Steeds 35

30 05 2017

“Mr. Richard A. Whitmore: good morning. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I understand you are the county sheriff. I see your badge, but I’m not sure I caught the name when my sister-in-law announced your presence. Neal, is it? Beal?”

“Llewellyn Elias Leall, sir.”

“Leall. Thank you. My hearing isn’t what it once was.” Richard, who had stood to greet his visitor, held a hand out to his right and then resumed his seat.

“I shall endeavor to speak clearly and with sufficient volume, sir.”

“Why are you still standing?”

“It is written, ‘Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.’ ”

“Well, now. I am familiar with that passage, but I daresay you are the first in my life actually to apply it. I thank you, sir. Now do sit down.” Richard pointed at a captain’s chair not far from his rocker. Both were located on the back porch of the elderly man’s home in Metomen. “Do you like peonies, Sheriff Leall?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you like the scent of peonies?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Not too feminine?”

“No, sir, though I do prefer the scent of all our grasses at this time of year. I did not know how distinctive their scent is, not until I spent a couple years away from them in the Deep South. Coming back to the Middle West in the early summer of ‘65 was an epiphany of sorts.”

“Have you been farther west, Sheriff?”

“Beyond the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers, no.”

“Ah, at this time of year, there is something to be said for seeing the sun rise over vast prairie grassland to the east, and seeing the early morning sunlight emblazon majestic mountains to the west, this while listening to a chorus of birds sing their matins.”

The two men sat quietly for a time and listened to the songs of robins.

“So tell me, Sheriff Leall, how may I be of service to you?”

“Well, sir, I understand from your brother that you served for many years as a missionary among the Indians.”

“Forty years, yes. And how do you know my brother, David?”

“I have seen him in court a number of times.”

“But of course,” said Richard. “He is an attorney at law, while you are an officer of the law.”

“As an officer of the law, I am working on solving a number of related crimes. That is, I believe them to be related.”

“What crimes?”

“Horse thefts. Perhaps you’ve heard or read some news.”

“There may have been something in a newspaper. David hasn’t mentioned it.”

“Your brother practices law here. As far as I know, no horses have been stolen from within the municipality, so there would be no natter. Nothing has gone to court, never mind anyone being arraigned. Earlier, we arrested a man whom I thought to be a perpetrator, but I since disenfranchised myself of the suspicion. That man has been extradited to Wood County for a crime committed there. Sheriff Whelchel has not learned anything helpful since. I have received other leads, however. One I bring to you today for your advice.”

“Oh? What? You have indication that Indians have been raiding farmers?” Richard asked with a measure of incredulity in his voice.

“That would be much easier to investigate.”

“So let’s have it, sir.”

Lee handed Richard a piece of paper.

“This looks like a child’s writing,” said the old man.

“It is,” said Lee. “It is that of a boy named Quentin, who is ten years of age.”

Richard read the letter. “This is addressed to you, employing a presentation obviously taught to him. He endeavors to be correct in his correspondence, even formal.”

“You smile, sir. You see he is not quite yet proficient.”

“He does, however, make it clear that he believes you should lead a posse in search of one Panther, the Water Spirit.”

“Indeed.”

“Is this lad of American Indian parentage?”

“No, sir. Dutch and British. According to his aunt, who is a school teacher in Pleasant Valley, he has become something of a student of Indian lore.”

“And how does he come by this interest?”

“His family lives on and works a farm outside Amherst, in the Tomorrow River country. Indians from time to time pass through, and Quentin’s father allows them to camp on their property.”

“On what used to be the Indians’ property, I imagine … though territory is a better word than property. They don’t think of real estate as we do.”

“Quentin has been allowed to listen to stories.”

“Ah.”

“One of my deputies, Philip Redman, is of American Indian parentage,” said Lee, “but he has no idea of tribal identity. He was reared since infancy in an orphanage, a Roman Catholic orphanage. I would ask Philip for assistance in this, but he knows little of his ethnicity. As for myths, legends, and folklore, he is much more familiar with Archbishop Jacobus da Voragine’s Golden Legend.”

“I’ve heard of it. Now that you mention it, I believe I heard a few of those stories when I was a child.”

“Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not…”. The lad is sincere in his endeavor to render assistance. I believe I should give him some kind of gracious response.”

“I, too, believe you should,” said Richard. “And you are here because you don’t quite know what to say or do.”

“Yes, sir. I could begin with a reply stating that we have discerned absolutely no indication of a predatory animal attacking any of the horses in question … or any of all the horses in Tuscumbia County, for that matter. These days, our horses are more subject to injury inflicted by other horses, and maybe by the rare bull and ox. If you ask me, our horses suffer more at the hands of people than animals. As for the missing horses, we have found no blood, no bones, no offal. One would think that a hunting cat would leave such evidence.”

“But a spirit cat is no mere cat,” said Richard. “Such a panther could be expected to be more cunning, more shrewd, more devious … and certainly more capable. Indians―at least those with whom I have lived―consider Panther to be, shall we say, a less than welcome presence. Think bad news and bad luck both. To see a real wildcat, be it bobcat or lynx or cougar, is to be informed you are being stalked by an enemy. This enemy may be natural or supernatural, corporeal or spiritual, and you don’t want an enemy after you who has the power of Panther. You would rather elicit such power for use against an enemy. Did you know, by the way, that the panther was not originally long and lank?”

“No, sir.’

“Yes. The cougar, or puma, or mountain lion … which do you prefer, sir?”

“How about catamount?”

“Catamount! Your ethnicity is showing, I gather. Well, then: the catamount was originally much more like the lynx, except bigger and without those distinctive tufts of fur at the tips of the ears.”

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