Steeds 19

18 04 2017

Lee and Freyja travelled a country lane. The leaves of the oaks and hickories intermittently lining both sides had grown to full size for the season. Croplands of winter and spring wheat spread bright green. So did pastures and hayfields. Grass not yet grazed or mown stood knee length while grass in fields having been subjected to the first of three harvests already reached one’s ankles. All of it waved like surf in the breeze. By contrast, corn clattered softly.

Rounding a curve, Lee looked ahead to see a man tumble from his horse. After regaining his feet, he slapped the horse in the face and then tried to remount. The horse hopped and spun to prevent the man from getting back onto the saddle. The man jerked at the reins and used them to whip the horse on the neck. Even so, the horse refused to let the man climb up. The man stepped in front and took aim with his fist to hit the horse on the tip of her nose.

Lee had his sub-compact side-by-side shotgun out. He fired one shot into the ground to his right and rear, keeping the sound of the blast as far as possible from Freyja’s ears, as well as his own. He then urged Freyja to an immediate gallop. In seconds, they were upon the other man and horse. “Stop that!” Lee commanded.

“What the…?”

Lee brought Freyja to a halt a few yards from the man, put the shotgun back into its place, and slid from the saddle. “Stand still!” He spoke not to his horse, but to the man. He strode over and yanked the reins from his hands.

“What do you think you’re doin’?”

“Shut up! What’s your name?”

“Who wants to know?”

Lee’s badge was plainly visible. “Llewellyn Elias Leall, sheriff of Tuscumbia County, at your service. What’s your name?”

“Allison.”

“What’s your full name?”

“Terrence Allison.”

“Where do you live?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“Is that yours?” Lee pointed to a small, rectangular bottle laying some feet away on the road. “It looks like it fell out of your vest pocket.”

“So?”

“Pick it up.”

Terrence stepped over to retrieve it.

“And stay there. Don’t move.”

“Stop givin’ me orders!”

“Shut up! You’re under arrest.”

“Under arrest? For what?”

“Disturbing the peace.”

“The dickens! The closest farmstead is a quarter mile away.”

“Disturbing my peace.”

Terrence was about to cuss.

“I said shut up! Or do you want me to add drunk and disorderly to the charge? That bottle has only a few ounces of liquor in it. Judging from your breath, the other five ounces are swamping your brain. Now stand still.”

Lee turned his attention to the horse. He began by letting her take a good look at him while she smelled his hands. Next, he ran his fingers up and down her face and around her jaws. Then he rubbed her neck. He eased to her left side and kept moving around her rear and to her right side, all the while keeping in touch.

Lee looked at the saddle and then more closely at the pad underneath it. Gently, he slipped a hand between the pad and the horse. Resuming his circuit, Lee stepped around the horse’s front. At her left side again, he reached underneath to unhitch the girth strap. He lifted the saddle, took it over to Terrence, and let it drop to the surface of the road.

“What are you doin’?”

“I said shut up.”

“That’s my property!”

Lee returned to the horse and carefully lifted the pad. “Tell me about this numnah.”

“This what?”

“This saddle pad, saddle blanket, whatever you call it.”

“What about it?”

“Where did you get it? It looks like an old rug.”

“It is.”

“I can appreciate the adage, ‘Waste not, want not.’ But this?”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“This old rag still has carpet tacks snagged in the material!” Lee dug one out and showed it to Terrence, and then he pulled two more. “Look what they did to the horse. She’s bleeding.”

“I thought I had those all out.”

“Sure you did. Look at this rag. It’s full of dirt and chaff. No wonder the horse couldn’t tolerate having you on her back. How far did you come?”

“A mile or so.”

“You live within a mile or so?”

“Yeah.”

Lee tossed the saddle pad to him. “Clean that.”

“With what?”

“Don’t you have a comb and brush in your saddle bags?”

“No.”

“Use your hands.”

“But…”

“Do it before I make you lick that thing clean.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Listen, Mr. Allison. ‘He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.’ I don’t expect you to know who said that, but I do expect you to believe it. Or shall I drag you back to your place and see how well you’ve been treating, whom? Your wife? Your children? Your parents? Your hired man?”

Terrence did not answer.

“Get to work. I’ll tend to these wounds.”

Lee walked over to Freyja and opened a saddle bag, from which he removed a carrot. After withdrawing a Barlow knife from a pocket and opening it, he sliced the carrot lengthwise. One piece he gave to Freyja. Returning to Terrence’s horse, he gave the other piece to her.

“Where’d you get a carrot this time of year?” Terrence asked.

“That was the last one from last year, actually. My landladies are quite skilled at storing root crops in their cellar fall, winter, and spring. Use clean, dry sand. Keep the individual vegetables from touching one another. Works for beets and sweet potatoes, too. Do you know why I sliced that carrot the way I did?”

“I suppose I won’t have to wait long before you tell me.”

“It’s to reduce the chances of the horse choking.”

Lee returned to his horse, gathered a number of items from a saddle bag, and then grabbed his canteen. These he carried to Terrence’s horse. He said, “Since you don’t seem to know much about feeding a horse, Mr. Allison, I suspect you likewise don’t know much about doctoring a horse, so pay attention.” Lee went to work. “Cold, clean water to cleanse the wounds…. Clean cotton cloth to dry them…. This is a concoction of my own making containing plantain, witch hazel, wild indigo, and white oak sap in a carrier of natural oil. It protects the injuries while promoting the healing process…. ”

Lee returned the items to Freyja, and then he pointed in both directions across the road. “Do you know these folks?”

Terrence pointed in one direction. “That’s the Balda place.”

“You cordial with them?”

“I reckon.”

“Unless you want to carry your saddle on your shoulder back to your place, I suggest you hide it in the grass of their pasture, and come back later to get it.”

“My place? I thought you said I’m under arrest.”

“You were. Now you’re on probation, and these are the terms. You walk your horse home. You give her some oats and clean water. You keep her away from manure piles. You put her on good pasture. You keep saddles and harnesses off her until these wounds heal. That goes for flies, too; you don’t want them laying eggs in these injuries. Do you understand?”

“Who are you to tell me what to do with my property?”

“Do you want to discuss this at length as you walk all the way to jail? Once there, you’ll be allowed to discuss it with a lawyer of your choice.”

Terrence picked up his saddle, carried it off the road, and buried it in tall grass under a burr oak. When he returned, he saw Lee holding the reins of his horse. Lee held them out. As soon as Terrence touched them, the horse bolted. She backed away quickly, dragging the reins on the ground.

Lee walked over and took up the reins. He held them out. As soon as Terrence moved toward her, the horse again moved several paces away.

“Does she know the way home?” Lee asked.

“From here, yeah, I think so.”

Lee walked over to the horse and removed the bit and bridle. He walked back to Terrence and gave the items to him. Then he went to his own horse and mounted. “No charge for the veterinary service. I’ll look you up later. If not me, then Deputy Sheriff Philip Redman. One of us will check back.” He and Freyja resumed their journey.

Terrence’s horse followed.

“Hey!”

Lee and Freyja stopped. “What?”

“You’re stealin’ my horse.”

“I most certainly am not.” Lee and Freyja started again.

The other horse followed.

“Hey!”

Lee and Freyja stopped. “What?”

“My horse!”

“Call her.”

“I dasn’t.”

“Why not?”

“It doesn’t have a name … other than cuss words.”

Lee and Freyja started once more. Terrence’s horse followed them all the way to Uttica.

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