Steeds 42

7 06 2017

“Good morning, Philip.”

Deputy Redman stopped on the path between a woodpile and a wikiyapi. He tried staring through the early morning fog suffusing the forest understory. “Lee?”

“Now that you’re standing still, put both hands out where I can see them, and then don’t move again until I say so.”

As Philip shifted his arms, he shifted his gaze in the direction from which Lee’s voice seemed to come. “Where are you?”

“Call Hanega. Tell him to come out of the hut with empty hands.”

“Hanega is an old man, Lee.”

“I’m aware of that fact. He’s not too old to canoe across the lake for supplies once or twice a week, however.”

“He doesn’t own a gun.”

“Maybe not. Maybe he has guns that belong to others. Maybe he has yours.”

“I left it back in my quarters.”

“I don’t know that.”

“I just told you.”

“I’m sorry, Philip, but at present I can’t trust you.”

“Where are you?”

“Call Hanega out.”

Philip stood silent.

“If you’re thinking of escaping, don’t,” said Lee. “You’re a better horseman than I am, but I’m a better marksman than you are. You won’t get far. And tell Hanega I have two guns and forty-six rounds of .44-40 ammunition; he doesn’t want to do battle with me.”

“I said he has no guns.”

“I said I can’t trust you.”

“I know you, Lee,” said Philip. “You’re not going to shoot anyone because of anyone having stolen anything, to include horses.”

Lee said, “The people of this county may think of horses as nothing but property. You may not, and I suspect Hanega certainly does not. I believe you believe these horses are as worthy as any man, woman, or child of lethal action in their defense.”

“Maybe more so.” Hanega put both hands through the only door of the wikiyapi, and then exited slowly. “You’re people fail to honor our animal brothers and sisters. My people have failed to defend their honor.”

“What would the dead squirrels, rabbits, and fish hanging on that rack say to that?” Lee asked.

Philip said, “It is written, ‘Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, “Ha, ha,” and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.’ ”

“Step forward, both of you,” Lee ordered. “And keep your hands where I can see them.”

“Step where?” Philip asked. “We can’t see you.”

Lee, walking away from a juniper, emerged from the fog.

“You’re going to have to stop dressing like a rebel irregular,” Philip said.

Lee had his Winchester rifle pointing in their direction. “So that’s what this is about. Defending the honor of sixteen horses.”

“You should know, Lee. I learned from you.”

“I wish I could feel honored at that.”

“You should. How’d you find us?” Philip asked.

“Did you see the balloon yesterday evening?”

“We did. Never saw one before. Neither of us.”

“What did you call that … thing, as you people say?” Hanega asked.

“Balloon.”

Hanega had some trouble repeating the word.

Lee said, “It’s a very big bag of rubberized silk cloth filled full of hot air from a mostly smokeless campfire. Just as heat rises from a fire, so does that balloon. Just as willow seeds go with the wind, so does that balloon.”

“Balloon saw us and told you where to find us?” Hanega asked.

“No, sir. I rode the balloon with another man the way men ride a wagon or coach. We saw you. Well, we didn’t see you; we saw the horses.”

“May we put our hands down now?” Philip asked.

“Turn around first, both of you.”

They did so. Lee examined their backs. They wore little clothing, as they had awakened from sleep only minutes before. Lee made sure they could hear him cock the hammer of the rifle. Holding the rifle out of the way in his right hand, he ran his left hand up and down Hanega’s body, and then he did the same to Philip.

Lee stepped back. “You may lower your hands and turn back around to face me.” He eased the rifle hammer to a safe position.

“How did you get from the balloon into these woods?” Philip asked.

“We landed on the other side of the lake. Mr. Stollfus, who owns and operates the balloon, had his two sons chasing us along the ground on horseback. They found our landing place. One rode off to find his mother driving the family’s Conestoga and lead her back to the balloon. After getting it all loaded onto the wagon, we went to Dartford. There, I hired a boatman to bring me to these woods in the dark of night.” Lee added, “He took the canoe in tow, by the way.”

“You’re here alone?”

“In a manner of speaking. Be aware that Constable Morris has men watching the lakeshore. Constable Radtke is set up at Chastain’s and has men watching to the east, south, and west.”

“All novice volunteers,” Philip said. “Even the constables are only as good as one-time volunteers.”

“You’re thinking of making your escape?”

“Let Hanega escape. Or just leave him be, here.”

“What is this place, now that you mention it?”

“Some tycoon in Chicago owns it,” said Philip. “If he comes once a year, that’s it. He probably bought it with some future business venture in mind. As for Hanega, this place, and all the places around the lake, are home. This particular place, however, looks and feels most like home. As it was. As it still is. At least for a while yet.”

Lee nodded. “Let’s take a walk.”

“We don’t have shoes on.”

“I noticed. We’ll not walk far, and you won’t be able to run far. We can move slowly and carefully. Let’s go to the glades I saw from above.”

The wikiyapi stood in a small stand of tall white pines. The trio walked through a stand of mixed deciduous trees: oaks, hickories, elms, ashes, basswoods. As they walked, the trees became more widespread, and grass was able to grow underneath. Soon, they came to a place that was more field than forest.

Lee looked at the horses quietly grazing. “Now, Philip, let’s go through the list. Did you steal Ferdinand Sommerfeldt’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Neglect. The horse had sweet itch and ringworm, untreated.”

“How is she now?”

“Well. Hanega took good care of her. He and I took good care of all these horses. You can see that from here, and you can see that better upon close examination of each.”

“On that I can still trust you, Philip,” said Lee. “Did you steal Walter Stancil’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“You know the answer to that yourself. He treated her as if she were some piece of machinery. She’s retired now.”

“By the way,” said Lee, “you lost this at Stancil’s.” He tossed a button to Philip. “It took me much too long to discover its owner because I looked for almost anyone other than you. Now I realize that goes on the cloak you wear in colder weather. In the case of the Stancil theft, it was a chilly spring night. In addition, the cloak would work well to disguise your visage.”

Philip looked at it. “Thank you, Lee. I mean it. I’ve been missing this. It’s the only thing I inherited from my unknown family. I suspect I ripped it off my anonymous mother’s coat when I was ripped from her dying arms. I was named after my mother.”

“You were?” Lee asked in a tone that expressed incredulity and puzzlement.

“Or I was named after my father. Or my uncle. Or grandfather. Maybe a grandmother.”

“What name is that?”

“X.”

“X?”

“X. As in, make your mark.” Philip put the button in a pants pocket.

Lee continued. “Did you steal Jeffrey Rayner’s two American Quarter Horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Those Zoober boys nearly ran them to death, one race after another. That included literally whipping them into a lather. The boys left many lash marks on both horses.”

“But those horses didn’t belong to the Zoobers.”

“I didn’t know that at the time I rescued them.”

“Did you steal Willard Zik’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“That so-called medicine man used his horse to sell his poison. He forced that horse to eat or drink one thing or another to make him slow or weak or lethargic. Then, during one of his shows, he’d give the horse a drink of his elixir. That made the horse seem stronger, brighter, more peppy. He turned his horse into the equine equivalent of an opium fiend and drunk so he could hawk his swill to foolish people.”

“How is the horse now?”

“Clean.”

“I have not seen anything like it, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “I could not make out what spirit was at work. Philip did more to help that one than I did.”

Lee nodded. “Did you steal Adolph Kleindl’s horse, Philip?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Abuse. Cruelty.”

“I recovered that horse, by the way. Helen Vrechek was none too pleased to surrender him. Quite sad, actually. She took an immediate liking to him and was treating him well.”

“How did you manage that?” Philip asked.

“Handwriting analysis. I have the note you wrote and left with Miss Vrechek.”

Philip shook his head. “I knew you were good. I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I had help.”

“Providence, I suppose?”

“What is Providence?” Hanega asked.

“I can explain later,” Lee said. “Philip, did you steal William Chesney’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Work: too much and too hard for a horse his age. And, I saw later, he had sand cracks in two hooves, untreated.”

“Did you steal two of Edward Chastain’s horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“Capped elbows and hocks, untreated.”

“Did you steal four of Elmer Villwock’s horses?”

“I did. The four of them.”

“Why?”

“Neglect as indicated by insufficient food, foul water, and poisonous plants in the pasture, to include nightshade, bracken, ragwort, and purple milk vetch. Add to that all the manure left untended, subjecting the horses to worms.”

“Were you and Hanega the two men Zeke saw in the moonlight fording the creek with those four horses?”

“Zeke saw us, yes.”

“What was the language Zeke heard?”

“Ho-Chunk.”

“What?”

“Ho-Chunk. Winnebago.”

“Ah. I didn’t know you knew such a language. I didn’t know you knew you are Winnebago.”

“I don’t. Hanega has been teaching me a bit now and then. Zeke heard Hanega talking, more to the horses than to me.”

“How did you get back to the office so fast?”

“I didn’t come all the way here. I helped Hanega until it was time to turn for Uttica so I could be on duty by six o’clock. Hanega brought the horses the remainder of the way here without me.”

“Did you steal Melvin Novak’s horse?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“He, too, practiced poor pasture management. Too many poisonous plants present, to include yew. His horse could have been dead by now.”

“Novak is that stupid a farmer?”

“Farming isn’t a job for everyone. Animal husbandry isn’t a job for everyone. Some people figure farm animals know how to take care of themselves just because they’re animals. That’s stupid. A dairy cow is not a buffalo. A house cat is not a cougar. They can fend for themselves no better than would sweet corn planted here among the prairie grasses.”

“Can you say anything about the whinny Novak heard?”

“That was my horse. Ranger and I worked out a call that would get the attention of another horse and also invite that horse to join us. I imagine Ranger’s call is based on what stallions do out in the wild.”

“You used it more than once?”

“Yes.”

“Did you steal Uttica’s two fire horses?”

“I did.”

“Why?”

“They were left to die. Tom or Barney should have checked on them when the fire spread from the wagon shed to the house. Willy and Billy should have been moved. They were breathing much too much smoke. Burning embers were falling on them.”

“How are they now?”

“Safe.”

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