No One Stands Alone
It is nearly four years after I have left the Choctaw territory bound for Yell County, one arm and $50 lighter, that I hear from LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger. He comes calling first in the form of a letter, which I find overly long and containing a good deal of bluster about his work in Texas. His punctuation is more-or-less acceptable.
He writes to tell me that he will be coming up to Dardanelle in September to give the Sheriff some information on the matter of a pair of armed robbers, brothers named Paddy and Cecil Mauldin. LaBoeuf tells me he pursued them briefly through the north of Texas, but that the Mauldin boys fled to Arkansas and their capture will now be in the hands of our capable law enforcement. I recall seeing a wanted notice in the newspaper about the Mauldins, but other than a few sightings, they seem to be laying low in Arkansas.
In his letter, LaBoeuf wonders if I will have some time to catch up and talk about as he put it, "old times." He then asks if I knew of any boarding houses in town with reasonable rates.
I write back immediately:
Dear Mr. LaBoeuf,
I cannot tell you how pleased I am to hear that you have been well these past few years. How time does pass! It seems only yesterday that you and Marshal Cogburn were courageously dispatching corn dodgers on the prairie.
When you make your way up to Dardanelle next month, I insist you stay as a guest in the Ross estate. We are only a short ride from town, and I assure you the meals will be far better here than in any boarding house. We have plenty of room for you, and I do not intend to take no for an answer.
You seem to have made quite an impression here when last you came into town in pursuit of Tom Chaney. Mother, Victoria and Frankie (especially Frankie) are looking forward to hosting a real Texas Ranger.
His response arrives a week before he does:
Many thanks, Miss Ross. I will take you up on your offer, which is very generous. It has been quite some time since I have had a home-cooked meal.
You can expect me sometime after the 20th. I will not trouble you too long, my visit should last only a few days.
LaBoeuf, Texas Ranger
Frankie spots him first, from what I suspect is his hidden vantage point behind the sofa, looking out the front picture window. I had been after Frankie all afternoon to help Victoria clean the silver, but he kept slipping off to keep vigil for Mr. LaBoeuf's arrival.
"He's here!" Frankie's boots clatter rapidly on the floor. "He's here, I seen him!"
I stand from my desk where I'd been writing this month's expenses into the ledger and head downstairs, reaching the bottom step just Frankie as bolts into the foyer. I catch him under the arms and sweep him off his feet in mid-run. At the age of eleven, he is growing quickly, but I have the advantage of size yet. As a child I was always tall for my age, and I seem to have topped off at five feet and seven inches.
I spin Frankie around in the opposite direction and point him toward the kitchen.
"Running in the house! I'll box your ears, Franklin Ross. Go find Victoria and Mama and alert everyone that Mr. LaBoeuf has arrived."
He scowls but obediently tramps off, leaving me alone.
The house feels suddenly still. I can hear the murmur of female voices from far off, probably Mama and Nettie, our cook, in the pantry. The screen door to the rear porch yawns open then shuts again, but even that seems oddly muted. I take a breath, and step out the front door onto the veranda.
Frankie is not mistaken. LaBoeuf is coming up the path, perched upon his tawny appaloosa. He notices me and slows the pony. He is a ways off yet and he makes, it seems to me, a quite exaggerated display of squinting in my direction, like he is not sure what he is looking at. The brim of his hat casts a deep shadow and I cannot see his eyes, but I have the impression he is somehow amused.
He slides down off the appaloosa and walks it the rest of the way up. Frankie must have done as I asked, for Edie, one of the stable hands comes out from the barn and takes the appaloosa's reins from LaBoeuf. LaBoeuf gives the young man a few brief instructions before patting him on the shoulder and sending him on his way with the pony.
"Hidy, Miss Ross," LaBoeuf calls to me. "You are a sight to see."
I notice that he still has the spurs, which sing out their odd cadence of heavy clunks and light-as-bells tinkling as he saunters up the steps of the veranda. His jacket is the same ridiculous buckskin number too, though it is unbuttoned and flapping open to relieve the late summer heat. I notice someone has sewn up the bullet hole in the shoulder.
I smile. "Mr. LaBoeuf, I cannot help but notice you did not specify what kind of sight I am, exactly."
He laughs and gives a shake of his head. "Cagey as ever," he says. He looks at me again and shakes his head again, slower this time. "It has been some time, hasn't it."
Despite the years that have elapsed, he looks no worse for the wear, and indeed a great deal better than when I had seen him last, bleeding and maimed as he was. The weather is unseasonably warm, and no doubt the sun has been a burden on his journey here. Sweat lacquers his brow, but that only serves to increase his appearance of health and vitality.
I search his face for some sign of aging and note the gentle creasing around his eyes, which are as bright and gently blue as ever. He levels those eyes at me now, and I feel a sudden spike of something almost like fear in my gut. I force myself to hold his stare until finally he drops his head, putting his hands lightly on his waist.
"Well!" I say. "You must be very tired from your journey. Won't you come in, then? We have soda cake and corn on the ear and chicken pie ready for you."
"Four hundred yards!"
I have just recounted the story of Mr. LaBoeuf's rifle shot that killed Lucky Ned Pepper, much to Frankie's delight. Victoria has also proven an excellent member of the audience, gasping at all the right places. Mama tries to keep her composure, but I can tell the story has rattled her some. She was beside herself when I came home with most of my left arm gone, and out of mercy for her, I was spare with the details of what had happened to me during my great adventure. Now though, with Mr. LaBoeuf throwing in his own memories, I cannot help but regale in the specifics.
"Four hundred yards, at least," I correct. "So, anyway, we both breathed in, waiting. There was total silence for miles. And Lucky Ned just slid right off his horse," I say, clapping my hand on the table. "Dead as a doornail."
All eyes are on Mr. LaBoeuf now. Victoria and Mama seem to be fixing him with something between trepidation and disbelief.
Frankie says without disguising his reverence, "four hundred yards, that ain't even human!"
LaBoeuf says, "Like I told Miss Ross here, the Sharp's carbine is a instrument of incredible precision. Had I been using another—"
I can't believe he is demurring. Of all the times for modesty to crop up in him! I did not think it possible.
"A gun can be as fancy as you like, but it is just a hunk of lead and wood without a keen eye and a steady hand behind it," I say sharply.
"Well, ain't that the truth," he concedes with a smile. He looks at me then across the table, and I feel that funny spike of something from earlier run through me again. I turn and ask Victoria to pass me the basket of soda cake.
My mother clears her throat. To her credit, she's been a sport about the rather bloody turn our dinner conversation has taken.
"So, Mr. LaBoeuf," she says. "What brings you out to Yell County? Mattie tells me you have some business with the sheriff in Dardanelle?"
He takes a swig of water and leans back in his chair. "Yes Ma'am, I do. " Then suddenly he leans forward again and says the rest mostly toward Frankie and Victoria.
"Now, normally I would say that the grisly business I am about to describe has no place at the dinner table, especially in front of women and children. But, given you all have shown such great fortitude in hearing out the story of Ned Pepper, I believe I can make an exception here. What do you think, would you like to hear about the escapades of Paddy and Cecil Mauldin in the north of Texas?"
After dinner we sit in the parlor, the adults and I in chairs and Frankie and Victoria at our feet. It seems Mr. LaBoeuf possesses more manners than I would have expected from a man living hand-to-mouth on the prairie, and has brought us each a little gift from Texas.
It suddenly occurs to me that he was at some point a child with parents and siblings of his own. I wonder what they were like, whether his father shares his blue eyes and dusky blond hair. It occurs to me that too, he is likely of good breeding, what with his affected speech, finicky hygiene and ridiculous clothing.
From a leather satchel he produces for Frankie and Victoria a little sack of glass marbles, and a pretty doll with a deep green frock and eyes to match. For Mama he has a package of what he describes as "pure Texas coffee." She opens the top a bit and I admit that it smells quite good to me, though I do not care for the stuff myself. At any rate, she seems pleased with it, and I can tell the gesture alone has won some regard from her.
Finally, he reaches into the satchel and produces for me an oddly shaped device. He places it in my hands, and it takes me a moment to register what it is.
"A stereoscope!" exclaims Victoria, and then I recognize it immediately, having seen them in the shops at Dardanelle. This one is particularly pretty, furnished in a richly varnished maple, with a sculpted black leather hood over the binoculars.
"And this as well," he says, handing me a cloth pouch. I open it and find a neat stack of stereoscopic cards. I begin shuffling through them for one to place into the fitting, and he clears his throat, suddenly looking embarrassed.
"It is occurring to me just now that those particular cards might be a touch childish for you," he says. "I know you are not a child any longer, but I suppose it was hard for me to really understand that, as it were, while I was purchasing them."
Looking through the images, I see what he means. A number of the cards bear frivolous things both Frankie and Victoria might enjoy: a troupe of school children running with a spaniel, violets waving in the breeze, a funny illustration of a circus. Others though I notice are images of rocky cliffs and dessert plains I imagine must be located in Texas.
I stop when I reach a card showing a delicately painted eagle. The artist has inscribed below it in neat, spidery writing: "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
"Philippians 4:13," I say aloud.
"What's that?" He stands from his chair and leans over the back of mine to get a look at the card. "Oh, yes. I thought you might enjoy that one."
I place the card into the fitting and we pass the instrument around. Victoria seems particularly taken by it, and I must admit that it is quite a site, that tiny image of an eagle soaring high above the canyon made so real by a pair of glass lenses. Frankie asks if we can look at the photographs of Texas next, but I tell them it is high time we all turned in for the night.
"Mr. LaBoeuf does have an early day tomorrow," Mama adds.
She herds them off to bed and I tell Mr. LaBoeuf that I will escort him to his room.
"That would be fine, though first I think I will take my pipe outside, if you don't mind."
I follow him onto the veranda. Twilight is bedding down over the prairie and in the distant hills. Though the air remains warm, a soothing breeze washes over us as we sit. Mr. LaBoeuf's match flares briefly into the bowl of his pipe, and he leans back with a sigh of what I suppose must be contentment. Tendrils of smoke curl about his face, and I can smell the soft bite of the burning tobacco.
"Well," he says, "I will be meeting Sheriff Gillaspie tomorrow at nine. What will you do?"
"I was thinking I would ride into town with you. We shipped a crop of cotton to Dallas this year and I have been expecting a letter at the post office regarding the balance."
"You got it out awful early."
"It was on account of the prediction that the weevils would be particularly bad this season," I say. "I wasn't able to find a suitable price with our usual factor in Little Rock. They say the business is all moving eastward, or down south. I was eying a group way down in Galveston, but they would not give me a fair shake, as they say. I found a factor in Dallas that advertised 13 cents per pound, but I'll believe it only when I see the money in my hand."
"Dallas is quite a long way off for you to be doing business there, let alone Galveston."
"Even shouldering the shipping costs ourselves, we still reap more than we do with a local factor. Anyway, the market there was favorable for us this year. As I understand it, blight was widespread in your home state. My condolences to your farmers."
"I would not know much about that," he says. "You have been overseeing the family's affairs, then."
"Of course. Mama never had a head for sums, and frankly she is ill-prepared to manage little outside of Frankie and Victoria. Even that I must admit, I question from time-to-time."
"Those children have been brought up right so far as I can tell." He leans back in his chair and chews at his pipe stem. "You are content then to spend the rest of your days here in Yell County?"
"Of course," I say. "I have my father's estate to manage." I think about his words for a second, then add: "You make it sound morbid."
"I just wonder that a young lady your age does not think of her prospects," he says.
I do not allow him to elaborate on what those prospects might be. "Foolish dreaming is for foolish girls. I have my business here," I say. Then I turn and ask, "and your business has been rewarding you, I trust?"
He goes a little stiff at my words. He says, "I think of my position as a ranger as less of a business and more of a calling. It is privilege to serve the state of Texas."
"Oh, certainly," I say lightly. There is that pride, I think to myself.
He gives me a look but continues. "As far as compensation goes, it is irregular at best. However, I received a great deal of money from the reward for Chaney's body and have been kept well by it." He frowns for a moment. "I suppose I have you to thank for that, when all is said and done."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say. "From what I hear, 'Chelmsford's' chest was blown open by a Sharp's carbine rifle, an instrument that I have heard you are quite handy with."
"That is the conclusion that was reached in Texas."
I frown. Something has been weighing on me these four years. "Mr. LaBoeuf, did you ever come across my father's second California gold piece on Chaney's person?"
He exhales. "I regret to say I did not. But I did look on your behalf."
"Well, I thank you for that. I suppose nothing more can be done about it."
"I am sorry all the same. Do you still have the other?"
I pull a thin chain out from inside the collar of my dress and hold it up for him. The remaining California gold piece is looped on the end. It catches the faint orange light of his pipe bowl and shines like a tiny star in the dark.
I replace the gold piece. "Were they pleased with your retrieval of Chaney down in Texas?"
"They were," he says. "In the end, it did not seem to matter to the Bibbs family how he was executed, so I suppose you both won out in the end."
We are quiet for awhile as Mr. LaBoeuf steadily pulls at his pipe.
"Miss Ross, when I return to Texas, I will tender my resignation from the Ranger Corps."
I turn toward him in surprise. "But, why?"
He extracts the pipe from his mouth and taps it against the armrest of his chair for a moment before saying: "My shoulder never fully recovered from that rifle shot Marshal Cogburn generously doled me. You see, when the pain flares up, I have no choice but to take leave, which I have done several times over these past four years. Lately, I have noticed that even when the pain is dormant, I have very limited mobility with the arm. To stay in the field handicapped would mean endangering my fellow rangers, and that cannot be allowed to happen. No, I will tender my resignation. It is time."
"I am sorry to hear that, Mr. LaBoeuf, that is terrible news." I think for a moment, then say encouragingly, "though, the five hundred dollars from Texas, plus the reward from the senator's family, why, that is enough to keep a single man with few expenses afloat for years."
"The money is not my concern. No, what preoccupies me is how I will use my time. As a ranger, I have enjoyed the satisfaction and the excitement of enacting justice on the behalf of the state of Texas for over ten years. I wonder if there is anything I can do from here on out that will seem equally rewarding. I imagine not."
"There must surely be demand for a man with your experience," I say.
"A man with my experience, perhaps, but not my shoulder. As a very young man, I spent some time in prospecting. I could go back to that. It occurred to me that I could work as a private contract detective. I also have a good memory for legal matters."
"I do recall that," I say.
"I could perhaps see myself doing one of those things in the end," he muses. "And it would allow me to settle down, take a wife, start a family. The LaBoeufs still have people residing in El Paso where I grew up, I would not mind spending my remaining years out there."
We are still for some time, until I say: "Mr. LaBoeuf, I am pleased you managed to get in touch after all this time."
He holds the pipe in his hands, looking it over thoughtfully as though seeing it for the first time. "The truth of it is, I'd have done it sooner if I'd felt I had proper cause to. But I'm not sorry it took this long."
"And why is that?"
He turns his head toward me and we look at one another for a moment. Then he stands and shrugs. I can't tell if he intends the gesture as a response to my question. He knocks the ash from his pipe off the side of the veranda and says, "I think I'll turn in now if that's all right with you."
I show Mr. LaBoeuf to his room. He kicks off his boots and I tell him I will fetch him a pitcher of water for washing up.
When I return, he is reclining against the headboard, eyes closed. He opens them when he hears my steps. He has hung his jacket from one of the bedposts and I see he is wearing a soft chambray shirt. It is a blue not so different from the color of his eyes.
I quickly place the pitcher of water on his bedside table. It hits with a clatter.
"Well," I say. "I'll take my leave now. Good night, Mr. LaBoeuf."
"Sebastian," he says.
I pause with my hand on the doorknob. "Excuse me?"
"My name is Sebastian."
"All right," I say.
He closes his eyes again. "Good night, Miss Ross."
As I shut the door, I hear the shuffle of little feet and a poorly suppressed giggle in the hall behind me. I whirl around just in time to see Frankie and Victoria fleeing back into their bedroom. Two wide steps and I stick my foot in the door before they're able to get it closed.
"And what are you two still doing up?" I demand, pushing the door the rest of the way open and putting on my sternest face.
Victoria flushes crimson the way she does when she knows I'm about to bring the law down on her and she shoots a desperate look toward Frankie, who just grins like a fool back at her. In spite of herself, Victoria dissolves into a fit of desperate giggles.
"We're wondering if you'll make Mr. LaBoeuf your sweetheart," she manages to gasp out. "Frankie says he seen you blush when you look at Mr. LaBoeuf."
I'm taken aback and exclaim, "what! This is just—just silly!"
Frankie's laughing now, too. "Were you giving him a goodnight kiss, Mattie?"
I must own that the color in my cheeks rises at this comment. "Get to bed you two," I snap. "And this time stay there!"
I stand out in the hall for awhile after, listening for the creak of their relaxing mattresses, the slow dissolution of their giggles into silence. Then I make my way down the dark hall toward my own bedroom.
Frankie and Victoria have inherited my father's predilection for humor of that sort. While I will indulge them from time-to-time, sometimes I do not know where they think up their jokes.
When I come downstairs the next morning, Mr. LaBoeuf is already seated in the parlor. I nearly bark out a laugh when I see him: he wears a ditto suit of charcoal grey with pale piling around the lapels and collar. It is a nice enough suit I suppose, but it looks a bit strange on him, like seeing a dog wearing trousers.
"Good morning," he says, shifting somewhat uncomfortably in his chair.
"Did you not think your Texas trappings impressive enough for the Sheriff?" I ask.
"What's that?" He blinks. "Oh, the suit. Well, I thought civilian attire more suited for a place like Dardanelle."
We share a breakfast of hot corn bread, fried potatoes and boiled eggs before heading out for Dardanelle. Mr. LaBoeuf takes coffee and I do not. I pack the leftover cornbread in my satchel for later, and as an afterthought wrap up some cured pork as well. We will want to have a quick meal before riding back home, and he is a guest after all.
Mama, Frankie and Victoria see us off. As the house and their waving figures retreat behind us, Mr. LaBoeuf calls back, "Adios!"
I do not turn back as I do not want to lose my balance.
This does not escape Mr. LaBoeuf's attention and he says to me, "you ride very well despite your impediment."
"It took me a year or so to really get the hang of it," I say. We are riding at a leisurely pace, and conversation feels pleasant and easy, so I add, "I believe in many ways, I am a better rider now than I ever was with both arms, on account of all the practicing I had to do."
"Your horse responds magnificently to you."
"She is a beautiful mare, is she not?"
"She is. Do you call her 'Little Blackie' as well?" His tone is teasing.
I give him a scornful look that he does not notice, or at least pretends not to notice. "I do not," I say. "That would make little sense considering she is chestnut in color. Her name is Thankful."
"That is an unusual name for a horse," he informs me.
"I suppose it is. When I was a little girl I met a cousin Pike County with the same name and I thought it quite nice."
We ride awhile longer, and I take the liberty of pointing out the familiar landmarks, as well as listing the names of the farms that we pass. I do not know how well Mr. LaBoeuf is listening as he is uncharacteristically quiet. I have the impression he is mulling something over, probably the Mauldin business. I grow tired of chattering after some time and stop.
Mr. LaBoeuf is still silent, and I soon become lost in my own thoughts. I do not entertain idle daydreams, but a person can get a good deal of useful thinking done while on a trip like this. I'm distracted though, when Mr. LaBoeuf suddenly says "Your riding costume is great deal finer now than the one I recall you wearing four years ago." He gestures with one hand to my high-necked blue wool riding habit. The left sleeve is pinned up of course.
"That was my father's coat I wore back then," I remind him.
"This one is far more becoming."
I feel myself go quite scarlet, and hope the shade from my hat provides adequate cover.
"You would do well to keep such opinions to yourself, I think," I say sharply.
"My apologies. I surely meant nothing by it."
It seems likely that he really did not mean anything by his words. I know that men often just talk this way around young women, though I have no patience for it. I am unfamiliar with the customs of Texas, but if Mr. LaBoeuf is any example it would not surprise me if such forward comments passed for casual conversation there.
I say, "we should pick up our pace a bit if we want to make it to Dardanelle by nine," and then I dig my heels into Thankful's side perhaps a bit harder than is necessary.
I see Mr. LaBoeuf off at the Sheriff's Office and walk the distance to the Post Office. As expected, there is a letter from Dallas waiting for me. The return address bears a Texas seal. Thanking the clerk, I take the letter outside and read it on the steps:
Dear Mr. M. Ross,
We have received the 76 bales / 38,461 pounds of cotton shipped from your estate. We previously quoted you a price of 13 cents per pound for ordinary. Recalculated to the current market rate of 11 cents per pound, you are owed a total balance of $4,230.71. Please advise how you wish to proceed with this transaction.
W.S. Beadles & Co.
I fold the letter crisply into two and place it in my pocket. I stand on the steps for awhile, considering my position. The sun is lazing upward in the sky, and the early afternoon heat has begun to build like a low hum just below a level of discernable discomfort. Sometime between now and when I left Mr. LaBoeuf with the Sheriff, the city has roused itself, and merchants and men in suits hurry past the post office.
A young couple, a man and woman, pause near the steps where I stand. I see that the woman's sleeve has come unbuttoned at the wrist, and she is having some difficulty closing it again, encumbered as she is by a lacy fan and small purse. Her companion gently pushes her hand away and buttons the sleeve for her. She rewards him with a warm, indulgent smile, and as they resume walking she slips a hand through the crook of his arm.
She meets my eyes as they pass by me and I give her a scowl to show my disapproval at their public affection, but she just smiles at me, too. It is not the same smile she gave to the man, this one vague and distant-eyed.
No matter. I have a list of errands to run while Mr. LaBoeuf is at his meeting, and so I attend to those next.
It is well past noon by the time Mr. LaBoeuf exits the Sheriff's office. I have taken a seat on a railing in the shade of the building, and I wave him over. I have a napkin spread in my lap and am halfway through a piece of corn cake.
"My apologies, Mr. LaBoeuf," I say. "I have begun eating without you."
"No matter," he says. I hand him his canteen. He gulps liberally at the water, then uses his handkerchief to mop his brow.
"Hot as dickens in that Sheriff's office," he says, taking the hunk of corn cake I offer him.
"And how did your meeting go?"
He shrugs. "It was fine. I gave what information I have on the brothers' movements, their tendencies, but I do not think they will pursue the Mauldins actively. They've gone quiet since crossing into Arkansas, so the law does not consider them a priority." He sounds disappointed. I think of the combination of his bum shoulder and his preening vanity. It is important for a man like that to feed necessary and productive.
"So I suppose you'll be heading back to Texas, then?"
"I suppose so." He mops his brow one last time before replacing his hat. The dark grey wool looks rather severe against his fair skin and hair, and I think it does him a disservice.
"Look here, Mr. LaBoeuf," I say. "I have a proposition for you."
He looks distracted. "And what's that?"
"Our cotton factor is trying to shortchange us for our product. I need to go to Dallas to straighten out the matter, but I'll need an escort. Now, ordinarily I would hire Yarnell to accompany me on this type of business, but he's getting on in years, and his daughter is expecting a baby in the next couple weeks. I know he'd like to be around for the birth, and anyway I'd prefer someone familiar with the area. So, it occurred to me, who better for the job than a Texas Ranger?"
LaBoeuf now looks thoughtful, though I detect an obnoxious hint of amusement in his face. He carefully closed expression is not as artful as he would like to think. He takes another swig from his canteen. "Has this factor cheated you?"
"Not per se, but I believe he is attempting to take advantage of my distance. He thinks I will not have the resources nor the wherewithal to remonstrate."
He reflects for a moment then says, "well, I cannot use the force of law if he has not actually stolen anything from you, Miss Ross."
"You don't need to. Your presence as a perceived agent of the law alone should be enough. I can be quite persuasive myself."
"I do not doubt that."
"We will take the train from Dardanelle down to Dallas. You can leave your appaloosa in our stables during the trip. I will pay you twenty-five dollars each way to accompany me, plus meals and board, and your train tickets, naturally. To top it off, I will pay you a bonus of another twenty," I say. "That is a possible seventy dollars, but either way you will earn you a neat profit of fifty."
He swipes the hunk of corn cake from my lap and takes a large bite, studying me as he chews. He swallows and drains the rest of his canteen. "I will do it for no less than forty dollars each way."
"Forty is highway robbery," I retort. "I will pay you thirty."
He considers this for a moment. "All right then, thirty."
He extends his hand and I shake it.
I allow a smile. "I hope you don't feel you're being 'hoorawed by a little girl,'" I say.
He laughs, a good honest hard laugh. Then he says, "I see no little girl."
Mama is displeased when I explain my plans to her. She says nothing in front of LaBoeuf or the children, but she approaches me when I head to my room to I pack my things.
"But Mattie, you barely know the man," she protests, if you can call it that. She is so soft-spoken I have some difficulty rebutting her without feeling like a bully.
"I know him well enough," I reply, folding a pair of stockings into my trunk. "It'll be okay, I promise."
She looks me over nervously. "Mattie, bright as you are, you—you do not understand yet the dangers facing a woman your age. Men will take, well, advantage of you, given the opportunity."
"Mr. LaBoeuf is a career officer of the law, and a trusted friend. He saved my life, I need not remind you."
She chews her lip. I can tell from the way she is looking at me that she is still unconvinced. She is no real threat to my plans, but I feel a little sorry for her. Mentioning that Mr. LaBoeuf saved my life also reminds her of the state of my short arm, of almost losing me altogether.
In my youth, Mama was a very mild, placid woman, but since Papa's death she has become rather prone to fits of anxiety and depression. I do my best to keep her in good spirits.
"I will be fine, Mama," I say, more softly now. "And it is essential we get the full balance owed us on this crop."
"Can't Lawyer Daggett see to it?" she pleads.
"He will be in Little Rock for another month."
"Well, why not just send Mr. LaBoeuf to retrieve the balance on his own?"
I snort, pulling my grey riding coat from the closet. "I have seen the man in negotiation. He would somehow return with 9 cents per pound. I do not know how, but he would do it."
Mama says, "so you would trust this man with your virtue, but not your money?"
I smooth my riding coat out across the bed. "Well, if you think of it that way, then yes."
Yarnell drives us to the train station in Dardanelle in our family's coach. Mama and Victoria see us off at the house, but Frankie pleads to come along to town. I tell him no, because Yarnell is feeling under the weather and I know that Frankie will be yammering non-stop both ways, but Mr. LaBoeuf says I should take it easy on him.
"If the boy wants to come for the ride, just let him," he says. Frankie beams at him and I scowl.
"Well, you have 'turned over a new leaf,'" I say. "As I recall, you were staunchly against allowing children to ride along with you in the past."
"A ride to town and a ride to capture a fugitive are two very different things," he points out. "Anyway, someone changed my mind about that."
I help Yarnell lift my little traveling case into the back and tie it in place.
"Are you sure you will be up for this?" I ask. He looks a touch pale, and has a handkerchief out with which to catch his dry coughs.
"I'll be all right, Mattie," he says. "I am on the road to recovery, should be as good as new in a few days."
"Well, don't let little Frankie get you down when I'm not here to mind him."
"He's a good boy," Yarnell says. "Don't you worry about him."
Mama gives me a tight, long hug. "Be careful, child," she whispers.
I give Victoria a quick squeeze around the shoulders. "I'll be back in a week at most," I tell her. "You watch after Mama, tend to her moods, all right?"
She looks at me with her limpid grey eyes, so oddly solemn for a girl her age. "Don't worry, Mattie. Frankie and I know what to do."
"All right then," I say, straightening. "I'll write from each point in the trip that I can."
And like that, we are off. Like I told Victoria, this will not be a long trip. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel an almost physical tingle in my gut as I watch the farmhouse recede into the distance behind the coach. Excitement, I suppose, at the prospect of seeing places I have never been before. I own the feeling is not unpleasant.
Mr. LaBoeuf, perhaps noticing the faint smile playing over my mouth leans over and says, "ready for another adventure?"
"An errand of this nature is hardly an adventure," I say.
"In Texas, everything is an adventure," he tells me.
Author's Notes: The time frame and characters for this fic were based largely on the screenplay for the Coen brothers' 2010 version of True Grit, with some additional details extracted from deleted scenes from the script that did not make the film, as well as the original novel by Charles Portis. The bulk of the events in the Portis novel takes place in 1873, at which time Mattie was 14 years old (putting her year of birth at 1859), and LaBoeuf around 30-35 (b. approximately 1838-43). Edited to add: Thanks to commenter xcgirl08, who pointed out that since Rooster died in 1903, the events of the film would have actually taken place around 1877, putting this story at 1881.
I did a small amount of research going into this fic, especially regarding the geography and demographics of Arkansas, as well as the cotton trade and domestic life in the US around this time. That said, I am by no means well-versed in this time period or the region, and gladly welcome any input and criticisms from readers who are. Much of my research turned up information about American life closer to the turn-of-the-century (c. the 1890s) so some of the details may be slightly anachronistic.
Also anachronistic (and otherwise wildly inaccurate or impossible) are the details regarding train travel. According to my (very limited) research, there was little passenger rail transport in Arkansas until the 1880s and later. Portis's novel (and by extension, the Coen brothers' film) obviously suggest otherwise, so I stuck with their portrayal and filled in my own details as needed.
I went back-and-forth about giving LaBoeuf a first name, but it eventually became unavoidable, so I decided to get it over with as soon as possible. My goal initially was to find as unremarkable a name as possible so that it neither added nor took anything away from his character. Then I decided something with a little panache was actually most fitting. He will be referred to largely as LaBoeuf from here on out, though.
Also, I believe in the novel is it made clear that LaBoeuf will not receive reward money from the state of Texas if Chaney is not brought back alive. I omitted this detail for no particular reason.