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?”

 

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