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23 06 2017

 

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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 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.”





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 38

3 06 2017

A tall woman opened the door of the Sheriff’s Department and stepped halfway through. She stopped to look back while the wind blew her long garments as if they were laundry on a clothesline. “That is the most beautiful horse I have ever seen,” she said in a voice that had command timbre.

The nun continued into the building and shut the door. She had noticed Lee sitting at his desk prior to her assessment. “Are you the sheriff?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lee answered after standing. “I am Sheriff Leall.”

“I am Sister Margaret Mary. Is that your horse outside the window?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“She is fabulous. Does she have a name?”

“Yes, ma’am. Her name is Freyja.”

“A pagan name.”

“You yourself said she is beautiful.”

Sister Margaret stepped closer to Lee’s desk. “I understand Philip Redman serves as an officer of the law here.”

“He is my deputy, yes.”

“May I speak with him, please?”

“Yes, ma’am, but you’ll have to wait quite a while. He’s conducting an investigation in the southwest part of the county at present. I don’t expect him back for a few hours at the earliest. May I be of assistance?”

“I was rather hoping to speak with him. I was also hoping to greet him face-to-face. It has been some time since our last encounter.”

“I suspect, Sister, that you are somehow connected with the orphanage where he spent his childhood.”

“Indeed. Has Philip said much to you about his experience?”

“Only bits and pieces now and then.”

Sister Margaret looked about the office. “I wish he were here. As it is, I cannot wait an untold number of hours for his return. I am on way by train from Lake Delton to Germantown, whence I wish to go to Holy Hill. I stopped in Uttica specifically to see Philip. I catch the next train going southeast to continue my pilgrimage.” She reached into a pocket to remove a watch. “And that in seventy-three minutes.”

“You are welcome to wait here on the small chance Philip may return sooner than I expect.”

“I don’t believe in chance, Sheriff.”

“I believe in Providence myself,” Lee said. “However, it is written ‘that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.’ ”

“Are you Catholic, Sheriff?”

“I am a Christian, but I am not a Roman Catholic Christian, Sister.”

“Then perhaps you ought not call me your sister.”

“What do you prefer, ma’am?”

“Margaret will do. And what of Philip? Has he remained obedient to the Church?”

“He is, of course, quite familiar with St. Wenceslaus Church here in Uttica. The vicar is Benedict Ziemcewicz. Do you know him?”

“I have heard of him.”

“Would you like to have a chair, ma’am? And perhaps some coffee or tea? Another of my deputies has made a good snack cake using the first strawberries of the season.”

“One would think a man who bakes should be working in a restaurant.”

“Dorothy Oakley is not a man.”

“You have a female deputy?”

“She and her husband, Chester, serve as my jailors.”

“You subject a woman to the riff-raff and ruffians of society?”

“The women of the Sisters of Charity, some two hundred and thirty of them, went from Emmitsburg to Gettysburg to set up a hospital in a Methodist church building, where they subjected themselves to the blood and guts of hundreds of soldiers who had been, shall we say, roughed up.”

“You heard of that. Were you there?”

“I fought down south, not back east. The brother of the two women who are my landladies died at Gettysburg in the care of one of those nuns.”

“I will have some tea and cake. Thank you.”

Lee stepped to the small gate in the railing that divided the office in half and opened it. He then pointed at the chair next to his desk.

Sister Margaret swept through.

Lee went into the jail. In a few minutes, he returned with a tray holding cups, saucers, and plates. “This isn’t fine china. It isn’t even simple clay dishware.”

“Tin and steel are fine enough,” said Sister Margaret. “Tell me, please, about Philip.”

“Among other things, Deputy Redman is a good officer of the law.”

“And the other things?”

“He is a fine horseman.”

“Of that I am aware. He showed such aptitude as a lad when he worked on the farm.”

“The orphanage is located on a farm?”

“No. The farm is within the parish, and some of our orphans work with the farm family. All our charges are employed in some capacity when they are ready.”

Lee nodded.

“Has Philip found his place here?”

“I would like to think so. This may not be permanent, but he seems to have settled in.”

Sister Margaret paused and then said, “I must interrupt myself. Do forgive me, because I have been overcome by curiosity. I saw that piece of paper on your desk, and the calligraphy caught my attention, so I have been impudent enough to examine it while you were in back.”

“No harm done, I suspect,” said Lee.

“The note is written in cursive, as is usual and customary. The style of the cursive, however, is what drew me to it. It looks very much like the cursive taught to our charges by Sister Mary Catherine over the years.”

Lee looked at the note. “I am a police officer, and so you have now aroused my curiosity. I know there are differences in handwriting, as there are differences in script, and in calligraphy, and in typestyle. You are saying this looks like something your co-worker wrote?”

“Not quite. It looks like something she would have taught a child to write: a style of cursive handwriting. Place the paper here, please, and I’ll show you.”

Lee slid the paper between them.

Sister Margaret removed some papers from a satchel she had with her. “Turnabout is fair play, I have heard.” She placed the selected pages on the desk. “I daresay,” said Margaret, “that you have had the experience of being unable to read another person’s writing.”

“Certainly. More times than I can recall.”

“School teachers do their best to teach children at an early age how to write neatly and legibly. They teach those who have the freedom and privilege to go to school, that is. Again, as you have noticed, the children, despite what they have been taught, do not all write alike.”

“True.”

“Perhaps you also realize that at least some children have some difficulty reading the letters they are supposed to be writing, especially in cursive. Look at these examples. Think how similar are the capitals I and J and L in some styles of cursive. O and Q. I and T. T and F.

“Now think of how easy it is to confuse certain uncials when writing many styles of cursive: z and g and q, h and b and k. If a child isn’t careful, those letters can look too much alike when written.

“Add the similarity between the number 2 and the capital Z; the numeral 0 and the capital O; the numeral 1, the uncial l, and the capital I; the numeral 1 and the numeral 7.

“All our children are sent to school. Some are better at it than others, of course. Some last longer and go farther than others. But all are afforded the opportunity. And to help the children defend themselves against charges of misspelling and illegibility by their teacher, Sister Mary Catherine took it upon herself to develop a cursive script that makes all letters and numbers as distinctive as possible, both in the eyes and minds of our children, and after those symbols leave little fingers and attach to paper.”

“It sounds as though you have had some experience in teaching children,” said Lee.

“I have. Education is the reason for my pilgrimage. I go to Holy Hill to pray for guidance and provision. Then I go to see the bishop in Madison to petition for a school of our own in Lake Delton.”

“Dominican or Jesuit?” Lee asked.

Sister Margaret’s face took on a look of mild surprise.

“The Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Madison is Jesuit,” said Lee. “I see by your attire that you are Dominican.”

“I pray you are not a lapsed Catholic.”

“Benedict Ziemcewicz and I are friends. Besides, I said I served in the south during the war. The bishop in Nashville was Dominican, and he had a school there operated by Dominican Sisters of St. Mary, who left Ohio before hostilities arrived in Tennessee to perform that ministry.”

“Shall I pray that you become Catholic?”

“If I were Catholic, I would probably be Jansenist.”

“I’m sorry.” Sister Margaret tapped the desktop. “This sheet of yours certainly appears to be a result of Sister Mary Catherine’s tutelage.”

Lee looked at Sister Margaret. “This sheet comes to me as part of an investigation I am conducting regarding a number of horse thefts here in Tuscumbia County. This comes to me from a woman I have been told is an orphan. Helen Vrechek. Would she happen to have been one of your charges?”

“Helen Vrechek? Yes. That name is familiar.”

“She is a school teacher now … in Doylestown.”

“Ah, yes. And, yes, it should come as no surprise that her writing would look like this.” Sister Margaret pointed to Lee’s paper.

“The thing is, she didn’t write this note. It came from an anonymous author.”

Sister Margaret took the sheet in hand and looked more closely. “Well, I am all but convinced, if Helen did not write this, then another of our charges did.”

“You’re sure.”

“Quite confident. Sister Mary Catherine was most attentive in examining British, German, and Latin texts, and she was quite inventive at developing an alternative American cursive. It would probably not win any prizes in a calligraphy contest, but it works, and it is I believe unique.”

“Do you happen to recognize that handwriting?” Lee asked.

“Do I know who wrote this?” Sister Margaret studied the note. “No. We have had too many children over the years. I am sorry, but I am not that well acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of their individual handwriting. Indeed, I am sorry to say I have not been as well acquainted with each individual child as I would like.”

“But one of your children wrote this, or someone who was once one of your children?”

“I believe so, yes.”

Lee stood and strode to the door between the office and the jail. “Dorothy!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please pack some food for me. I ride immediately for Doylestown.”





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.”