother.  Kirby gets hurt and he gets..."

"Whoa," Littlejohn echoed.

Caje whistled low.

"You Keerby's friends?"  The woman extended the hand that wasn't holding her blouse closed.

Saunders shook her hand. "Glad to meet you ma'am...uh madam..."

"Mamzelle... Michelle," Kirby called from the loft.

Kirby's head disappeared, and they heard the noise of rooting above them.  Kirby groaned and grunted.

"Excuse me... I help Keerby."  Billy's gaze followed her as she climbed up the ladder.

"Sarge, she's half naked!"

"Stow it, Billy," Saunders warned.

Billy turned to Littlejohn. "Well, she is!"

The woman disappeared. Hay sifted down through the floorboards.  Finally, Kirby appeared at the ladder.  Michelle, wearing his jacket to cover herself, appeared at his side.  Kirby started down first, struggling to find the rungs.

Saunders nodded toward Kirby.  "Littlejohn!"

Littlejohn immediately moved over and helped Kirby down the ladder. Michelle dropped Kirby's boots over the side, and they landed with a heavy thud, then she followed him down.

"Well, here I am," Kirby said.

"Better let me have a look at that shoulder," Doc said.  Kirby sank to his knees in the hay and let the medic tend his shoulder.

Michelle put her arms around Kirby, kissing the top of his head.

"How does he do it?" Billy wondered.

 "Keerby," she purred, squeezing him tightly,  "you tell them I go America."  She bent and kissed him then smiled back at the others.  "We be married."

"Married?" Saunders repeated.

"Look, Sarge, I don't know how this happened."

"I think I have an idea," Littlejohn whispered to Doc.

"No, Littlejohn, it isn't what you think."

"Sure it isn't."  Littlejohn looked up to the loft and then at Michelle.

"Sarge," Kirby pleaded

"Maybe we wait until we get to America.  I be good America wife.  We love."

Littlejohn folded his arms on his chest and smiled knowingly at Doc.

"Sarge?" Kirby's pleaded for help.  "Look, Michelle, I don't know how to tell you this," Kirby stammered,  "but I do want to get married..."

"He does?" Billy asked.

He repeated more loudly, "I want to get married, but first I have to go out on a very secret mission."

"He does?" she asked.

"I do.  Right, Sarge?"  His eyes pleaded with Saunders.

"Uh, right. It's a very special mission."

"It dangerous for my Keerby?"

Saunders took off his helmet and scratched his head.  "Oh, yes.  Very.  G-2 says his chance of coming out alive is... is..."  He looked to Kirby unsure what the private wanted him to say.

"Very bad," Kirby finished.

"He's not expected to survive."

Kirby snorted. "They always call on me when they have the most dangerous missions."

"Oh, brother," Littlejohn muttered.

Kirby pulled away from Doc and took Michelle aside, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Look, Michelle. I have to be totally honest."

"Yes, Keerby?"  Her warm eyes looked deep into his.

"I have no chance of surviving this mission."

"But why one of these men not do it.  Why it you who dies. Big one be better."

"I know. I know. But you see, they think I'm the only one who is smart enough and brave enough.  I have to go, right, Sarge?

"Oh.. right."

"But what about us?  How I marry you if you die?" Michelle cried.

"I want you to know Michelle, that you have made my last days on this earth... well, they've been worth dying for.  I can face death because you loved me."

"Keerby, how I live without you?"

"It'll be hard.  But I want you to forget about me.  Find someone else.  Someone that doesn't have to go out on a suicide mission.  Go back to Antoine."

"I hate to break this up, hero," Saunders walked over and put his hand on the private's shoulder, "but we have to go.  It's time."

"I have to go.  Miss me a while and get on with your life.  I don't regret anything."

"I bet," Billy whispered to Littlejohn.

The squad moved out the door. Kirby kissed Michelle on her forehead. Then he kissed her hard on the lips. For a moment, he considered recanting his story. She was so delicious.  She started to remove the jacket, but Kirby stopped her.  "You keep it... to remind you that I was once here."

"Kirby!  Now," Saunders hollered.

"I'll die with you in my thoughts.  Stay here and don't go to the door.  I want to remember you as you are right now."   Tears streamed down her face.

Kirby turned and hurried out the door. He crossed the barnyard and joined the rest of the squad. He looked back at the barn. "Gosh I feel like a heel. She was a sweet kid. But I'm not ready to think about marriage."

"Kirby," Saunders hissed, "We're not going to talk about this ever again. I don't want to hear the story. Whatever you did to that girl was wrong."

"But Sarge, I..."

"Shut up. Just shut up!"

"Honest... I never promised her nothin'.  She jumped in and started making plans.  She didn't give me any choice."

"Kirby, you don't make a purchase you can't afford to pay for.  Starting things is easy. Stopping them is what's hard.  I hope you've learned something."

"Yeah, I'm stickin' with the blonde from here on out."

Saunders turned and walked toward the distant field.  He didn't look back.  The rest of the squad fell into line behind him.  Kirby stood in the dusty road a moment looking back. Then he ran to catch up.