Steeds 5

28 02 2017

Lee decided to head west on 3rd Street. He saw the Betz boys working their way east from the county trunk and decided again to delay his patrol. Rather than turn down the alley behind half the stores on Main Street, he continued to the Betz mule cart. “James. John.”

“Mornin’, Sheriff,” said John. “Come to make a contribution, eh?”

“That’s up to Freyja. Judging from what you’ve collected so far, though, that hardly seems necessary.”

James held a manure fork, and John had a scoop shovel. They were busy collecting horse, mule, and donkey droppings from the streets.

“It appears it’s business as usual this weekend,” Lee added.

“So it smells,” said John.
“As long as it transforms into the smell of money, the merchants are glad.”

“So how long do you think it’ll take us?” James asked.

“I daresay you have as good an idea as I. How long does it take to fill that cart back at the farm?”

“That’s different,” said John. “Barn or barnyard, the….”

James slapped a hand over his brother’s mouth. “Don’t say it. It ain’t worth the risk. We’ve got enough to do ‘thout you givin’ him an excuse to add a Saturday to the ten we already got.”

“Aw….”

James shut John’s mouth again. “Didn’ you hear what I jus’ said?”

“Will you stop that? You keep shovin’ your filthy hand down my throat, I’m goin’ to get sick. Then you’ll have to do all this by yourself.”

“Grab the reins before you yell giddyup to your tongue there, John.”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“Think, boy, think. I dunno. Take the school marm. What word would she use?”

“Oh, well … how ‘bout feces, or fecal material? Defecation? Manure? Scat? Maybe she’d want us to wax poetic. Road apples. Meadow muffins.”

“Whaddaya think, Sheriff?” James asked. “Got a preference?”

“I think you two aren’t the joskins you pretend to be.”

“The what?” John asked.

“Joskins.”

“Which is, being interpreted…?”

“Ah,” said Lee, “you’ve given yourselves away again: not only do you pay attention in school, you also pay attention in church. Can you quote any of the half dozen or so verses that use that phrase?”

“Will doin’ so shorten our sentence?” James asked.

“No, but it will help keep you from getting additional sentences for additional misconduct.”

“It didn’t keep us from catchin’ it this time,” said John. “That was quite a crowd in town for May Day, and we tried pretty hard not to be seen. How’d you pick us out so easy?”

“As you say, it was quite a crowd. No adult in his right mind would deliberately spook a horse and put so many people at risk, even as a prank.”

“What about a drunk?”

“Drunks do silly, crazy, foolish things. But that foolish? At that time of the morning?”

“Drunks are drunks. They drink all hours,” John said. “You should see our uncle.”

“He wasn’t there,” Lee said.

“Passed out,” James confirmed.

“What about bees, hornets, wasps, and flies?” John asked.

“I thought about that, as you did beforehand. After helping to calm the first horse you shot, I checked.”

“You did not,” said James. “I mean, you couldn’t have. Top to bottom, front to rear? Under each piece of tack?”

“Some insects draw blood. Others raise welts. For a horse to react that fast and with that much surprise, if not pain, there should have been evidence. After it happened a second time at what seemed too great a distance from the first incident, I became suspicious. You didn’t help yourselves by failing to pay nearly as much attention to the ruckus as everyone else. Instead, you paid too much attention to that newspaper you were sharing. Boys, intent on a simple, local newspaper? Outdoors on a fair, spring day? Off the farm and at a country festival?”

“We should’ve stolen an old copy of The Police Gazette from Clyde,” John said.

“Borrowed,” James edited.

“Same thing.”

“What gave you away,” Lee continued, “was raising the paper to turn the page rather than lowering it, as most everyone else does. You, James, raised it just enough to allow John to shoot a stone from that contraption of yours without anyone noticing.”

“Anyone other than you, that is.”

“Quite the invention, by the way, that hybrid of a pistol and a slingshot. I kept it as a souvenir.”

“We’re not gettin’ it back?”

“Maybe. But you can’t make another one? And a better one? I just said, you two aren’t the joskins you pretend to be.”

“And what, pray tell, are joskins?”

“Bumpkins.”

“You’re callin’ us bumpkins?” John said.

“What’d I tell you ‘bout taken the reins, John? He said we’re not bumpkins.”

“So, if you’re smart enough to invent a one-handed slingshot, why couldn’t you surmise what might happen to a man who gets hit by a runaway horse weighing a thousand pounds? Or a family getting hit by two horses and a wagon? Or a woman and her toddler getting kicked by a pony?”

“You’ve already asked that question, after you arrested us,” said James.

“You didn’t answer.”

“So what? First, you were quick on the draw. Second, the Studebaker brothers make good brakes. Third, the pony missed,” James said. He stabbed the soil of the street a couple times with his fork. “The judge―at the behest of the sheriff―gave us a job to do, and we ain’t got all day.”

“Yeah,” said John. “This don’t go as fast as shovelin’ whatever-word-you-want at the barn.”

“When the cart is full, show it to one of the constables, and he’ll send you on way.”

Lee, leaving them to their work, resumed his patrol. Upon crossing 2nd Street, he saw Constable Franklin Smythe coming west on his own patrol. Lee stopped and awaited his arrival. “Good morning, Frank.”

“Sheriff.”

“I’ve seen the Betz boys.”

“They’re doin’ what they’re supposed to?”

“Yes. The cart is about half full. They’ll probably start working their way along Main Street soon.”

“I’ll keep an eye on ‘em.”

“We’ll have to keep our eyes on them for quite some time, I’m sorry to say.”

“Oh?”

“I fear they are plotting revenge.”

“Oh. What might their parents say to that?”

“I wonder myself. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Fred Betz say more than two words.”

“I wonder if Fred Betz says more than two words to his wife.”

“By the way, have you spoken with Gus within the past hour?”

“Not really. I’ve nodded at him at a distance. Why?”

“Walter Stancil came into the office first thing to report his horse has been stolen. I’m out checking the streets and alleys to see if she’s in town.”

“You think she’s just loose? I wouldn’t put it past Walt to pass out while unhitching his horse from that wagon of his.”

“You could be correct. Then again, he woke up in bed, not out beside the wagon or in the stable.”

“Could be he doesn’t remember everything from the night before.”

“Let’s execute due diligence, nevertheless. The horse is a brown with a stripe on the face and either socks or stockings on the forelegs. Forelegs only, not hind legs. She’s elderly.”

“Got it.”

“After I check the other alley behind Main Street, I think I’ll go to Stancil’s and look things over there.”

steeds-2

 

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Steeds 4

25 02 2017

“I did not.”

“I thought not. I smell nothing of anise on your breath or on your clothes. Just to be sure, I asked Freyja to check. She didn’t smell any such thing, as well.”

Susan looked at Lee as if he were a wizard like Merlin.

“Anise is an interesting plant. Uncommon. Aromatic. Freyja would have shown more curiosity if you had any in a pocket or stuck into a stocking.” Lee stood. “Where are your parents?”

“My father is in Bandurra’s. My mother is coming from Schlotterbeck’s.”

“Keep an eye on my horse, please. I’m going inside to speak with Mrs. Martin.”

Lee stepped through the doorway, removed his bowler, and tried scanning the interior of the shop. He had just come from bright morning sunlight, and his eyes had difficulty adjusting. The farther from the front windows, the darker things appeared … or the more they disappeared into gloom, this despite Esther having the lamps in the overhead chandelier burning. The scent of burning kerosene floated everywhere.

This was typical of most stores in town. Lee was glad he had directed Henry Oelke to place as many windows as prudent in the new sheriff’s office and jail. Even if the views were spoiled by steel bars, the windows allowed sunlight, or at least skylight, into the entire building. That, and they allowed the venting of fumes, not just from burning kerosene and wood, but also from stinky prisoners.

“Good morning, sir,” said a young man wearing an apron, who stepped from between a well-stocked counter and an array of shelves loaded with products from floor to ceiling. “May I help you?”

“Mrs. Martin is expecting me.”

“Oh, she’s in back.”

“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before. You’re a newly hired man?”

“Yes. This is my first day, actually.”

“I am Sheriff Leall.”

“Really? Oh, well, yes: there’s the badge peeking out from under your coat. I’ve heard of you, of course.”

“And you are?”

“I am Todd Westfield, sir.”

Lee held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, and not just to get your vote when you’re old enough.”

Todd took Lee’s hand, and Lee held it a bit longer than normal.

“Where’s home?”

“Nepeuskum. My folks have the general store there.”

“Ah. I’ve been there.”

“So you’ve met Todd,” said Esther as she entered the main room of her establishment. “He’s new and more or less an apprentice.”

“My older brother is taking over our store,” said Todd. “I’d like to have one of my own someday.”

Esther added, “As you know, Andrew and I have daughters. Annette and her husband, George, have a farm. Janet and her husband, Desmond, have a watch shop in Portage. Garnet is in Madison going to university. Who knows where she’ll land afterward?”

“Is Mr. Martin here today?” Lee asked.

“He’s in Beaver Dam, as usual on Saturdays, obtaining stock.”

“So tell me, Todd,” said Lee. “Do you like anise candy?”

“Sure. Licorice is my favorite, but anise is really good, too. And horehound.”

Lee held his right hand in front of Esther’s nose. “Smell.”

Taken aback, Esther did not do so.

Lee wiggled his fingers in a gesture insisting she comply.

Esther took a whiff.

“I take it those aren’t cigars in your breast pocket under that apron,” Lee said to Todd.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Candy sticks.”

“Well, yes. Do you want one?”

“Let’s see.”

Todd produced two sticks.

“Where’s the third?” Lee asked.

“I ate it.”

“And all three came from that container right there?”

“Yes. So?”

“Did you pay for the candy?”

It was Todd’s turn to be taken aback. “What? I was supposed to?” He turned his attention to Esther. “You called in the sheriff to arrest me for stealing candy?”

“Todd….”

“At our store, we can sample whatever we want, as long as we’re not greedy and don’t waste anything. I took one piece for this morning, one for this afternoon, and one for this evening. Three pieces of penny candy.” He reached into a pocket for some coins.

“Todd, stop!” said Esther. “I didn’t call the sheriff on you.”

“What, then?”

Lee put on his hat and then put a hand to Todd’s shoulder. “Thank you for your assistance, son.” To Esther, “I’ll be out front.”

“Are you the sheriff?” a woman asked as Lee exited the dry goods store.

“I am Sheriff Leall,” Lee said as he exposed his badge with one hand and tipped his hat with the other.

“Susan told me not to go in. What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Jura, I presume.”

“Yes. You may call me Lydia.”

“I am dealing with a theft, Lydia.”

“Oh, someone inside? You caught him?”

“Not inside. Outside. Not him. Her.” Lee looked squarely at Susan.

Susan’s eyes dilated.

Lydia exclaimed, “My daughter? Susan? Why, how dare you?”

“I have yet to see any human hair that is not some kind of red, blond, brown, black, or gray. I daresay that lavender strand interspersed with your daughter’s hair is something else. Thread hanging loose from a spool stashed under her straw hat, perhaps?”

“What are you talking about?”

Lee pointed to the back of Susan’s head.

Susan put both hands to her hat.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, Sheriff Leall,” Lydia declared. “That thread has come loose from her hat.”

“Her hat has a white band around the outside. Whoever put it there used white thread. See? And if there is a band on the inside, it was secured using the same color thread.” Lee pointed.

Lydia did not bother to look closely.

Lee said, “You should be ashamed of yourself, Lydia, for teaching a child to steal on your behalf.”

“What?”

“Susan seems rather young to have that much of an interest in sewing.”

Lydia stood flabbergasted. Unable to decide what to say or do, tears started forming in her eyes.

Seeing her mother in increasing pain, Susan yanked the hat from her head and let the spool of thread fall to the boardwalk. She stooped to retrieve it and handed it to Lee, saying, “I took it. All by myself.”

“But why, Susan? I haven’t started teaching you to sew.”

Susan looked at the spool of thread. “I like the color.”

Lydia reached for the spool and took it as if to prove to herself that it really existed. Tears flowed. “Susan. You have shamed me. You have shamed your entire family. That includes you. You have shamed us, not just in the sight of the Martins, but also in the sight of this man, this chief officer of the law. You have made us into a den of thieves.”

Susan stood still with her head bowed and her hands behind her back.

Lee saw some movement through a window. Quickly, he snatched the spool from Lydia and stepped behind Susan.

Esther came out the door. She assumed a stance with as much distance between herself and the others as she dared. Looking down, she watched her hands smooth her apron. After moving her hands to her back, she next looked at her feet.

Lee shoved the spool into one of Susan’s hands. Into the other he shoved a nickel.

“Mrs….” Esther paused as if trying to remember the name. “Jura….”

Lydia did not face Esther. She, too, looked at her feet.

“Mrs. Martin,” Lee said. “It would seem a transaction needs to be completed. There was an inopportune interruption, but Susan here does not want to leave until she has concluded her business.”

“Oh?”

Lee gave Susan an imperceptible nudge. She held out the spool and the money.

Lydia watched.

“Oh. I see.” Esther took the nickel. “Thank you.” She looked at Lee.

He nodded once.

Esther nodded and quietly said, “Good day. Come again.” With that, she went back inside her store.

“And now what, Sheriff Leall?” Lydia asked.

Lee put a hand on Susan’s shoulder. “Do you know what the word Grace means?”

“I’ve heard the word,” Susan said.

“Ask your mother to postpone sewing lessons long enough to teach you what Grace, spelled with a capital G, says and does.”

steeds-2





Steeds 3

18 02 2017

Sheriff Leall carried two buckets of water as he exited the building. Turning right, he went several steps along the boardwalk and stopped before two saddled horses standing tied to a hitching rail in plain sight of anyone inside the office. One horse, a bay gelding, belonged to Deputy Sheriff Redman. The other, a blue dun mare, belonged to Lee. He placed the water within easy reach of the horses, and each took a drink.

Lee left the buckets in place and walked around the hitching rail. After loosening the reins, he draped them over his left hand and moved out onto the street. The horse turned and followed without so much as a tug. She quickly assumed a position beside the sheriff as he commenced his patrol of Main Street.

“Mornin’, Lee.”

“Gus.” Lee addressed Augustus Czceszniac, one of two constables employed by the municipality and placed under his authority. Lee served not only as the county’s sheriff, but also as the town’s marshall.

“Nice suit,” said Gus.

“What do you think of yours?” Lee scanned the constable’s new blue uniform.

“It takes some gettin’ used to, especially this silly hat.”

“Helmet.”

“If you say so. It doesn’t provide much shade for my eyes out here in the sun, and it doesn’t keep the water from flowing down my neck and back when it rains.”

“Ah, but it is distinctive,” said Lee. “That’s what the council wants: officers who can be easily seen by people who need help.”

“Yeah. I just wish they wouldn’t be so bound and determined about lookin’ like Easterners.”

“Think of it as part of the hospitality being provided by Uttica to the country folk outside and to visitors stepping off the train. Besides, add more buttons and beads, a few stripes, and you can tempt the council into making you chief of a genuine police department.”

“Like in Mascoutin.”

“Right.”

“I suppose it’ll happen someday. But Frank and I like the outfits they gave to Tom and Barney over to the fire department better. Maybe we’ll switch over.”

“The volunteers aren’t getting uniforms. Some new and better equipment, but not uniforms.”

“Who said anything about volunteerin’? Since they’re in such an all-fired rush to get citified, maybe they’ll see their way clear to hirin’ us, too.”

“Maybe. Someday. Where is Frank?”

“With the Betz boys.”

“It is nine o’clock. So they arrived on time?”

“Yep.”

“I trust they didn’t come into town with only a wheelbarrow.”

“Nope. They brought a mule and a cart. They’re over at Fesenthal’s now. They figured, after last night, that was a good place to start. Easy pickin’s.”

“By the way, Gus, do you know Walter Stancil’s horse on sight?”

“I’ve seen it, for sure, but I don’t recollect that it’s all that distinctive. I don’t know that I could pick it out of a herd at present. Why?”

“Just this morning, Walter reported her stolen.”

“That old thing? Who’d do that?”

“I suspect it’s the work of some joker. I’m walking around town to see if she’s here. She’s a brown with a face stripe and two front socks or stockings. Keep an eye out.”

“Got it.”

“Later.” Lee resumed his patrol.

Uttica was already quite busy on this Saturday morning. Several horse-drawn carriages and wagons travelled slowly through the business district. Many others stood parked along the boardwalks, their drivers and passengers visiting one store after another.

The majority of buildings in Uttica sported fashionable false fronts. Among those that did not: the Roman Catholic church, the Lutheran church, the Methodist church, the school, the fire station, the jail, and the courthouse. The only business enterprise without a false front was the bank.

Big display signs, plus placards and posters, shouted from the front walls, and sometimes even the sides, of the various establishments. Ancillary hanging shingles and notices painted on window glass spoke more softly. Lee could read something pertaining to every business from his position at the south end of the street all the way two blocks north.

Less than forty years since its state’s admission into the Union, Uttica had become home for a comprehensive community of merchants. In addition to the bank, entrepreneurs included:

  • a baker,
  • a butcher,
  • a haberdasher,
  • two dressmakers,
  • a cobbler,
  • a dry goods store,
  • a general store,
  • a hardware store,
  • a feed and seed store,
  • a drugstore that doubled as a physician’s office,
  • three barbers (one of whom also served as a physician and dentist),
  • two lawyers,
  • a surveyor,
  • an undertaker,
  • a newspaper and print shop,
  • a hotel with a restaurant,
  • three saloons (though one insisted on being called a beer garden), and
  • an express office.

Not every enterprise lined Main Street. The livery stable with its accompanying blacksmith had been located on a large lot just to the southwest. A wagonwright in partnership with another blacksmith had established business just to the east. The lumberyard spread out next to the Burlington & Baraboo railroad tracks and not far from the depot and telegraph office. The old grist mill dipped into Fairwater Creek.

Lee paid little heed to all the advertising clamoring for attention. Instead, he studied each horse as he walked along Main Street. He saw few not hitched to vehicles, and none of those few stood without saddles. Besides, no horse matched the description provided by Walter Stancil. Once he got to 3rd Street, he decided he would look behind the buildings, first on the west side of Main, and then on the east side. Before changing direction, he heard a voice calling.

“Sheriff! Sheriff Leall!” Esther Martin stood outside the front door of the dry goods store she and her husband owned and operated. A girl stood next to her, held to heel by the grip Esther had on her left ear.

Lee walked over. He let the reins of his horse drape over the hitching rail without tying them and stepped up onto the boardwalk.

“If I had seen one of the constables, I’d have called him,” Esther said. “But I saw you.”

“What’s the problem, Mrs. Martin?” Lee asked as he tipped his hat.

“I caught this urchin shoplifting.” With that, Esther tightened her pinch.

The girl opened her mouth as if to yelp, but remained silent.

Lee asked, “What’s your name, miss?”

“Susan.”

“And your last name is?”

“Jura.”

“Isn’t it just like a Papist?” Esther said. “Steal on Saturday morning and confess on Saturday evening. Mumble some vain repetitions that night. Go to church on Sunday. Resume stealing on Monday.”

“How do you know Susan is Roman Catholic?”

“She’s Polish, isn’t she?”

“Jura is Czech. For all you know, she’s Moravian.”

“What?”

“The Moravians? Count Zinzendorf?”

“Who?”

“Nicolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf.”

Esther repeated, “Who?”

“Surely you know of Jan Hus.”

“That’s her family?”

“Let go,” Lee ordered as he put a hand to Susan’s shoulder.

Esther did so.

“What is it you say she stole?” Lee asked.

“Candy. Anise sticks, to be more accurate. And to be more precise, she stole three of them.”

“You saw this.”

“No.”

“How do you know this?”

“Well, as you know, we have a container near the cash drawer and accounts ledger. We give candy sticks to cash-paying customers at the conclusion of honest transactions.” Esther emphasized the word honest. “I had exactly twenty-four sticks in that container when I opened the door for business this morning. I’ve had three paying customers so far, but six sticks are now missing. She has been inside prowling, but has bought nothing.”

Lee nodded. “I understand. Let me talk to Susan.”

Esther planted her feet and folded her arms.

Lee added, “Let me talk to Susan alone. Go back inside. I’ll speak to you again shortly.”

Esther hesitated. After stamping a foot once, she said, “As you wish. I’ll be waiting.” She re-entered her store.

Lee moved his hand from Susan’s shoulder to the top of her round, straw hat. After giving her a couple pats, he pointed to the edge of the boardwalk. “Let’s take a seat.”

Susan adjusted her hat, then spread her skirt and sat. Lee eased down next to her. He held a hand out toward his horse, who stepped close. “This is Freyja,” Lee said. She nuzzled his hand and then sniffed Susan.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a horse like her before,” Susan said. “Look at those stripes on her forelegs and withers.”

“There’s no losing her in a herd,” Lee said. “Everybody in the county should know she’s the sheriff’s horse. Nobody in his right mind would try stealing her … as if she’d let that happen.”

“She’s got a bad temper?”

“No. Among horses, bad temper is usually the result of bad treatment by bad people. Freyja is a good horse, but she won’t allow anyone to get on her or handle her unless I’m present.”

“Oh.”

“Now, speaking of stealing. You didn’t take those candy sticks, did you?”

 

steeds-2





Steeds 2

15 02 2017

“Because there are many people like him who believe,” said Lee, “that people like me have the right, and even the obligation, to lord it over every other kindred and tongue and people and nation.”

“And what do you believe?” Philip asked.

“I am not the Lord.”

Lee stood and walked to the coat tree behind his desk. He removed a bowler hat and a jacket, revealing an empty gun belt and an empty shoulder holster. Donning the clothing, he opened the small gate of the interior fence and stepped through. “So, how do I look in this, the latest in fashionable attire, according to Mr. Swed?” He modeled a new sack suit, complete with charcoal gray trousers sporting black stripes, a white shirt, a black tie, and a middle gray vest under a coat of matching hue. The hat was also gray, but of a lighter tint.

Philip said, “You look like it’s Saturday and you’re coming to town.”

“It is Saturday, and I am in town.” Lee looked at his arms and legs. “This will work well enough for walking the streets, appearing in court, and going to church.”

“Don’t let Sherman see you in that color.”

“Believe it or not, I think we saw at least as many Rebs in butternut. As the war continued, they could no longer afford to buy dye. And it was just as well for them: after employing the home brew made from local trees, they were harder to see, especially if they were snipers and skirmishers. Once gun smoke filled the air, the Rebs in gray were just as hard to see.” Lee looked at his suit again. “Now that you mention it, maybe I’ll have Swed order one of these in brown.”

“Trying not to be too much of a show-off?”

“My sister advocates colors that don’t show the dirt. As for me, I like the colors of November.”

“This is May.”

“I like green, too. Lincoln green. Kelly green. Emerald green.”

“So you’re going out to take a look?”

“Not on horseback. I wouldn’t ride to my own lynching in this kind of outfit.” Lee opened the front door. “I’m going for a walk through town. I suspect some prankster unhitched Mr. Stancil’s mare and brought her to one of his usual and customary places of business … or pleasure. The prankster figures surely someone will send word to Walter.”

“When will you be back?” Philip asked.

“That’ll depend on how many people want to stop and visit. I think I’ll walk over to Stancil’s place, while I’m at it, and look things over. Maybe I’ll be back within a couple hours. Certainly before noon. What’s Dorothy making for dinner today?”

“Well, as you know, Zeke left this morning at dawn, as usual. With no one else in jail at present, Dorothy said she’d try for a regular sit-down meal. Chicken and dumplings.”

“We mustn’t forget: the Mascoutin police are bringing a couple of prisoners on Monday. Their trial is next week.”

Gut morning!” A middle-aged man, also dressed in a sack suit, presented himself at the sheriff’s office door.

Lee shifted his attention. “Ah! Mr. Henry Oelke. Good morning.”

“I come to town to do business at da lumber yard und at da hardware store. I t’ought I stop by to learn how da building is standing.” Even though he had immigrated into the United States more than two decades earlier and had learned to read and write English, he still spoke with a German accent, and also with occasional German pronunciations. “It has been half a jahr, and it has been one complete vinter, wit’ freezing und t’awing und frost in da ground. Spring rains und runoff. So tell me, Sheriff Leall. Any leaks?”

“No.”

“Not t’rough da roof. Not in da cellar.”

“I’m quite sure, sir.”

“Any drafts?”

“No.”

“Doors all close und open properly? Vindows?”

“Yes.”

“Interior doors, too?”

“Yes.”

“I see no cracks in stone work or brick work outside. Inside?”

“I have noticed none.”

“No settling. All lines straight und corners square. All walls plumb.”

“I believe so, yes.”

Gut. What about vermin? Mice. Rats. Bats.”

“Oh, well,” said Lee, “you can hardly hold yourself accountable for any of them, what with three chimneys and doors that are opening and closing so frequently. Honestly, I doubt that you left any holes or cracks in any of the masonry and woodwork. If you’d like, you’re welcome to come inside and inspect the place yourself … as long as you stay out of Deputy Redman’s quarters upstairs.”

The place―the sheriff’s office and jail―was all but new. Construction had commenced the prior spring and ended in late fall.

Ach, I would like dat. My bruder und our sons can deal wit’ Frazier und Bandurra.”

Dorothy’s voice sounded. “Heinrich Oelke! Is that you?”

Ja.

She strode into the office from the jail. “You did good with that fireplace back there. Plenty of heat and no smoke. As you know, I didn’t think a fireplace with access from two sides inside a building would work, at least not well.”

“Such a design is not uncommon in large hauses in da Fatherland. D’is one is a … what is the word … modification. So, you can make big meals?”

“Yes.”

“Da prisoners are warm when it is cold?”

“Warm enough. Certainly those who come out of the cells to split and haul firewood, and those who try their hands at kitchen work.”

Lee added, “Chester and Dorothy, shall we say, discourage inmates from simply idling in the cells, at least during daylight.”

“As it is written, ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ ”

“And you’ll notice when you walk around how clean everything is,” Lee added.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

“And never mind that the prisoners are, with rare exception, male. If they don’t already know how, they learn how to cook and bake, do laundry, and perform at least rudimentary sewing.”

“We’re tryin’ to tame some of that wildness.”

“Chester makes Bibles available,” Lee said. “Those who can’t read, he offers to teach.”

“Regardless, Chet reads aloud every day. Well, not every day. On Sundays, he’s preachin’ at church mornin’ and evenin’. Wednesday evenin’s, too.”

“All listen?” Henry asked.

“At church or in jail?”

“Here.”

“Course not. Some take to singin’ their saloon songs as loud as they can. Then we give ‘em a broom or a mop or a rag an’ a bucket an’ let ‘em warble while they work.”

“So. You must, den, teach dem to sing hymns. You know vat Martin Luther said about music.”

“There’s a thought. I hum psalms and hymns and songs when I work. Maybe I’ll do it louder. They may find a tune or two catching. Then I’ll let ‘em hear the words.”

“Is it not dangerous, letting dem out of deir cells?”

“They wouldn’t dare assault a man of God, not with the Sword of the Spirit in one hand and that short sword Chet calls a Bowie knife in the other.”

“But vat about you?”

“I know how to handle a butcher knife and a cleaver.”

“I discriminate,” Lee added. “The more dastardly or desperate the prisoner, the more time he is confined to a cell. As necessary, I order shackles about the wrists or ankles. In worse cases, shackles go to both and get fettered to a chain about the waist. In the worst cases, a shackle is added around the neck.”

“We do sometimes use that hitchin’ post you planted between the back door and the privies in the courtyard,” said Dorothy. “If someone gets too hot, he can cool down outdoors.”

Henry, smiling, looked at the wooden floor. “I had t’ought about getting myself arrested. I hear your cooking is sehr gut.

“As long as the county buys good food,” Dorothy said.

“But now I hear about da manners of your guests.”

“There’ll probably be some of those on display late tonight, dependin’ on what happens in town. But why be downcast, Henry? The menu for tomorrow will be the same as it is every Sunday, as I don’t cook on the Lord’s day: dried cereal, dried beef, dried fish, dried fruit, day-old bread, and tepid water. This time of the year, maybe some parsnips. And if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t get arrested.” Dorothy gave him a nudge. “Besides, I’ve heard your Wilhelmina is a fine cook.”

“True. Very true,” Henry said with a broader smile, still studying the floor. He tapped one of the heavy planks with the tip of his shoe. “No creaks?”

“None,” said Lee. “I have said the county got its money’s worth. Indeed, I dare say this building will stand for a hundred years.”

Ach, dere are buildings in da Fatherland dat have been standing for hundreds upon hundreds of years.”

“If the Lord tarries,” Dorothy said, “the children of your children’s children will see this one, Henry.”

Philip spoke up. “And as for now, I would think this place is good for business … yours and your brother’s. It’s quite an advertisement as well as quite a commendation.”

Das ist gut, of course,” Henry replied. “But dat was not what I had in heart und mind when constructing. ‘Alles, was ihr tut, das tut von Herzen als dem Herrn und nicht den Menschen, und wisset, daß ihr von dem Herrn empfangen werdet die Vergeltung des Erbes; denn ihr dienet dem Herrn Christus.’ ”

 

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Steeds 1

10 02 2017

 

“Where’s the sheriff?” The stout man stood like a chestnut stump before the gate of the small fence dividing the office in half.

“He’s in back,” the sheriff’s deputy answered. “What can I do for you, Mr. Stancil?”

“Nothin’. I’m not talkin’ to you. You don’t belong here. Where’s the sheriff?”

Sheriff Llewellyn Elias Leall walked through a door at the rear of the office. “Good morning, Mr. Stancil.”

“It’s about time you came in from the outhouse.”

“I said he was in back,” the deputy insisted. “First thing every morning, he checks the jail, those jailed, and the jailers.”

“And I said I’m not talkin’ to you.”

“Close the door, please,” said the sheriff.

Stancil turned, reached out with his left foot, and swung the ironclad wooden door shut.

“Now step over here, please. You’re blocking our view of the street.”

The sheriff’s office and jail stood at the top of the T forming the junction of 1st Street and Main in the town of Uttica. Despite the bars protecting them, through the front windows of the building one could see more than half of the mercantile enterprises within the municipality.

Stancil moved along the north side of the fence to the east side of the office.

The sheriff moved in the same direction on the south side of the fence, stopped, and took half a seat on the front of his desk. “State your business, Walter.”

“Someone stole my horse.”

The sheriff reached around to take a piece of plain paper and a pencil and held them out. His deputy stepped over to take them and a seat in the chair behind the desk. Turning back to Stancil, he asked, “When?”

“Last night.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“What? You want the date?”

“How about the hour?”

“I was asleep, you….” Stancil stifled an insult.

“What time did you go to bed?”

“I don’t know. It was dark. I couldn’t see the clock.”

“What time did you get up?”

“At dawn, as usual. That’s when I noticed it missing.”

“The first thing you do in the morning is go into your stable?”

“No….”

“The outhouse,” the deputy proffered.

“No, you….” Stancil stifled another insult. “Like any civilized white man, I have a chamber pot.”

“Yet, at first light, you saw that your horse was missing,” the sheriff said.

“Right. Stolen clean away from my rig.”

“You left your horse harnessed to your tinker’s wagon overnight?”

“You were drunk,” the deputy said. “Again.”

“Shut up!” Stancil shouted at him over the sheriff’s shoulder. Then, to the sheriff, “What’s he doin’ here, anyway? He doesn’t belong here. Andy Jackson sent them all away decades ago.”

“I believe you refer to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.”

“Is that you, Walter Stancil?” yelled a voice from the back. A woman opened another ironclad wooden door, this one with a large window protected by steel bars, and stepped from the jail into the office. “I thought that was your brayin’ voice.” Her own voice was like that of a howling wolf: loud, clear, sometimes haunting, sometimes frightening.

“Mrs. Oakley,” Walter acknowledged.

“I got a kittle that needs fixin’, Walt.” Having brought it along, she held it up. “Half the handle’s come off.”

“Let me have a look, Dorothy.”

She stepped over to the sheriff and handed the kettle across the fence.

Walter studied it.

“So, can you fix it? It’s one of my favorites.”

“Of course I can fix it.”

“Can you fix it fast? I need it to feed prisoners.”

“Well….”

“What? You’re too hung over?”

“Dorothy….” Walter used his tongue to squirt tobacco fluid between his teeth and into the spittoon nearby.

Dorothy reached into a pocket of her apron to remove a purse. From that, she removed a few coins, which she threw into the kettle with a clatter. “There. Maybe the sound of that payment in advance will sober you up. I need my kittle.”

Walter, nodding, reached into the kettle to remove the coins and put them into a pants pocket.

“And another thing,” Dorothy said. “Did you just insult this young man?” She tipped her head toward the deputy. Without waiting for a reply, she swung a long wooden spoon dangling by a thong from her right wrist into her hand and then swung it at Walter, rapping him on his left cheek. Pointing the bowl of the spoon at his mouth, she said, “It is written, the tongue ‘is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God…. These things ought not so to be.’ It, too, is written, ‘If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.’ ”

“Why don’t you leave the preachin’ to your husband, woman?”

“You wanna know what Chet would say to you right now? Put a bit in it!” She whirled about and walked to the back door. Before going through, she said, “We’re prayin’ for you, Walter Stancil.”

“What about my horse?” Walter asked the sheriff.

“Give us a description. What breed?”

“It’s a horse.”

“A horse is a kind. What breed? Quarter? Morgan? Standardbred? Belgian?”

“Are you joking?”

“Answer the question, please.”

“It’s a brown horse.”

“Bay? Sorrel? Chestnut?”

“I said it’s a brown,” Walter interrupted. “With a black mane and tail.”

“Markings?”

“There’s a stripe on the face.”

“Blaze or race?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me.”

“Coronets? Socks? Stockings?”

“Both forelegs have white.”

“Stallion? Gelding? Mare?”

“Female.”

“Age.”

“I don’t know. Older than younger.” Walter became exasperated. “Just find my horse, and find the guy who stole it.”

“Who did take her? Any ideas?”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be in here!”

“Do you owe anyone any money?”

“What business is that of yours?”

“A creditor may have become impatient with failure to remit, and so he came and took your horse in lieu of payment. Perhaps you lost your horse to a gambler, and he came to collect. Maybe you took on a job, failed to perform it adequately, failed to make amends, and your unhappy client took your horse for revenge or leverage.”

“I always do good work! The Oakleys, among others, can attest to that! Ask ‘em!”

“Is someone at all angry with you about something? Anything?”

“Like you, you mean? You still haven’t returned the horse you stole from me last fall. How about it?”

The sheriff answered, “You will recall that you lost your American cream in payment of a fine and to avoid time in jail. You were drunk, disorderly, and disturbing the peace.  Then you resisted arrest and assaulted an officer of the law.”

“So you say.”

“So said a dozen citizens. So said a judge.”

“You should not’ve got involved. You had no business gettin’ involved!”

“You were abusing an innocent animal.”

“It was my property!”

The sheriff spoke quietly. “To hit and kick a wagon simply demonstrates that you are a dunce, Mr. Stancil. To hit and kick a horse demonstrates that you have a demon.”

“Demon liquor, I suppose you’ll say. Demon spirits. You sound like the Oakleys.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us about your missing mare?”

“No. Can I at least borrow back my other horse? I got calls to make, jobs to do.”

“That cream is no longer your horse; I have the bill of sale―signed by you―here in this office.”

“I must’ve been drunk. You took advantage of me.”

“Irmagard has all but retired.”

“Irmagard?”

“She takes Ella and Clara Ladwig on their Sunday calling.”

“Is that what they call that nag?” Walter growled. “I wouldn’t put it past you if you had yourself stolen my brown last night.”

“Do you want us to investigate or not?”

“Not him, anyway,” Walter said, pointing his chin at the deputy. “You, Carlisle, Smythe, and what’s-his-name.”

“Czceszniac.”

“If you say so.”

“He says so.”

“Fine. But he doesn’t belong here.” Walter aimed his chin at the deputy again.

“Philip Redman is a duly sworn officer of the law.”

“He ain’t even a citizen.”

“He is a citizen of these forests and prairies. This is his homeland.”

“Bah!”

“He is my deputy sheriff, and you will respect him as a duly sworn officer of the law, and as he does his duty to keep the peace and maintain order, you will obey him.”

Walter shook his head. “You know, people say you look like William T. Sherman, enough maybe to look like a son. It’s too bad you didn’t inherit his Indian policy.” With that, he turned to leave the office.

“Walter.”

“What?”

“You have oatmeal on your beard.”

Walter opened the door and exited without closing it.

“Lee?”

“What?”

“Maybe we should send to the Barnum Company in Detroit for some screen and add a door in front.”

“Good idea.”

After a pause, the deputy said again, “Lee?”

“Philip?”

“How can a man named Tecumseh be so hard on people like me?”





Steeds

10 02 2017

Horses are being stolen from farmers, tradesmen, merchants, and public servants throughout the county. Sheriff Llewellyn Elias Leall is on the case. The thing is, this is Tuscumbia County, Wisconsin … in the increasingly civilized Midwest, not the Wild West.

Well, worse things happened in recent years not all that far away in Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri at the hands of Frank and Jesse James. Perhaps a new gang, perhaps inspired by the thrilling exploits of the James brothers, is at work and taking advantage of a populace less on guard. After all, the last fight of any magnitude in the state was the Black Hawk War that occurred half a century earlier.

More suspects come under scrutiny, ranging from local pranksters to homeless Indians. One person wonders if it’s a mythical panther.

So, who done it?

I have been inspired to write a story that combines aspects of a classic western with those of a classic mystery to create a social study for the 21st century. In times past, in what came to be called serialization, novels would be broken and published a chapter at a time in weekly or monthly magazines. Sometimes, an author would be published as (s)he wrote, and the completed story would then be published as a book. I would like to try doing that, releasing what may be called a beta version of the novel a blog at a time. Each chapter will be quite short in accordance with contemporary preference, averaging about 1600 words and requiring about 6 minutes of reading time. Comments from those reading to friends, family members, neighbors, and associates, as well as to me, will help determine whether this project is worthwhile.

“And now,” to quote the late Frazier Thomas of Chicago’s WGN television, “if you are quite ready, let us begin.”

 

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