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

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