Rooster Cogburn waited and watched as the doctor worked on Mattie. Usually a snakebite was not fatal to someone unless it was on a child or an old person or someone weak. Mattie was young but not a child; and certainly not weak. Still she could die. For someone that had spent over 50 years running free, never settling down, having few he cared about, this was something new. Mattie Ross was a handful; but somehow she had become important to him over the last few weeks. Labouef would be along as soon as he could; but his wound slowed him down. He would not be here probably for another day. Getting here this fast had killed Mattie's horse; Rooster had put it out of its misery just minutes ago.
The doctor rose and went towards Rooster.
"Marshal, I hate to say it but I might have to take her arm. The infection is bad."
Rooster glared at him. "What do you need?"
"Marshal, there is nothing more I can do."
Rooster stamped out the door and into the cold. Staring at the sky he cursed. For a 14 year old girl to lose an arm-that was just wrong. Grimly he began to pace. Then he remembered something he had learned long ago. He went back into the cabin.
"Doc, I remember years ago a Piute using goldenseal to treat a rattlesnake bite. It worked pretty good. Do you have any?"
The Doctor blinked and started to shake his head when his wife, who also acted as his nurse, spoke up.
"I have some. Do you remember how it was prepared?"
Rooster thought hard. "It was a dry powder, kind of yellow. He heated up some water and poured a handful into a cup; then he soaked a rag in it and tied up the wound with it."
The Doctor looked skeptical.
"I have heard of it but never from anyone that saw it used."
"You have a better idea then waiting until you have to take her arm?"
Rooster kept at him until he did it.
Mattie could feel something; all was white, she could not see or hear but she could feel. Pain. Coming from her left arm. Slowly she became aware of more; she managed to open her eyes; she could hear some sounds. A face above her seemed to say something; but she could not recognize the face or the sounds. She felt herself drifting off.
Rooster was dozing when suddenly he was awake. He looked around; the lantern was dim, what had woke him up? Then he heard a noise- sounded like someone trying to make a sound. He looked towards the bed and saw Mattie move her head, her eyes flickering. He moved closer, then over her, trying to get her attention; her eyes opened. She was flushed and not aware; he could tell that. Then her eyes closed and she was still. He moved to the door and went into the main part of the cabin.
The Doc was asleep but his wife was knitting.
"Maam, she was awake for a minute. Then went back to sleep. Seems easier somehow."
She nodded and went in to check on Mattie. She came out a couple minutes later.
"Her fever is down; so is the swelling over the bite wound. I think that goldenseal is working."
Rooster grinned. "Well that's good." He went back in and sat in the chair; in a while he dozed off.
The next morning after checking that Mattie seemed to be getting steadily better, Rooster went outside to look around. It was cold but clear. Not much wind; all in all not a bad day. He moved away from the small cluster of buildings to get a better look around; he was not very familiar with the area. Then he noticed off in the distance a rider heading his way. He watched carefully for a few minutes until he was sure. Then he went back inside.
The Doctor came out of Mattie's room.
"Well Marshall I am going to have to make sure I keep goldenseal around from now on. Her arm is much better and so is she."
"Well Doc that is good. I hated to see Baby Sis without an arm. For a youngun that is pretty bad."
"Without that goldenseal she would have lost that arm. That snake bit her right in a vein; worst place outside of the neck or an artery to be bit in."
"Just so long as she is going to be OK."
"I see no reason she should not recover completely. She seemed otherwise strong and healthy. Probably will take a few days of bed rest but that is all."
"Doc, I bet you she will be demanding out of here inside of two days."
"Headstrong, I take it?"
"You have no idea. She rode 200 miles here in winter with me and a Texas Ranger to hunt down the man that murdered her father. Could not get rid of her. And as it turned out she was the one that shot him and killed him."
The Doctors eyes widened at that. His wife was just as impressed.
"That young girl?"
"Maam, that young girl is as tough as an old cob."
The door opened and LaBoeuf stepped in, looking a little ragged at best, with a blood stained bandage around his head. He looked at Rooster, who was as usual quick. "Baby Sis is going to be ok, you ought to have the sawbones here take a look at your head. Might need to amputate."
LaBoeuf grinned, then took off his hat. The doctor moved towards him and took a look, then pulled him over to sit on a chair. Rooster went back into Mattie's room.
Mattie felt herself slowly coming to; it was like a long set of stairs. But she could feel things and now she could hear; slowly she opened her eyes. Everything was blurry for a bit; then it began to clear.
Rooster had been dozing some when he woke up and looked towards the bed. Mattie was moving her head, he got up and went over.
SLOWLY her vision cleared and she recognized Rooster. She smiled softly.
Rooster looked for the water jug and the glass next to it; he filled it half way and moved over to the bed.
Mattie felt weak and her arm hurt but she wanted that water more. She managed to sip some down and it felt really good.
Settling back with a sigh, she looked around the room. Then at her arm, still bandaged up. It hurt, but she managed to move her fingers. Rooster watched her, then spoke up.
"You almost lost that arm; but you will be fine. Just take a while."
Mattie nodded. Then laid back. Slowly her eyes closed and she was asleep. Rooster smiled and suddenly the world looked a lot better. He went back out.
The Doctor was carefully wiping around the cut on LaBoeuf's head; he was wincing slightly but staying quiet. Rooster watched for a moment then tossed a comment.
"Well, Doc, you gonna have to take it off?"
LaBoeuf glared at him. Then winced again as the Doctor poked.
"It is not a bad cut; not infected. He will be fine."
"I guess that is good. Baby Sis woke up and spoke to me and wiggled her fingers; drank some water and went back to sleep."
"That is good. A few days and she will be up and around."
The doctor finished bandaging LaBoeuf.
"Change this dressing every day and make sure it's clean. You should be fine."
LaBoeuf grunted and stood up. "Well if that is the case then I ought to see about getting Chaney's body to town so that the Sheriff can write up that it's him for the reward. What about Pepper?"
Rooster thought about it. "One of us needs to stay for Baby Sis. Pepper is worth, I think, $200 dollars. Not sure. Take him in as well and get it written up. But you ought to rest up a day – and the horses need it just as much if not more."
The Doctor was blunt.
"You should rest up some- head injuries are nothing to fool around with. At least a day of no exertion and rest."
LaBoeuf sighed. He knew they were right. Rooster grinned.
"I'll show you where to put the horses. We can unload the bodies behind the stable and throw a blanket over them. Nice thing about the weather is that they won't start to stink."
Both men were much more cheerful knowing the young girl would be OK, though they would not admit it openly.
LaBoeuf sacked out in the spare room with Rooster. He finally admitted he was tired and went out early. Rooster stayed in Mattie's room until late. She woke up again and was more alert. She then asked how long before she could travel to the doctor; and when he said several days she said two; Rooster laughed.
The next morning LaBoeuf went into Matties room to say goodbye. She was quite alert and sharp.
"The Texas Rangers should be proud of you, Mr LaBoeuf. You did well. And I thank you for helping me bring my fathers murderer to justice; even if it was at the end of my fathers pistol."
"Well Miss Ross, that was what one could consider proper justice; the gun of the man who he murdered killing him at the hand of the daughter of that man. Seems like that is fairly proper."
Mattie nodded. "I want to thank you for helping take care of me. I know now that going along with you two was not the right thing to do; nor was it sensible. But it was what I had to do. I had to be sure that the man that killed my father paid."
"We might not have gotten it done without you bothering us; one never knows. You have my address, Miss Ross. I would appreciate a letter now and then."
Mattie smiled. "You will get them, that I promise. And I expect great tales from Texas in return."
"Well I do not know about tales, but I think I can manage to get a letter out now and then."
Mattie held out her good hand and he clasped it; nothing more needed to be said.
Three days later Mattie insisted she was well enough to travel. Rooster agreed though the doctor was not so sure. It was only a days ride to town and there was a doctor there so upon getting a firm promise to rest at least a day or two there and see him he let Mattie go. Rooster snorted; he knew there was nothing the Doctor could do to keep her from going.
Mattie was weak; but as always stubborn. Rooster insisted on stopping twice to let her rest; but they still made it to town by dusk. The local hotel had plenty of rooms available and Mattie immediately went to bed, despite protestations that she was fine. Rooster spent the evening happily sipping the local brew at one of the Saloons in town. But he did not get drunk and made it to bed before midnight. The next morning he rousted Mattie ought early to see the doctor in town while he went to see the Sheriff.
"Marshal, Ranger LaBoeuf was here and got all the necessary paperwork for both Tom Chaney and Ned Pepper. The reward for Pepper was raised to $500 last Month. I would expect the money to be wired in either today or tomorrow for Pepper. The money for Chaney will take longer."
Rooster was cheered up a lot by the extra money for Pepper.
"Well Marshall, Miss Ross needs some rest so we will be here for a few days."
Whistling cheerfully Rooster headed for the Doctors office. He found Mattie waiting for him. The Doctor was an older man, but appeared competent.
"I would recommend Miss Ross rest a day or two before continuing on; and I also recommend slow travel with at least two pauses a day for her to rest. She seems well otherwise."
"Well Doctor we will be here for a day or two anyway waiting for the reward money so that is not a problem."
Leading Mattie out the door he was not surprised to hear that she had things to do.
"First I want to go to the Telegraph Office and send a message home to let my mother know that all is well and that justice has been done. Then we will go to the general store and I will purchase some additional clothes. There is a Chinese Laundry in town and I will have what I have been wearing taken care of. I am also going to see about getting a better horse. The one I have is not very good."
Rooster smiled; she was certainly back to normal.
"Well I agree about the horse. Matter of fact I will see if they have something better for myself." While not flush, the outlaws had had a fair amount of cash and Pepper had some gold. Rooster was quite cheerful about that. It was not often that he had money to burn.
Mattie did not realize that her story had gotten out until she was asked about it that evening at the hotel dining room. She thought that Rooster had spoken about it but he claimed innocence.
"Baby Sis, I just did some quiet drinking by myself last night. Didn't hardly speak to anyone. I reckon LaBoeuf must have let something slip when he was here."
Mattie was not satisfied as she had become something of a minor celebrity around that town. She did not like it.
The very next day the money for Ned Pepper was wired in by Western Union and Rooster happily collected it. He was not even put out by Mattie demanding that he immediately wire half of it to LaBoeuf's account in Texas. He stopped her by telling her that both he and LaBoeuf had agreed that one third of the $1000 would go to her for Tom Chaney since she had been the one to plant him. For one of the few times ever Mattie Ross was speechless. That got Rooster chuckling for the rest of the day.
The following morning Mattie was determined to go and Rooster agreed; but saying they would not push it. So it took another week to reach the Ross ranch.
As they rode up to the main house Mattie looked around; there was no movement; it was mid day and there should have been people around. Her little brother and sister; her mother; at least one of the hands. She paused a little bit before the yard. She looked at Rooster and saw that he was looking around very alertly; he had sensed it as well. He held up his hand- she knew he meant stay back while he checked it out. Surprisingly she found herself readily agreeing.
Rooster was taking no chances; he had his rifle out with a round in the chamber as he rode into the yard before the house. He stopped and looked around very carefully. It was completely quiet. The doors and windows of the house were shut; not a sound came from the barn or the small bunkhouse. He decided to head for the bunkhouse first. He walked up and found the door open to his hand- carefully he moved in, ready to shoot. But it was empty. He looked hard; it did not look like it had been abandoned quickly. There were no clothes laying around or anything like it. He closed the door and headed for the house. He knocked on the front door and tried it- it was locked. The windows were closed and the drapes shut as well; he could not see anything. He walked around back and the same story there. He headed out front and waved Mattie in. She quickly rode up.
"Baby Sis there is no one here. But I see no signs that they left quickly. The house is locked up tight and all the drapes closed."
Mattie was scared. This could not be good. She got off the horse and reached into her saddlebag. She found the key to the front door and headed towards it, Rooster with her and without his rifle, but with his hand on his pistol. She opened the door and they went inside; with the drapes pulled it was quite dark. She went to the foyer window and pulled the drapes back. Then into the main room at the front and did the same. They looked around and could not see a thing. She looked for a note or something; nothing. Fear slowly growing she went outside almost at a run, Rooster following. She ran up the small hill to the family cemetery. She stopped, panting, her eyes wide at what she saw.
A new gravestone was there. On it was this.
TOM ROSS 1836-1878
EMILY ROSS 1840-1878
Rest In Peace
She sank down next to it and cried.
Rooster stood off, sadly. Then slowly took off his hat. He looked around. This was a very nice ranch. Good cattle country; and he could see off to the south where they had fields that would be tilled and planted. He could see some cattle off in the distance. He did not know what other family Mattie had beyond her younger brother and sister. He did know that she needed him now more than ever; despite what she might think.
Mattie slowly dried her tears. Just as slowly she stood up. She turned towards Rooster.
"This is a new stone; could not have been here more than a week or so. She must have died at least two weeks ago. She was healthy when I left."
Rooster said softly. "It's been more than a month since you left, Baby Sis. A lot can happen in a month. You know that."
Slowly she nodded. She looked around and took a deep breath.
"We must go into town. They will know what happened."
"What other family do you have?"
"Father has an older brother; but he is in poor health in St Louis. Mother had a sister but she died last year; her husband died before her; she was childless. I do not think there are any others; neither my father nor my mother were close to their families. They disagreed with them coming out west."
Mattie forced herself to think. She and her brother and sister would be considered orphans. She looked around. Clearly action had been taken to sell off the chickens and everything else. She needed to contact Lawyer Dagget. She turned to Rooster. "Lawyer Dagget will know what is going on. We must get to town."
Rooster was glad to see some fire back in the girls eyes. But he was worried. NO family. This was not good. They headed out after Mattie carefully locked the front door and closed the drapes. Neither of them spoke – they just rode. It took them until nearly dusk to reach town. Mattie headed right for Lawyer Dagget's office.
Luckily he was still there. He stood up as Mattie, closely followed by Rooster came in.
"Mattie, I am so very sorry for your loss. Your mother caught a fever only a week after you left and was gone in less than three days. I guess none of the telegrams I sent reached you. When I got the one from you I sent a reply."
Mattie shook her head and sat down. Rooster stood behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "I never got one. My Brother and Sister?"
"They are well and staying with my wife and myself. I have sold off the livestock of the farm and laid off the hands. The cattle are being kept by Solemn Jones who has made an offer. I am checking with several sources to make sure it's a good one. Mattie, it will probably take some time for your farm to sell. Judge Rocker has left for the next two weeks; and will not make any decisions. He told me in confidence that he sees no reason to make any decisions for the time being. So we have time to make plans. Unfortunately your Fathers brother has never answered any of the letters or telegrams sent. I fear he has passed. Your mother was able to talk some before she died and told me that there was really no other family to be had. That makes the situation difficult."
Mattie kept control of herself. "I understand. I am glad you took the actions you did; I had been telling my father that our livestock was not of the best quality; and he was thinking of selling them off and starting over. As long as you got a good price that is fine. The same with the cattle. I will have to think. There are always alternatives if one can just think hard enough."
Dagget nodded. He looked at Rooster. "Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn I presume?"
"At your service Mr Dagget. We would have gotten here a week earlier but Baby Sis here got bit by a rattler. Slowed us down some."
Dagget looked at Mattie. "She did not mention the bite in her telegram."
"It was not that important since I have recovered just about fully."
Rooster decided the Lawyer deserved more than that. "Actually she is the one that shot Chaney. With her fathers pistol."
At Daggets raised eyebrow Mattie flushed slightly.
"I now know it was very foolish to insist to go along with Marshal Cogburn and Ranger LaBoeuf. But at the time it seemed the thing to do. I shot Tom Chaney in self defence; the recoil knocked me backward into a pit and I got bit by a rattlesnake. In the meantime Rooster and Laboeuf wiped out the Pepper gang; with Rooster doing most of it. But in the end justice was done. I would have preferred Chaney to hang, but what is done is done."
At that moment several riders at a gallop went by the office, whooping and hollering. Mattie blinked and looked at Dagget, who frowned.
"Sheriff Johnson quit when a larger town offered him more money and he took both Deputies with him. He left two days ago and the word is spreading. The Mayor has wired the capital to send someone." He looked at Rooster.
"With you already here, Marshal, I would say you will be assigned."
Rooster shrugged. "So be it. If I can find a couple of men to watch my back, I can put the lid back on in short order."
Dagget nodded and rose. "The mayor is gathering willing men; but they need a leader and a territorial marshal is just what they need. I believe he is over at the general store now."
Rooster looked at Mattie. "Baby Sis, you go with the Lawyer and get some sleep while I handle things here."
Mattie looked at him for a moment then stepped closer. "Take care of yourself Rooster. I have lost too many people I care about already."
Rooster tipped his hat and went outside to grab his rifle and head to the general store.
Dagget looked at Mattie. "How good is Marshal Cogburn? I have heard conflicting stories about him"
Mattie smiled softly. "He can be foul mouthed and crude; and he drinks far too much. But he has True Grit; he faced four members of the Pepper gang and pepper as well across a field; he charged them alone and killed three of them, wounding Pepper who was finished off by a long shot from Ranger Laboeuf. After I was bit, he rode for 18 solid hours, mostly at night, to get me to a doctor. When it matters he is a man who stands tall."
Dagget nodded; her tone said more than her actual words. Mattie Ross was no ones fool and very sharp and intelligent. Her regard for the Marshal was clear.
Rooster strode into the General Store and found 8 men with shotguns waiting.
"I am Territorial Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn. If you men are willing we will go about restoring the peace and quiet here."
A older man in a store suit came forward. "I am Mayor Wilkins and I am very glad to see you, Marshal. I did not expect such fast action from the Capital."
"Mayor I came into town on other business but I can see where my duty lies; I was told your previous sheriff left and you needed help."
"That we do Marshal. These men will help."
Rooster looked at them. "First off- who has the keys to the town Jail?"
A man with a key ring came forward.
"Take three men and you will be the escort. I and the others will arrest the first ones and you will escort them to the jail and lock them up; one will stay behind to watch them. The rest will come back for more. We might have to make two or three trips but this town will be quiet by midnight. Any questions?"
There were none and Rooster and his posse headed out.
Mattie and Dagget watched as Rooster and his men headed towards where the most noise was coming from. Mattie looked at Dagget.
"Rooster will be busy for a while. If you have no other business I would like to see my brother and sister."
"I was about to close anyway. So we will leave now."
It only took two trips and one busted head by Rooster to quiet the town; word got out that a big and mean Territorial Marshal had arrived and that was enough.
He looked around the town jail. Not bad at all. It had a fairly nice room off to the side that had what looked like a pretty comfortable bed. The building was made of stone and well built. It had iron shutters and the door was very heavy wood with iron plates on it. It would take a lot to break in. The cells were well built as well. He looked at the men who had helped him.
"Good job men. Well you can all head home. I doubt there will be any more trouble now that word has gotten out that the law is back. I will be here if anything else comes up."
One of the men offered to take his horse to the town livery and Rooster nodded, just stopping to take his saddlebags off. He found some canned goods and such in the jail and coffee. He made a small meal then hit the sack.
Mattie hugged her brother and sister; they had never been so glad to see her before. She talked softly to them and promised to take care of them then packed them off to bed. Her arm was still sore but it was getting better.
She sat in her room and started to think about the situation. She had a couple of ideas she would talk to Lawyer Dagget about in the morning.
She was up early and talked to her Lawyer.
"Mattie, you need a guardian. Simple as that. Now Judge Rocker will be willing to go along with any choice I make. I wish I could volunteer but Marsha is showing signs of Tuberculosis and we will need to move to a dry climate, probably Arizona soon. I have already contacted my old professor at Michigan and he has promised to find some possible replacements for me in this town. But that does not help you."
Mattie sighed; there went plan one. Well part of plan one. Plan two now.
"Do not apologize for taking care of family; it has been brought to my attention just how important family is. I have a plan in mind. It will take some arranging but I believe it will work. I would rather stay in town, frankly; I never found life all interesting on the farm. My brother and sister would also benefit from the new school starting up."
At that moment Mrs Dagget appeared and they talked about other things. The children were up before long and Mattie spent some time with them before leaving with Dagget to go back to town.
Rooster was sitting at the desk in the Sheriffs office when Mattie came in. He had been sorting through some wanted posters. He motioned for her to sit down.
"Wasn't hard at all to put the lid back on this town. Only had to bust one head. They are all sleeping it off right now. Baby Sis, I know you well enough to figure that you already have several plans in mind. So what do you need me to do?"
Mattie took a deep breath. "I plan to sell the farm and move into town; I prefer town life and the children will get a better education as the new school has a very well schooled teacher. The sale of the cattle should give me sufficient funds to buy the General Store. I have never thought it was very well run; and the owner wants to go back east. He was never suited to live out here. Unfortunately Lawyer Dagget will have to move soon to Arizona for his wifes health. My initial plan was to have him act as guardian until I reached 18, whereupon I could take care of myself and my brother and sister. So Rooster I would like to ask you to become our guardian. And I would suggest that you become Town Sheriff. It would be a much easier life than the one you now lead."
Rooster blinked and thought about it. His time as a territorial Marshal was running out; sooner rather than later he would be told to retire. His pension would not be all that much. IT was true he would have an easier time here; and could last longer. He looked at Mattie.
"Baby Sis, you are right as usual. I know my time as a Marshal is running out; and I can remain Town Sheriff for a lot longer before I have to retire. I have not had family in so long that I really have no idea what it is. If I stay here I will have you; and I will be there for you and your brother and sister. So to me it looks like a pretty good deal. Shall we shake on it?"
Mattie's smile would have lit up the whole town. She reached for his hand and gave it a definite shake.
"Reuben J. Cogburn, I am glad I met you."
"Well Baby Sis, I am glad I met you."