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.’ ”

 

steeds-2

 

 

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