Steeds Now Available

23 06 2017

 

Now available at Amazon.





Steeds 43

8 06 2017

The risen sun first brightened, and then evaporated, the fog veiling the surface of the earth.

“They’re all safe,” said Philip of the horses populating the pastoral scene.

“I’m sorry to say that’s not true for you,” said Lee. He stood about seven feet to the right of Philip and Hanega, the Winchester cradled in the crook of his left arm pointing in their direction. “You gave one horse to a school teacher in Doylestown. You know her, I presume.”

“She and I were reared in the same orphanage.”

“I know. You were friends?”

“Friendly. Not the best of friends, though.”

“Why did you pick her for Asher?”

“She never had much growing up. She always wanted a horse. Asher wanted a home … a better home than he had before.”

“What were you planning to do with these others?”

Philip answered, “Willy and Billy were going back to the fire station as soon as I thought they were fit for duty. I wanted to give several of the others to the orphanage. The horses at the farm where I worked as a boy meant much to me. Try to understand. The nuns, even though they were all women, felt like one father figure. The other orphans, like cousins and classmates. A few were fast friends. But the farm horses, they were mother and brother and sister; they felt like the family I never had. I figured others of the orphans in the nuns’ care could benefit from having horses.”

“Sister Margaret does have what one might call … presence.”

“Oh?”

“I met her just the other day,” said Lee.

“You did?”

“She stopped in Uttica on her way to Holy Hill to pay you a visit. She wants to found a parish school beside the orphanage.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“I told the Oakleys to keep quiet. Sister Margaret helped me with analyzing that note you wrote to Helen Vrechek.”

“Ah.” Philip’s voice sounded a melancholy note.

“I didn’t tell her that, as a result of her assistance, I suspected you of being the horse thief. I didn’t tell Chet or Dorothy, or Charlie. I haven’t told anyone yet.”

“So who do Morris and Radtke think you’re gunning for?”

“The horse thief. Or thieves.”

Philip nodded. “I’m surprised they let you come in here all by yourself.”

“I’m the sheriff; they’re not. I have combat experience; they don’t.”

“So what’s going to happen next?” Philip asked.

“Believe it or not, I don’t know,” said Lee. “Consider yourselves both under arrest now. But next?”

“Could you stop pointing that rifle at us?”

Lee executed a casual left-face and brought the rifle to ready-arms. He kept his right hand at the trigger and hammer. “Sixteen horse thefts,” he said. “You know that means prison.”

“I’ll not go to prison, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “I’ll run, and you’ll have to shoot me in the back. Or I’ll drown in the lake. Land or water, I die here. It’s nearly my time, as it is. To be honest, I feel it is past time. That balloon, it spoke to me. Balloon said, ‘This is no longer your time, Hanega; it is now their time.’ ”

Lee nodded. “Walter Stancil sneered that you aren’t even a citizen of these United States, Philip. That’s true. And it’s true for you, Hanega. You are, as it has been said, wards of the federal government. I could transfer you to a federal marshal.”

“And then what?” Philip asked. “Federal prison? Hanging? Firing squad?”

“Perhaps I could arrange transport to the reservation in Nebraska?”

“Yet another trail of tears, Lee?”

“This is my home, Sheriff,” said Hanega. “This is our home, the home of my people. Not Nebraska.”

“But if, perhaps, the Winnebago tribal police take jurisdiction…. You are members of the tribe.”

“Will the United States marshal allow that? The federal court? And what about the people of Tuscumbia County? What will they allow?” Philip asked.

 





Steeds 41

6 06 2017

“Say your prayers, Sheriff.”

“I have already.”

“I should have guessed. Look at this weather! It couldn’t be better. So, come on in.”

Lee handed Joshua a light-weight, gray jacket and a Model 1873 Winchester, and then climbed into the gondola of the hot air balloon towering above them.

“Rifle, pistol, ammunition belt,” Joshua observed. “Are you going to war, or does this thing remind you of the war, and you’re reminiscing?”
“It does, indeed, bring back some memories. I’ve never been this close to one, though. I never benefitted directly from the use of one during the war.”

“Obviously, then, you’ve never been in one.”

“No. I had no idea a balloon was so big.”

“This one holds sixty thousand cubic feet of sky,” Joshua said. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“I don’t think so. I used to climb trees often when I was a boy.”

“That helps, but this is different, as you’ll soon see. Does this rifle have a saddle ring?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, there it is. You better tie a lanyard to the rifle, just in case. Hannah, a piece of cord, please.”

Joshua’s wife handed one over to Lee.

“You have a last will and testament, sir?” Joshua asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“This is my business. Even so, it is risky, even dangerous. This trip will be no stroll in the park.”

“My business has its risks, too. Thus, the weaponry, especially since I’ll have no help from any of my deputies. One is missing. One is exhausted. The remaining two must stay at the jail working overtime. And, yes, I have prepared a last will and testament. Ella and Clara: did you hear that?”

“I did, Lee,” said Ella.

“As Mr. Stollfus says, this will be a risky endeavor … in the air, and then on the ground. The Oakleys are designated trustees of my estate, such as it is. Freyja and Isolde stay here, and you and Clara get money for their room and board. Otherwise, the church….”

“Don’t talk like that, Lee,” said Ella.

“As the man here said.”

Joshua spoke up. “Malachi. Micah. You have your maps?”

“Yeah, Pa,” said Micah.

“Off with you, now. Head north, as we discussed.”

“Later, Pa,” said Malachi.

With that, the two young men galloped off on their individual horses.

“Hannah, you have your map?”

“Got it, Josh.”

“As we discussed, load up the gear and drive the wagon to Dartford. From there, it’ll be a shorter distance to wherever we land.”

“Give me my kiss, first,” said Hannah.

That done, Joshua said, “Let us loose.”

Hannah unhooked the cable, and up went the hot air balloon.

“How high do you want to go, Sheriff?”

“I’m already higher than I’ve ever been in my life. You’ve done this before. I’ll want to be high enough to see the landscape at some distance, but not so high I can’t make out details. I did bring a small telescope.” Lee produced it from a pocket.

“I have one, too,” said Joshua. “It’s a bit bigger than yours. The scopes will be handy, I assure you.”

Joshua continued, “Let me review what I told you earlier. I’ve noticed that people who don’t do this have a hard time comprehending it. Like a sailboat, we are propelled by the wind. Unlike a sailboat, there’s no steering; we go where the wind pushes us.”

“Like cottonwood fluff and milkweed seeds.”

“Like that. I can adjust our height to some extent, though coming down is always easier than going up. In fact, the more time that goes by, the less I’ll be able to go up. The coals in the brazier will work to keep the air inside the balloon hot. As you can guess, as they burn down, they’ll produce less and less heat. Less heat means less lift. I do have a few sacks of charcoal tied to the outside of the basket. Generally speaking, though, if you want a change in altitude, think more in terms of going down and not going back up again. Also, no matter what time it is or how short a distance we have travelled, I must land before all the heat is gone from the balloon. I can’t predict that. The temperature of the air up here has an effect.”

“Got it.”

“We left at,” Joshua said as he checked his watch, “five o’clock, as planned. We have about three hours of sunlight. At the latest, we must go down with the sun. There’s no landing in the dark … or dusk, for that matter.”

“I understand.”

“We’re moving along fairly well, I’d say. Not too fast. The boys will have an easier time keeping us in sight.”

“I surmise all this red coloration, trimmed in yellow and white, is intended to make the balloon easy to see,” said Lee.

“You’ve got it. The colors are good advertising, but their main purpose is to help the family keep an eye on us.”

“From what distance can we be seen?”

“That depends on our altitude. In fine weather, we can be seen five miles away.”

“We’re moving south to north,” said Lee, “as I had hoped.”

“The wind is steady. That’s good. And these summer conditions are helping, too. I sense heat rising from the land, even this late in the afternoon. How about this height?”

“You tell me.”

“Remind me: what am I looking for?” Joshua asked.

“Pastures, meadows, glades that are out of the way. I mean, they are away from roads and farmsteads, far enough away as not to be seen by anyone on the road or at the farmstead. Far enough away as not to be heard by anyone. I suspect what we seek will be enclosed by a forest. Otherwise, we seek a forest that has no roads or trails or homesteads inside or nearby.”

“Wilderness? Here?” Joshua pointed at the patchwork of farm fields and woodlots below.

“One doesn’t think of wilderness in association with Tuscumbia County. Not anymore. Not for the past forty years or so. But there may be some vestiges left.”

“What about wetlands?”

“We should look at those, too. Most of the large expanses in the county, however, are to the west. We may not be able to see them well enough.”

“Another trip, perhaps.”

“Perhaps. And, yes, wilderness is a good word to describe what we seek. Any place that appears not to be visited at all by people.”

The balloon soared silently through the sky. The two men in the gondola watched the ground below, studied their map, and made notes on it in pencil. One periodically checked ropes and lines and tended the brazier.

“I couldn’t help but note back there that you mentioned no family as beneficiaries of your last will and testament. You are alone in this life, Sheriff?”

“My parents are now quite elderly,” said Lee. “They live with my sister. Actually, they have lived with her and her husband for some time. In Racine. My brother-in-law is employed by J.I. Case.”

“I refer, sir, to a wife and children … if I may be so inquisitive.”

“I was engaged to marry, many years ago. The war had commenced, and we agreed not to wed until afterward. No need for my fiancée to have to wait years and years in the event of my going missing in action to get a death certificate. I wanted her free to marry someone else, if it came to it.”

“But you didn’t die. Did you go missing for too long?”

“No. Sharon, my fiancée, was the one who died. Before I got home. She was killed by a runaway team of horses after she shoved her mother and younger sister out of harm’s way.”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff. And you didn’t marry someone else.”

“No, sir.”

The two stood silent in the breeze.

“I take it, that’s Fairwater Lake on the horizon ahead,” Joshua said.

“It is,” said Lee.

More time passed.

“Sheriff, look there to the left.”

“Yes.”

“That expanse of woods, it looks like it may reach the shore of the lake on its north. To the west, I see a creek draining towards the lake. Below us, another creek. See? It empties into the lake ahead. Looking back upstream, the bed goes south and then west. Those two creeks all but bound the woods on three sides, in a manner of saying it. The lake is the north boundary.”

“I do see that.”

Joshua had his telescope up. “And there appears to be an opening in those woods.”

Lee had his telescope up. “Indeed. It’s not obvious. It’s not plainly demarcated, as if a farmer had a fenced hayfield there. It appears natural, very much like prairie parkland within the forest.” Lee moved his telescope away from his eye and studied the landscape without it. “I see no bridges crossing the creek below us. No fords. Can you see anything at the other creek?”

Joshua looked through his telescope. “No.”

“I see a road, more like a trail, to the east. That’s the closest, and it doesn’t go in the direction of the woods. Should we go lower?”

“We can.”

“It’ll be easier to spy animals.”

Joshua pulled on the cord that operated the cooling vent. “Descending.”

Lee had his telescope up. “There! In that break in the forest canopy. Horses.”

“You don’t say.”

“Please, you have the practiced eye. Use your scope and say what you can see.”

“Yes, sir.” Joshua studied the scene below and to the left. “You’re right, Sheriff. Horses.”

“Can you count them?”

“At least a dozen.” Joshua’s lips moved silently. “I do count twelve … now thirteen … now fourteen… now fifteen.”

“Willy and Billy.”

“Who?”

“Uttica’s fire horses. I see them. They’re the black pair staying close together. The white markings are distinctive.”

“I see them.”

“Any people in view?”

“No.”

“I don’t see any, as well. And I still see no roads or trails. Not even pathways.”

“You’re wondering how they could get in there without making tracks of some kind?”

“Right.”

The balloon continued soaring north.

“We’re going over the lake,” Joshua announced. “That’ll likely mean a drop in altitude because the water is not as warm as the land. We’ll lose some lift.”

“I think I can deduce how the horses got into those woods without leaving any traces.”

“Oh?”

“I see what appears to be a landing on the lake shore down there to the west. It’s quite small and all but camouflaged by trees. To the east, I see another landing, bigger, with a trail going upland. I think someone could have led the horses, one or two and even four at a time, to that landing and coaxed them into the water. From the landing, they waded and swam along the shore to that other landing, where they were led up and into the forest.”

Joshua looked at the scene. “Yes. It looks like that could explain it.”

“Good enough now. You may land when ready.”

“Not here over the water.”

“I should hope not, unless this basket floats as well as the one Moses had in the bulrushes of the Nile.”

“Take my advice and make some sheriff notes on the back of the map,” said Joshua. “Believe it or not, landing will be the most dangerous part of this trip. You’ll want something someone else can find and use if we don’t make it.”

“You’re serious?”

“I am.”

Joshua opened a tin box and removed what looked like a small bomb.

“What’s that?” Lee asked.

“Fireworks. I carry two colors, orange and purple. Orange says we’re in trouble. Purple says everything is all right, and we’re landing.”

“The one in your hand is purple, I presume.”

“You are correct.” Joshua lit the fuse from the brazier and quickly tossed the grenade away from the balloon. It went off with a bang and a blossom of sparkles. “Now comes the part for which you pay me money.”

“Oh?”

“I must look ahead for a good field, without obstructions, while dropping in altitude. I must select a place where we can drop without hitting trees or anything else on the way down, but without going down so fast that we kill ourselves when we touch ground. I must select a place where the wind won’t drag us into trees and ruin the balloon while tossing us out of our basket like garbage. All this, while judging between how much hot air to keep in the balloon and how much to let out and how fast.”

Joshua reached for a metal lid hanging on the outside of the basket. “Here. You can help by placing this over the brazier and clamping it down when I say so. We don’t want what’s left of those hot coals peppering us if we have a hard landing.”

Lee took the lid and examined it, and then examined the brazier.

“Isn’t this fun?” Joshua asked.





Steeds 39

4 06 2017

“Sheriff, if I were as profane a man as I used to be, I’d say words to the effect that all blazes broke loose here while you were gone. I know, though, that perdition cannot be contained within a country town.” Chet paused, and then added, “If the situation here weren’t so serious, I’d crack a smile. Blazes did, indeed, break loose.”

“What are you saying, Chet?”

“We had a fire. A big one, just last night.”

“I thought I smelled smoke, even ash, as I approached town. Where was the fire?”

“Over at the wagonwright’s.”

“House or shed?”

“Both. Started in the big shed’s workshop.”

“Lionel and Cynthia Massey? And the kids?”

“All survived.”

“Firemen?”

“All survived.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Well, yes. In addition to some people taking in too much smoke, there were a number of cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises. You can imagine in such a ruckus, in the dark, people would trip and ram into things and bump one another and such.

“Animals?”

“Escaped.”

“House?”

“Ruined.”

“Shed?”

“Badly damaged.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Yes, sir. But first I should add another headline or two.”

“What?”

“Willy and Billy are gone.”

“The fire horses? What do you mean, gone? They died in the fire?”

“No. Stolen.”

“What?”

“Yes. Stolen during the fire. A posse is out looking for them.”

“Where’s Philip?”

“Don’t know.”

“He’s not leading the posse?”

“No. Charlie’s leading the posse. Well, one of them. Frank and Gus and even the fire marshal are each leading other search parties. They left me in charge.”

“Where’s Dorothy?”

“In back, as usual.”

“Inmates?”

“All secure. What’s the word on that horse next to yours?”

“That’s the one that belongs to Adolph Kleindl, the hog farmer up in Fox Prairie township.”

“Really? You found him all the way in Doylestown?”

“Yes.”

“He didn’t wander that distance.”

“No. He was led there. Delivered, you might say, and given as a gift.”

“By Kleindl? He lied about the horse being stolen?”

“His horse was stolen, to be sure. Then the horse was given away.”

“By whom?”

“I’m not sure, but my suspicions are increasing. Tell me about that fire, though.”

Chet commenced. “Well, the fire bell awoke Dorothy and me almost exactly at midnight. I got up, dressed, and ran here, figuring Charlie and Philip would need to get to the fire. Dorothy went straight there.

“Two men heading home after leaving one of the saloons had noticed something amiss. One turned around to alert the townsfolk. The other went onto the Massey property to try and do something.

“Fire Marshal Westra so far thinks Lionel fell asleep in the workshop, somehow dropped a burning cigar, and that lit enough sawdust to result in a conflagration. It was still contained in the wagon shed when the two men saw flames through windows, but by the time people started arriving, the fire had broken through a wall and the roof.

“Well, sir, it was a melee. The bell at the fire station clanging, and then the bell on the fire engine. Tom and Barney trying to get that pumper into a decent position, and then get Willy and Billy out of the way. Volunteer firemen arriving on horseback, by buggy, and on foot. Neighbors running to help. Doug Westra yelling and yelling orders.

“Doug did manage to get two bucket brigades working between the well pump and the shed on one side, and the windmill and shed on the other. Tom and Barney got the engine pumping water out of the house cistern. Other people drained rain barrels. Still others tried to do what they could tossing dirt with shovels and beating flames with wet rugs.

“The Masseys ran to get their vehicles out of the shed while they yelled to folks, wanting them to get the animals moved.

“In spite of all that, the fire spread. The wind just wouldn’t stay put, so to speak. Nearby trees, buildings, the fire itself, they all worked to shift the wind this way and that, and that caused embers to hit the house and set it afire.

“That was bad, real bad. Tom and Barney had drained the cistern trying to get the fire in the shed under control. The bucket brigades just couldn’t move enough water fast enough to do enough good. Some firemen ran into the house early in that phase of the disaster to get whatever kerosene there was in one thing and another out, so the fuel wouldn’t make matters worse. I doubt that helped much. Then it was toss stuff out doors and windows from one side while the other side burned until that effort became too dangerous. Cynthia cried and cried. One wag said it was too bad we couldn’t direct all those tears on the fire.”

“How do you know all this?” Lee asked. “You were here.”

“Yes, sir. Dorothy told me. She was there.”

“Of course. And Charlie and Philip were there.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Charlie is out with a posse.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But you don’t know where Philip is.”

“We don’t.”

“You’re sure he’s not lying dead in the rubble or badly hurt in some tall grass nearby.”

“Actually, I’m not sure. That seems unlikely, though, considering how many times Dorothy saw him trying to help. He was the one most responsible for getting all the animals away, to include the canary.”

“And you say the fire horses were stolen.”

“Yes, sir.”

“They didn’t just run off.”

“No, sir. Tom and Barney are careful about that. They secure the horses so all the commotion can’t scare them off.” Chet thought for a few moments. “I wonder.”

“What?”

“You think maybe Philip noticed the horses were being stolen, and he went after the thief, or thieves? You think maybe they noticed him in pursuit and did something awful to him far away from the fire?”

“I wonder myself. None of the search parties has reported any such thing? I mean, no fire horses and no Philip.”

“Not yet.”

The two men stood on the boardwalk outside the Sheriff’s Department pondering. A Conestoga wagon appeared in town drawn by four horses and accompanied by two other horses with riders. Lee and Chet watched them approach.

“Good day, gentlemen,” called one of the mounted men. He held up a hand to signal for the wagon and the other rider to stop. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the village of Uttica.”

“It is, sir,” said Lee.

“You must be the sheriff, judging by your badge.”

“I am Sheriff Llewellyn E. Leall. This is my deputy, Chester Oakley.”

“How do you do? I am Joshua Stollfus.” He pointed to the wagon. “That is my good wife, Hannah. Beside her is our son, Micah.” He pointed at the other horseman. “This is our son, Malachi.”

“Good day. May we be of some service?”

Joshua said, “We understand there is to be tomorrow a celebration of the summer solstice in this community.”

“At least, there was to be such a celebration,” said Chet. “We’ve suffered a terrible fire overnight. I won’t be surprised if that hasn’t destroyed our plans.”

“That is terrible,” said Joshua. “What? Home? Business?”

“Both actually,” said Chet. “But to be more accurate, the house and the shed have been all but destroyed; the family is intact, and so I believe is the business.”

“That is good news, despite the bad,” said Joshua. “And when will it be decided whether to cancel or continue the celebration? We have come some distance.”

“I believe the city council will meet later today,” said Chet. “Late in the afternoon. You’ve come to town to participate?”

“Indeed, sir. We have come to offer at least one form of entertainment, and of a most memorable kind.”

“What might that be, sir?” Lee asked.

Joshua pointed. “In that grand wagon, sir, is an entire kit for a hot air balloon. We have come, sir, not only to show our grand balloon, but to provide, shall we say, an unearthly experience for all who dare.”





Steeds 37

2 06 2017

“Constable Westcott! Why the gunshot?”

Lee and Philip both heard it and had come running out of the sheriff’s office, Winchester rifles from the rack in hand, just as the constable, two other men, a teenaged boy, and six horses came into view one block to the east. Zachary Westcott and his entourage proceeded at a walk to the front of the jailhouse.

“We got ‘im, Sheriff! Or at least one of ‘em,” Zach announced.

“Got whom?”

“The horse thief!” Zach pointed his 1866 Yellowboy carbine at one of the other two men. “Get on over there an’ dismount.”

“Why the gunfire?” Lee asked again.

“Oh, well … I figured a bit of celebratin’ would be in order,” Zach said.

“Constable, it’s half past six o’clock in the morning. Most people are trying to have breakfast.”

“I only fired once.” Zach pointed his carbine at the stranger again. “You there, get your hands up an’ keep ‘em up where the sheriff an’ the deputy can see ‘em.”

“Which of you is the sheriff?” the man asked.

“I am Sheriff Leall. And you are?”

“My name is Gustave Alshanski. Why are those three doing this to me?”

“You know good and well why,” Zach said.

“Come down and report, Constable. Who are these others?”

Zach looked at them. “You, too, Mel. Come on down.” Zach got off his horse and tied it to the hitching rail next to Philip’s bay gelding. “That’s Melvin Novak, a neighbor.”

Mel hitched his horse next to Zach’s, and then tipped his hat as he stepped onto the boardwalk. “Mornin’, Sheriff.”

“And that’s my son, Garret,” Zach said. “Stay with those horses, Gary. Keep ‘em well in hand.”

Gary remained mounted on the street with two unsaddled horses. In his right hand, he held their leads. In his left hand, he held the reins of his own horse, which also happened to have no saddle. Cradled in the crook of his left arm, an 1874 Sharps hunting rifle.

“Gustave Alshanski, is that correct?” Lee asked.

“Yes, Sheriff.”

“Constable, you have arrested this man?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you have arrested him for stealing horses.”

“Yes, sir. Or at least on some mighty big suspicion.”

“And which horses have been stolen? Those your son is guarding?”

“We believe so, sir. And maybe the one he was ridin’.”

Lee looked. “Those two are both buckskins.”

“Twins,” said Gustave.

“I can believe it,” said Lee. “And Constable, none of the horses reported stolen in this county are that color.”

“So why’d he run away from us?” Zach asked.

Lee strove to maintain an unemotional, business-like speaking voice. “Why were you after him, please?”

“Because he ran away when we wanted to talk to ‘im.”

“Why did you wish to speak with him, please?”

“Because Mel here had just come to my place before sunrise to report one of his horses had been stolen.”

“Really?” Lee said. “Tell me about it, Mr. Novak.”

“Well, Sheriff, it’s as Zach says. I was up before dawn, as usual, to get to the mornin’ chores while Mrs. Novak got to work on breakfast. I went outdoors to head for the barn. I have a paddock close by, and I had one of my two horses in that paddock for the night. Headin’ for the barn, I noticed no horse. She’d have come over wantin’ her breakfast, you see. But no horse.

“Where’d she go? I looked, and looked some more. No horse. And, naturally, I thought about the news of late regardin’ missin’ horses. Well, sir, I went into that paddock and ran, and I mean ran, all around, lookin’ for indication that Maude―that’s the horse―had broke out or slipped out through some break in the fence. There wasn’t any break. I knew that; I checked the evenin’ before, as I always do before I put a horse in that paddock. And Maude isn’t given to runnin’ off.

“What in thunderation? That’s what I’m thinkin’. And I recollect that I heard a whinny earlier, when it was still dark, but not that many hours before.”

“A whinny, you say,” said Lee. “Not a neigh, but a gentle neigh.”

Mel looked at the sheriff, and then at Zach.

Philip said, “Please, Mr. Novak. The sheriff prefers precision. If he notes a difference, he needs to know if there was a difference. Details are important.”

“Sure,” said Mel. “Whinny.”

“So the sound you heard was not that of a frightened or angry horse. It wasn’t the sound of a horse otherwise excited or, shall we say, aroused.”

“That’s right.”

“How did you happen to hear a whinny that late at night? While asleep, I’m assuming.”

“I don’t sleep like I used to,” said Mel. “The later into the night, the lighter I sleep. It’s more like cat-nappin’. I wake often.”

“Can you say whether you recognized the voice of the horse?”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He is, sir,” Philip confirmed.

“My deputy knows the voice of his horse,” Lee said. “He can discern it in a herd.”

“I’m afraid I can’t. I can say somethin’ about my horses’ looks and personalities, but they don’t talk to me, or sing for me.”

“And what kind of horse is Maude? What does she look like, sir?”

“Dapple gray.”

“Yeah, Sheriff,” said Zach. “You see, Mel decided he’d ought to do somethin’ right quick. He saddled his other horse an’ galloped to my place, thinkin’ maybe Maude hadn’t been gone all that long, an’ maybe she’d not be far off yet. He came in a lather wantin’ me to do somethin’.”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” said Mel. “I went over as fast as I could, hopin’ Zach would do somethin’. Start trackin’. Organize a posse. Somethin’ before too much time ticked by.”

“And guess what?” said Zach. “While we were talkin’ outside my barn, we looked an’ saw this Gus guy ridin’ along the road at a brisk pace with two horses in tow. Not quite sunup yet, but light enough to see the horse Gus-guy was ridin’. A dapple gray.”

Lee looked at the horse Gustave had ridden into Uttica. “Gentlemen,” he said gently, “you do realize that horse is not dappled, but spotted. Also, do note that the horse is a Saddlebred. Do you own a Saddlebred, Mr. Novak?”

“Of course I know that’s not my horse, Sheriff.”

Zach added, “I said it wasn’t quite sunup. An’ we saw Gus from some distance. So that horse sure looked like Mel’s horse.”

“It did, Sheriff.”

“So you took after Mr. Alshanski.”

Zach said, “We did, just as fast as I could saddle my horse an’ grab a rifle. I yelled at Gary to get the other rifle an’ follow as soon as he could.”

“But when you realized this horse is not Maude….”

“We didn’t, not right away,” said Zach. “I said Gus-guy ran. When he saw us comin’, he had his horses to a gallop.”

“Sheriff, please,” said Gustave. “What would you have done? Strange men in a strange place early in the morning chasing after you? You with three valuable animals, and money, and no weapons? They shot at me.”

“I shot in the air!” Zach said.

“How was I supposed to know they weren’t brigands?” Gustave asked.

“I shot in the air,” Zach repeated. “That’s what got him to stop.”

“I did stop, Sheriff. When I saw they were too close, I didn’t want to risk being hit, or any of the horses getting hit.”

“So why’d you run?” Zach asked.

“Didn’t I just answer that question?” Gustave said.

“What’re you doin’ with those horses that time of mornin’? Where’d they come from?” Zach asked.

“Sheriff, here. Allow me to present a document.”

“What do you have?”

Gustave withdrew a folded paper from a coat pocket and handed it to Lee.

Lee opened and examined it. “This is a bill of sale,” he announced so everyone could hear. “Two Quarterhorses. Twins. Age twenty-five months. Color: buckskin. Sold by one Samuel Trelawney Morehead of the township of Fort Winnebago in Columbia County, Wisconsin. Sold to the John Robinson Circus of Terrace Park, Ohio. Gustave Alfred Alshanski, purchasing agent.” Lee held the paper up. “Do you happen to have a business card, Mr. Alshanski? Or a calling card?”

“I do.” Gustave reached into a breast pocket, slipped one out, and gave it to Lee. Lee handed the bill of sale back.

“So why would a circus way over in Ohio be hereabouts buyin’ horses?” Zach asked.

“You know circuses travel,” Lee said.

“The John Robinson Circus does indeed travel,” said Gustave, “as it has for many years. Just last year, however, we started travelling primarily by rail rather than by horse and wagon or riverboat.”

“And where is the circus now?” Lee asked.

“It’s scheduled to be in Oshkosh, up from Milwaukee and Fond du Lac, today and tomorrow. I left the circus in Madison to travel to Portage in order to conduct this business transaction. In Madison, Mr. Morehead took it upon himself to offer these horses. The circus continues to expand, you understand, and Mr. Robinson would like to add a Wild West Show. A matching pair of young, buckskin Quarterhouses sounded too good not to inspect.  I am to rejoin the circus in Oshkosh before they leave town to make their way to Appleton and Green Bay and Marinette. And really, Sheriff, I cannot afford to be delayed.”

“True. Oshkosh is some distance yet.”

“Unless you happen to know of any piebald and skewbald horses for sale.”

“Ah. To act as Indian ponies, I presume,” said Lee.

“Exactly.”

“Not here, sir. You’ll probably need to search farther west. There may be some available among the Mustangs. Otherwise, you may need to search much, much farther east … in Britain, for example.”

Gustave nodded. “May I be on my way now, Sheriff? I calculate it will take all of today and much of tomorrow to get to Oshkosh.”

“Yes, but don’t leave before we provide you some semblance of hospitality: a decent breakfast. I daresay you haven’t had much of anything yet today.”

“Only camp rations.”

“Where did you camp?”

“In a Lutheran churchyard.”

“Salem Lutheran?”

“I believe that was the name on the sign.”

“Allow us to do this. We’ll take you inside, where my staff will provide you with breakfast. You, too, Constable. I suspect you missed your breakfast.”

“I did. Gary grabbed a few biscuits on the way out the door; that’s it.”

“Afterward, we’ll see about Maude. Ask your son, please, to water all the horses. I have some of my own feed here that he can give the circus horses. Then he can have some breakfast, as well.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I imagine, Mr. Alshanski, that you hoped to stop somewhere along the way for food and drink, so perhaps this turns out not to be too much of a misadventure.”

“Actually, Sheriff, it does resemble something of one of our performances.”

“About highwaymen?”

“Yes.”

“Please, step inside.”

Gustave passed through the front door.

“Gary,” said Zach, “you heard the sheriff. Tie up the horses an’ see about that water an’ feed. I’ll save you some breakfast.” Zach went through the door.

Lee stopped Philip. Speaking softly, he said, “I’ll send a telegram to the sheriff in Oshkosh to confirm that the John Robinson Circus is in town, though I don’t really doubt Alshanski’s story. Immediately after breakfast, go with Novak and Westcott and look into the disappearance of that horse, Maude. And check that churchyard for evidence of camping, just to be sure.”

“You’re not holding the circus man until I get back.”

“No. But if we discover something amiss, I will telegraph Oshkosh again.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And while you’re on the job today, see what you can show and tell Zachary to improve the way he does his job.”

 





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.”





Steeds 34

28 05 2017

“Miss De Havilland. Good afternoon.”

“Hello, Sheriff.”

“I presume you’re in town on errands,” said Lee, “but, for most people, errands don’t normally include stops here.”

“I am running a few errands, shopping mostly,” said Judith. “However, I scheduled those because I thought it necessary to pay you a visit. The shopping is secondary to my report.”

“Really? Well, come through the little gate there and take a seat here.” Lee pointed to the chair next to his desk. He stood and walked across the floor to open the gate.

“Thank you.”

“Mrs. Oakley may have some coffee yet. Otherwise, I’m sure she has water hot enough to make some tea in short order.”

“Oh, don’t bother. I shan’t be long.” Judith seated herself.

Lee resumed his place at the center of his desk, though he spun in his chair so that he could fully face Judith.

She produced some paper from her purse. “You may know that I am not from Tuscumbia County. I came here to accept the offer of employment.”

“By the Town of Pleasant Valley to teach at the Fairview School, yes.”

“You can surmise that I have family and friends elsewhere, and that I correspond with them by mail as often as I am able.”

Lee nodded.

“One of my dear friends―Helen Vrechek―is also a school teacher. We lived in the same town growing up, though she had the misfortune of being reared in an orphanage. We became fast friends in school, where we were inspired and where we inspired each other to take a long-term interest in education. In time, I came here. In time, she went to Doylestown.”

Lee nodded again.

“We trade letters regularly and often. This is Helen’s latest.” Judith held it up. “I had earlier written Helen, telling her the news about horse thefts here in the county. This letter tells me about a horse she has received as a surprise gift.”

“Really?” Lee responded. “One would normally guess that such a gift came from her family, but you said she is an orphan.”

“Indeed.”

“And something tells me the horse was not a gift from a man seriously plighting his troth.”

“I wouldn’t be here if that were true,” said Judith. “She writes that the horse was a gift from an anonymous benefactor. He is to be an aid and an encouragement in her work.”

“Who? The benefactor or the horse?”

“Oh. The horse. And she has been encouraged. Thrilled, to be more accurate. Surely, the horse will provide useful, if not necessary, transport. Helen writes that he may allow her to come all this way to visit me with some frequency. She is so pleased.”

“So tell me, please, why you’re telling me this.”

“What benefactor? That’s my question, and hers. She hasn’t a clue.”

“No one on the township board. None of the parents. None of the farmers.”

“She hasn’t a clue … except this.” Judith held the paper up again. “This is stationery I purchased for both of us to use in our correspondence, and it’s special. That is, it’s as special as I could afford to buy. I searched for a kind and quality at the least out of the ordinary, as well as fine. I bought a packet for me, and I bought a packet for Helen, which I sent to her by post. The agreement was that we would trade letters using only this paper. You know, as a token of our being friends forever. That kind of girlish thing.”

“I’ve read Emerson’s essay on friendship,” said Lee. “That’s not girlish.”

“Well, thank you,” said Judith. “But to continue, Helen noticed that the note telling her that the horse was a gift to her was written on this exact paper.”

“Some special someone snitched a piece from her stash?”

“No, sir. She is wondering whether I gave her the horse, which is absurd. I cannot afford a horse for myself. As it is, I hitched a ride into town with one of my pupil’s parents on his way to the hardware store.”

“Friends forever, you said,” said Lee with a smile. “Maybe you sacrificed a horse for yourself to give one to Helen.”

“Maybe I would if I could, but Helen also knows I cannot afford a horse any better than she can. You know what school teachers earn … younger ones who happen to be female, in particular.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“So. I didn’t write the note, and the note wasn’t written on any of her paper, but it was written on the same paper.”

“How do you know?” Lee asked.

Judith reached into her purse and removed a plain sheet. “Hold this to the light and notice the watermark.”

Lee stood and carried the sheet to a nearby window. “I see it.”

“That’s the same watermark within the pieces of paper I bought for Helen and me.”

“You could afford to have custom paper made?”

“No, sir. That’s not unique. As I said, though, it is out of the ordinary.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Here, in Uttica, at the print shop.”

“George Hodges doesn’t make paper.”

“True. He does service custom orders. He ordered that stationery for me.”

“This kind of stationery,” Lee said. He looked at the watermark again. “Atlas Paper Company. I daresay Mr. Hodges is not the exclusive distributor of Atlas products.”

“He did, however, order some additional packets to offer for sale, just in case I want more later … and just in case my taste in stationery happens to appeal to other women. That brings me to my second clue,” said Judith.

“Oh?” Lee returned to his chair.

“Helen sent a description of the horse, and why wouldn’t she? A new horse! And he has a name, according to the note: Asher.”

Lee paused, and then said, “You don’t say.”

“I do, and so did Helen.”

“Asher is the name of one of the horses stolen from the Chastains.” Lee pondered. “But wait. How do you know the name of the one of the missing animals?”

“Their implement dealership is in Pleasant Valley, you know. Children talk. I meet with parents. I go for walks and talk to other people, neighbors.”

“Of course.” Lee pondered further. “Oh. You said Helen described the horse.”

“Bay, with coronets and the prettiest star.”

Lee went for his file. After a minute or so, “Well, well. This news of yours is, indeed, intriguing.” Lee stood and commenced pacing the floor. “May I keep that sheet of stationery?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know if Doylestown has a telegraph office?”

“It does not.”

“I didn’t think so. But it has a post office.”

“It does.”

“If you please, Miss De Havilland: send a letter immediately to your friend. Today, from Uttica. Use my desk to write it, if you want. Any paper, any pencil or pen. Ask your friend to send that note as soon as possible. I want to examine it carefully.” Lee stopped pacing. “Summer is upon us. Is there a possibility that Miss Vrechek can pay you a first visit on that horse? Soon?”

“I will ask.”

“No need to fret about room and board. If you can’t put her up, I’ll ask the Ladwigs. I’ll reserve a room in the hotel, if need be.”

“I’m sure any arrangement will be acceptable.” Judith paused. “Oh, my.”

“What?”

“What if Helen loses her new horse?”

“To its rightful owner?”

“Yes.”

“It’s too soon to know that will happen. I must follow your lead, however.”

“Of course you must. That’s why I came.”

“And I thank you.”

“Now for my third clue.”

“You have another?” Lee asked. “Excellent! What is it?”

Judith removed another paper from her purse. “This comes from my sister’s son, my nephew. They are visiting for a spell. I told them the news of the stolen horses. We must have something to chatter about.”

“About which to chatter.”

“Stop it. We discussed the news. My nephew―his name is Quentin―has his own lead for you to follow. He’s written it in a letter addressed to you.” Judith held the paper out.

“There’s no envelope.”

“He knew I was carrying it by my own hand.”

“Ah.” Lee took the letter. “What does he think?”

“He thinks the horses are being taken by Panther, the Water Spirit.”