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"The Bowlegged Horse" from Open Road For Boys

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Open Road For Boys
The Bowlegged Horse
by Ellis Parker Butler

Perky and Sam and I were loafing in my front yard, waiting for Phil Eggers to come, and then maybe we'd hunt up some other fellows and play ball. Phil was the new boy in town; he had come in from the country to go to high school, and he could pitch a ball better than any of us.

Just then Shuffling Silas came down the street, riding on that bowlegged horse of his. He waved one hand at us and squeaked, "Ha ya, boys?" as he went by. The horse had a collar on but no bridle, and for a saddle Silas used an old gunnysack.

From atop his bowlegged horse, Shuffling Silas lazily waved his hand. 'Ha ya, boys?' he squeaked.

"How're you yourself, Silas?" we called back, and laughed. We always laughed at that horse. You don't see a bowlegged horse very often and it's enough to make anyone laugh. A bowlegged horse coming down the street is about the funniest looking animal there is.

Silas's horse was bowlegged just in the fore legs, which made his two pairs of legs look as if they didn't belong to the same animal. The bowlegs seemed to be moving sort of cautious and careful while the hind legs came clattering along free and easy.

Old Silas didn't mind. He kept two or three other horses and was always swapping them, but he never swapped the bowlegged horse. He claimed to be mighty fond of it, but as a matter of fact, nobody else would have it. In his small wagon, Silas hauled everything for anybody that would pay him anything, and he also gathered junk.

"I bet there isn't another horse like that in the United States," I said. "It's the craziest looking horse I ever saw, but there's one good thing about him."

"What's that?" Perky asked.

"He ought to be easy to find if he got stolen. All a detective would have to look for would be a horse with bowlegs."

"Detectives don't work that way," Sam said. "They go to the place where the horse was stolen -- if it is a horse -- and they hunt for clues, like hoof marks for instance."

"Shoe marks," corrected Perky.

Phil Eggers came into the yard just then. "What's that you were saying about detectives?" he asked.

Perky told him. "Sam claims a detective has to have a clue to follow," he announced.

Phil chewed a straw a few seconds before he answered.

"Well, yes," he drawled, "clues are all right. I shouldn't wonder if they were quite a help lots of times, but clues don't make a detective, not to my way of thinking."

"What does then?" I asked.

"Why, now," Phil continued, "I guess knowing a lot about a lot of things is what makes a detective any good. If he's after bank robbers he has to know a lot about banks, I shouldn't wonder; and if he's after horse thieves he has to know a lot about horses."

"You ought to be good at getting back stolen horses then, Phil," Sam said; "you know a lot about horses, don't you?"

"Well, I know some," Phil admitted. "Where we going to play ball?"

That set us talking about where to go that afternoon, and along came Shuffling Silas again, this time walking, and pushing his big feet through the dust as if they were flat-bottomed boats.

"Mah horse been stole," he panted. "You boys come he'p me find mah horse?"

"You bet!" I cried, jumping to my feet. "We'll do that, Silas. Which horse was it?"

"Mah bowleg horse," Silas said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "Ah lef him standin' --"

"Hold on a minute, Silas," Sam said. "You mean to tell us somebody stole that horse?"

"Yas, sah, he's done been stole," Silas insisted.

"Well, then," said Sam, "there's just one kind of person would have stolen him, and that's somebody owning a circus or wanting to sell him to a side show. We've got to watch out for a stranger in town who looks like a side-show man -- one of those city slickers."

"Ah don't know who stole him, an' Ah don't care," said Silas, "but Ah wants mah horse back!"

"All right, don't you worry, we'll get your horse back for you," Sam said. "Where did you leave him?"

Silas told us he had ridden the horse as far as South Street and then had cut diagonally across a stretch of underbrush that lies behind two or three small houses.

"Ah was goin' along that path to mah stable," Silas added, "an' a lady what lives in one of them houses she called to me. She say, 'Ho, Silas! Does you want to buy a pile of junk?' So Ah says, 'Yas, ma'am,' an' Ah gets off mah horse an' goes to see what she has to sell."

"You didn't hitch him to a tree or anything?" I asked.

"What for Ah tie him?" Silas asked. 'Ah don't never have to tie that bowleg horse. Ah could stop him any place an' go 'way fo' a week an' when Ah come back he'd be standin' on that identifical spot. All that bowlegged horse desires is to stan' still, three legs on the groun' an' one hiked up a little."

"Did the thief leave any clues?" asked Perky.

"Clues?" repeated Silas, staring. "Ah don't know what you mean."

"I mean something we can trace the thief by," said Perky. "For instance, Silas, if the thief left a side-show ticket lying on the ground where your horse was, that would be a clue. By the ticket we could tell in what show to look for your horse."

"Nobody ain't leave no side-show ticket, no, sah," said Silas.

"Well, of course not," said Perky. "I was just explaining what a clue is."

"Yas, sah," said Silas. "Ah knows now -- a clue is a side-show ticket."

"No," said Perky. "A clue is anything that points the way to the thief. Listen, Silas -- your horse had shoes on, didn't he?"

"Oh, yas, sah! Yas, indeedy!" said Silas brightly. "Mah horse had fo' shoes on."

"Well, was there anything peculiar -- odd, you know -- about any of the shoes?" Perky asked.

"Sure!" Silas declared. "The horseshoes on the front hoofs of that horse is bow-legged horseshoes. They is heavier on one side 'cause that horse is bowlegged an' his shoes got to be that way."

"Now we're getting somewhere," said Perky, much pleased. "An those bowlegged shoes make prints on the road that are different from the prints made by common horseshoes, don't they?"

"Sure do," said Silas eagerly. "Anybody can tell those shoe marks anywhere." "Fine!" said Perky. "Then the rest is easy. All we have to do is follow the horseshoe prints. Come on, fellows. Let's get going."

But Silas didn't move. He looked disturbed, scratched one ear, and shook his head.

"Excuse me, young gen'lemen," he said, "but them horseshoes didn't go where mah bowlegged horse went."

"What?" I asked, looking at him. "The shoes didn't go where he went?"

"No, sah," said Silas. "He step off from them horseshoes when he was stole away, an' he leaves them where he was at before he went!"

Phil, chewing his straw and frowning a little, was studying Silas's face. There was no question that Silas was telling the truth -- or thought he was. You never saw a more honest look on a man's face.

"Listen, Silas," Sam said, "you mean to say the bowlegged horse stepped off his shoes and left them where he'd been standing?"

"Yas, sah," Silas insisted, and he pointed to four places on the grass. "Like one is here, an' one is here, an' one is here, an' one is here. Yas, sah!"

"Come on," Sam said to all of us. "We can't do any good staying here. We'll go to the scene of the crime. It sounds crazy to me -- a horse leaving its shoes behind."

"Maybe that's how slick the thief was," said Perky as we started away. "A slick old-timer would know that a horse could be traced by its shoes, so he would take them off."

Anyway, said Sam, we'll have a look at those shoes."

Phil was still chewing his straw, twisting it around in the corner of his mouth.

"There won't be any shoes there!" he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because they'll be gone," he drawled.

And he was right. Silas led us to the place. "Here is where he was at," he said.

A little off to one side lay the gunny sack Silas used for a saddle, but there were no horseshoes. We could see marks where the bowlegged horse had stood, although the ground was hard.

"They's gone!" said Silas. "They was here but now they's gone. Honest to goodness, young gen'lmans, they was here."

"Sure they were here," agreed Phil, biting his straw. "We believe you, Silas. What's that lying there?" He stooped and picked up a horseshoe nail.

"An" here's another," said Silas eagerly.

"A lot of them," Perky said. "I was right; the thief is an old-timer; he knew enough to take off the shoes before he led the horse away."

"I don't think they were old-timers, Perky," Phil drawled. "No, I wouldn't figure it that way."

"Why not?" Perky demanded, a little indignant that his idea should be so carelessly put aside.

"Well," Phil drawled, "horseshoes are pretty scarce around this town lately, especially since pitching them at a stake has become so popular."

"I've got you!" Sam exclaimed. "Someone took the shoes off Silas's horse to sell."

"Well, I didn't figure they took them to sell," Phil said. "Maybe so, but I sort of figured they took them to play with."

"But if they only wanted the shoes, why didn't they leave the horse?"

"The way I look at it," Phil continued, spitting out a bit of his straw, "it was different parties that stole the shoes and the horse. Now, you take that noise over yonder --"

We all listened and, sure enough, we heard the clink of iron on iron coming from away over beyond the patch of scrub where we stood.

"Shantytown's over that way, isn't it?" Phil enquired. "I don't know this part of town very well yet. There are some fair to middling tough guys in Shantytown, didn't I hear?"

"You mean they took the shoes off Silas's horse?" I asked, and I started down the path toward Shantytown as hard as I could pelter. Sam and Perky were right behind me, and Shuffling Silas was a poor fourth -- he couldn't run worth shucks.

When we came in sight of several boys playing horseshoes, they gave one look at us and ran. All we had to do was gather up the four shoes. Two might have come off any horse but two were the bowlegged shoes all right enough. Silas claimed he knew all four of them, and I guess he did. Anyway, we carried them back to where Phil was waiting.

He was leaning against a tree.

"All right," he said, "let's go get the bowlegged horse."

"What!" I exclaimed. "Do you know where he is?"

"Why, sure," Phil drawled. "I guess so, anyway. He's out at Pa's farm. Or almost there. He'll be there by the time we get there. The way I figure it, the horse stole himself."

"Mah goodness, Mistah Phil!" Silas cried. "How you know that?"

"Why, I just sort of think he'll be out there," Phil said. "You say your bowlegged horse won't move from the spot he stops on, and I guess that's so -- when he has shoes on. I don't go and jump in the river when I've got clothes on. What do you do with your horses when they get sore hoofs and you take their shoes off, Silas?"

"Ah takes them out to your pa's farm an' turns them out to grass in your pa's pasture," said Silas, and he chuckled. "That bowlegged horse he sure is one wise horse!"

"I guess so," said Phil. "When his shoes were pulled off by those boys I guess he thought it was time for him to go to pasture."

Well, we got a ride part of the way and when we came to Phil's father's farm there was the bowlegged horse standing at the pasture bars waiting to be let in. Silas took down the bars and hit him a slap on the rump.

"Go on in then, you bowlegged skalawag," he said with a chuckle. "Go on an' eat your haid off; time you was here anyhow."

"That's why I'm certain that a detective doesn't always solve his cases by using clues; sometimes he just knows a lot about things, a lot that others don't know so well.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:17:58am USA Central
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