Steeds 10

17 03 2017

 

“Mornin’ there, Lee.”

“Good morning, Rheinhold. That’s quite the rig you have. Or gig, I should say.”

Rheinhold stepped down from the seat of a yellow, nicely sprung, two-wheeled vehicle drawn by one horse.

“Does it belong to you or to the city?” Lee asked.

“Mascoutin provides the fire department with vehicles. The fire chief has a decent buggy. The police department doesn’t get anything, though, and that includes me. If we need something, the city will rent it on a limited term. This thing is mine.”

“The horse, too?” Lee referred to the black stallion hitched to the gig.

“Yup.”

“Standardbred?”

“In my dreams, maybe,” said Rheinhold. “I know you know better, though.”

Lee observed, “Compact body. Gentle curve from poll to back. Neck seems to sit atop the withers rather than out front. High-set tail. Morgan.”

“Morgan. As such, he’s better suited to police work.”

“You won’t be going cross country in that get up.”

“I won’t be jumping logs and fences and hedges, no. And I’ll not be swimming rivers and streams. That’s your job and that of your critter. I stay within city limits and travel civilized roads and streets.”

“Looks fast.”

“It is fast. And comfortable, too. At least more comfortable than a saddle.” Rheinhold looked about. “Some spot you picked, Lee. People might think you’re some kind of artist out here to paint a picture.”

They stood in a small meadow affording a clear view of the Dartford grist mill. The red of its woodwork, dark as it was, nevertheless in the sunlight contrasted well amid the greens of the maples, ashes, and elms framing the structure. Beyond the mill, two kinds of blue could be seen, that of Fairwater Lake and the sky above it. Water in the wheel gleamed white.

“Thanks for coming anyway.”

“Sure. So you’ve got some horses stolen down by you, too.”

“At least two, maybe three.”

“Yeah?”

“One was stolen last Friday night or Saturday morning early, before sunrise. She was taken from a tinker’s wagon just outside of Uttica. Nothing from the wagon was stolen, not even the harness.

“Another was stolen from a farm three miles east of Uttica. He was stolen Sunday night, taken from the inside of the barn.

“The third I’m not sure about. The farmer thought she had gotten loose from her corral and wandered off, but he hasn’t been able to find her. This was over a week ago, going on two. That farm is about five miles northwest of Uttica.

“I have descriptions of each horse here.” Lee produced some papers from a jacket pocket.

“Is that a gun I see hidin’ in that jacket?”

“Revolver.”

“Wha’d’ya carry?”

“In my shoulder holster, I carry Smith and Wesson’s Schofield New Model 3 with a custom five inch barrel. I have the standard seven-inch Model 3 for my belt holster.”

“County issue?”

“My issue.”

“Mascoutin issued us four-inch Colt ‘Storekeepers’. They fit inside the uniforms more easy, and they aren’t as frightful-lookin’ to the townsfolk.”

“That’s why I wear the shoulder holster,” said Lee. “Tell me about your thefts.”

“Right. Two teen-aged boys decided to rent a couple of Quarter Horses from Rayner’s livery for a Saturday afternoon ride. Not this past Saturday; the one before. The boys live in town. Zoober’s the name. Their father, Hendrick, he’s the butcher. Anyway, they left town right after dinner on horseback. They didn’t get back home until midnight, and that because they were on foot. Zoober had started lookin’ for ‘em after sundown. So had Rayner. The boys said they had stopped at a spot along Daycholah Creek to take a swim.”

“In the middle of May?”

“You know boys. The weather that day was warm; the water couldn’t be too cold. So, they went in. Later, they came out. No horses. Both gone.”

“And not because they wandered away, I presume.”

“Nope. The boys said they had each one tied and hobbled. Since they didn’t own the horses, they couldn’t afford to lose ‘em.”

“But they lost them nevertheless.”

“Stolen for sure, while they were frolickin’ in the creek.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Rayner an’ Zoober found the hobbles, and the saddles, the next day … not far from the creek.”

“So, two Quarter Horses stolen,” Lee said.

“Plus a grade horse and another grade horse.”

“Tell me about those.”

“One belonged to a hawker who was passin’ through town. Medicine show masquerading as a Sunday evenin’ revival meetin’. He spent the night in the hotel. Next mornin’, his horse was gone. From Rayner’s livery stable.”

“I presume he had a wagon of some kind.”

“Yup. Parked next to the livery.”

“Anything stolen from the wagon?”

“The hawker didn’t think so. He had it locked tight.”

“When was this?”

“Just this past Monday. That’s why I didn’t go to Uttica for that trial.”

“And the fourth horse?”

“That was the first, actually. About a month ago. A clodhopper into town of a Saturday night for some drinkin’. Got drunk. Escorted from the saloon and splayed across his saddle by a couple of concerned citizens, then sent toward home with a swat on the horse’s rump. Woke up the next mornin’ at the city limit, still sprawled over his saddle, but no horse.”

“Did you happen to bring descriptions of the horses?”

“Yep. Plus notes for each report,” Rheinhold said. “They’re in the box under the seat of my gig.”

“Good. Thank you,” said Lee. “So that’s seven stolen horses. Three in or near Uttica, and four in or near Mascoutin. That makes me wonder what may have been happening in between the two municipalities. And elsewhere in the county. And outside the county, for that matter. Have you heard anything?”

“Nope. Not yet, at least.”

“I had better inquire of every township constable.”

“So wha’d’ya think?” Rheinhold asked.

“One would think a thief―or thieves―would be more interested in rustling cattle or sheep or hogs. There’s a better market for them.”

“Horses are easier to transport,” said Rheinhold. “Cattle require dogs, if not genuine cowboys. Sheep require dogs. Hogs require special wagons.”

“This is true. One or two horses can be led more or less willingly by one person. But why?”

“Horses are more valuable on an individual basis.”

“I daresay those Quarter Horses are valuable, at least relatively speaking,” said Lee. “But the other horses? What does a thief get out of them for all that time, effort, and risk?”

“You’re right. I can think only of the tannery in Metomen.”

“I suppose even five or ten dollars here and there is an attractive return on an investment of no dollars, especially if it’s seed money. I’ll have to check into that tannery. And there’s the new mink farm near Puchyan.”

“Mink hunt horses?” Rheinhold asked.

“I’m not answering that question,” said Lee.

“How about lunch?”

“Well, as you said: this is a picturesque place. It’ll do well for a picnic.”

“I’m not having a picnic with a grown man. Lunch, yes. Picnic, no.”

“What did you bring?”

“Fish, caught right here on Fairwater Lake and smoked by yours truly. What’d you bring?”

“Welsh pasties, made by yours truly, plus farmer cheese, dried apples, hickory nuts, and a few stalks of rhubarb.”

“Rhubarb. You like chawin’ on that raw?”

“Not like tobacco.”

“You don’t use tobacco.”

“You’ve made me hungry. Let’s eat.” Lee walked over to Freyja to loosen a canteen and a simple cloth bag containing his meal.

“You always dress to match your horse?” Rheinhold asked.

The colors of Lee’s trail clothing―or riding habit, as he called it―ranged from Gainsboro to Marengo. He and Freyja looked as if they were posing for a Grisaille painting.

“It’s an idea I got from the Rebs during the war. Less conspicuous.”

“This isn’t a war zone.”

“Not yet, anyway.”

“Not yet?”

“I’m wondering if we might have some young men trying to take after the now infamous James gang.”

 

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