Steeds 20

22 04 2017

“Mornin’, Sheriff. Deputy.”

“Good morning, Zeke,” Lee said. “How are you today?”

“Fair to partly cloudy, I reckon. I’m on my way to t’e courthouse, but I figur’t I should stop an’ say a piece.”

“Sure. What have you got?”

Zeke closed the front door and took a stance close to the center of the office. “Well, now’t t’ays are nice an’ long, I decided yeste’day after work to go fishin’. Up ‘long Elford Creek.”

“Catch anything?”

“Oh, yeah. You know t’e creek’s spring fed. Water’s cold t’rough most t’e summer. Got some trout. Had a nice supper right ‘long t’e bank. So nice, I said to myself, I said, ‘Self, whyn’t you jus’ stay out all night? It’s warm enough. There’ll be moon enough.’ So I said, ‘You talked me into it.’ I found a nice, grassy place, an’ I bedded down. Well, sir, I slept well ‘nough, but t’e grasses weren’t my reg’lar rack, an’ so I woke up now an’ again. Towards last, I woke up to hear some noise: a couple of men on horseback wranglin’ some ot’er horses ‘cross t’e ford downstream.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“How many men?” Lee asked. “Two, did you say?”

“I did. Two.”

“How many horses?”

“Besides those they were ridin’, four.”

“When was this?” Philip asked.

“Jus’ last night.”

“I know, but what time?”

“Oh, I didn’ bot’er to check my watch. It ‘as dark. I couldn’ see’t.”

“So how could you see the men and horses?”

“It wasn’t too dark. I was t’irty, forty paces away, an’ I could make ‘em out at the ford ‘cause it’s open. No trees. Moon.”

“Did you recognize anyone?” Lee asked.

“Nope. Too dark.”

“And I’ll presume there was no way of recognizing any of the horses.”

“Nope. I could make out some had some white markin’s.”

“Which way were they going?”

“West.”

Another man entered the office. “Sheriff! I’m glad you’re here.”

“Good morning, sir. And you are?”

“Rudolph Seitzinger, sir.”

“This is my deputy, Philip Redman.”

“I’ve seen him out and about.”

“And this is Zeke Eisenga.”

“Mornin’,” Rudolph said.

Zeke touched the brim of his hat.

“You seem to be in something of a lather, sir,” said Lee.

“I am actually. I’m takin’ time away from chores to report this: Old Man Villwock’s horses have been stolen. All of ‘em.”

“And how many is that?”

“Four.”

“All at the same time?”

“He thinks so.”

“When?”

“Last night. Maybe yesterday.”

“Can you provide any details?”

“Not many. I wasn’t there. I’m Villwock’s neighbor, but I’m not that close to see everythin’ that goes on at his place.”

“What can you tell us?”

“Villwock says the horses were there, and then they weren’t.”

“Please, more detail.”

“Well, folks know Old Man Villwock is all but bedridden. If he’s up two or three hours a day, that’s it … total. So he’s in bed, but he can see the paddock out his window. He wakes up this mornin’ and looks out, as always. His clock ticks. How come he’s not seein’ any of his horses out there? He waits. He watches. Enough ticks, and he gets up. He opens up the window and sticks his head out. No horses. That gives him enough gumption to walk out the house and look around. He even hauls himself into the barn. No horses.”

“What about other animals?” Philip asks.

“What other animals? Except for a few cats, there ain’t any. Well, the neighbors round about, we take food to Villwock. At least one hot meal a day, plus staples. He pays something every visit. Today, it was Hazel’s turn. Hazel’s my wife. She takes some victuals over, and he says his horses are gone. So, talk about bein’ in a lather. Hazel tells him she’ll look around. She tells him maybe the gate got open, or maybe the horses kicked some boards off the fence. That would be easy enough to do, considerin’ the state of his place. But nope, the paddock was still closed up. Hazel tells him to eat his breakfast, and she’ll get me.

“That time of the day, the milkin’s long done, and I’m just headin’ out to the fields, so I figured I could take some time to have a look-see. If the horses had broken out, they probably wouldn’t have wandered far, but I couldn’t see hide nor hair. And I was on horseback, not in our buggy, so I could go cross-country. Other neighbors are lookin’ around. I’m here.”

“Have you seen those horses? Before, I mean,” said Lee. “Can you describe them?”

“Grade horses, common bred. Gettin’ old. Nothin’ special. I never paid much attention.”

“White markings?”

“I recollect three of them have white on their faces and legs.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Lee. “Zeke may very well have seen those horses.”

“Oh?”

“Last night, out by Elford Creek. They were being led by two men on horseback.”

“Really?”

“What time was that, Zeke?”

“I said I couldn’ see my watch, so I didn’ try lookin’.”

“Where was the moon in the sky?”

“Oh, well….” Zeke looked out the windows and then repositioned himself. He pointed at the ceiling. “T’e moon was along about t’ere.”

“You’re thinkin’ of goin’ after ‘em, Sheriff?” Rudolph asked.

“They have a six-hour lead. Maybe seven.”

“Some’at else,” said Zeke. “I heard t’e men speakin’.”

“What?”

“I cannot say. It was anot’er language. Indian, I t’ink.”

“Indian?” Philip said. “There is no such thing. Ho-Chunk, yes. Sauk or Menominee: yes, maybe. But there are no such people here, not anymore.”

“Zeke,” said Lee. “You’re sure it was a language other than English.”

“Yeah.”

Philip said, “Half the people in this county are German. A quarter are Dutch. A quarter are Polish.”

“That don’t cipher,” said Zeke. “What about all t’e Yankees?”

Lee said, “Zeke, the point is that many, many people here speak the languages of their ancestors, of their European heritage. German. Dutch.”

“I know Dutch. An’ I know German when I hear it. I can’t speak it, but I know it.”

“Swedish? Norwegian? Danish?”

“I know t’e sounds.”

“Polish? Czech?”

Zeke hesitated.

“You’re confident it was quite different, quite unusual.”

“Yeah.”

“Try this,” said Lee. “ ‘Fel hyn y dywed yr Arglwydd, Nac ymffrostied y doeth yn ei ddoethineb, ac nac ymffrostied y cryf yn ei gryfder, ac nac ymffrostied y cyfoethog yn ei gyfoeth;  Eithr y neb a ymffrostio, ymffrostied yn hyn, ei fod yn deall, ac yn fy adnabod i, mai myfi yw yr Arglwydd a wna drugaredd, barn, a chyfiawnder, yn y ddaear: oherwydd yn y rhai hynny yr ymhyfrydais, medd yr Arglwydd.’ Does that sound like what you heard?”

“Yeah! Yeah!” Zeke said. “What is it?”

“Welsh.”

“Really?”

Lee walked over to the map of the county he had on the wall near his desk. “Deputy Redman.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It may very well be that those two men have at least a six-hour lead. Then again, maybe not. I wouldn’t travel in daylight with stolen horses. Even if no one along the way suspected them of being thieves, citizens would surely remember them. Two horsemen wrangling four other horses is an unusual sight. I think those two may have stopped and set up camp for the day, out of sight and out of sound. That requires cover and concealment. That requires a forest or woodlot not likely to be visited by landowners. There are only so many places that will work.” Lee pointed at the map. “You have your Colt.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take a Winchester from the rack, plus ammunition. Grab some food from Mrs. Oakley. Get on your horse and ride. Conduct a reconnaissance.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m going out to talk to Mr. Villwock. Before that, though, I’m sending some telegrams west as far as the Dells.”

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