I heard from Mr. LaBoeuf three months after I visited the grave of Rooster Cogburn, the man who carried me to safety with rattlesnake poison coursing through my veins. I had not thought to ever hear from the Ranger again, especially after finding Cogburn dead and buried, but I did not think the idea distasteful.
I was churning butter in the kitchen of my farm when the young boy, Angus Murphy, brought the letter. He was a bright child, not as given to prattling and immoderately high spirits as the rest of his six siblings, and I did not mind his company.
"Miss Mattie?" His blond head just peeked over the kitchen table, forming a comical picture, were I given to amusement, which I am not.
"State your business, young Angus," I said, slightly red from the exertion of churning.
"A letter's come for you, and my Ma told me to bring it over." The child's mother was the postmistress, a job she did not do well, but the town tolerated her on account of her being a widow with a large family.
I tool the parcel from the boy. It was slightly larger than a normal letter. "It's all the way from Texas, ma'am!" The child looked as if he might bounce like an India Rubber Ball.
"I can read that for myself, young Angus," I said, thought not as sharply as I might. I gave him a particular look, and he scampered away across the fields. I allowed myself an almost indulgent smile before carefully opening the letter, which had no name on the outside but was marked with a sender's address of San Antonio, Texas. The letter itself was written on plain white paper.
Dear Miss Ross,
I do not know if you will have retained the name with which I address you, though I have a certain suspicion that you may have done so. By making this observation, I do not mean to denigrate either your person or your character, for I know for a fact that you have been an exemplary and most determined woman from the age of fourteen years, and one not without attractions, though I did not comment upon them during our prior acquaintance.
The reason I have chosen to write to you after so long an interval is that it has recently come to my attention that our mutual acquaintance, Mr. Rooster Cogburn, US Marshall, has gone to his final rest. Knowing you as I do, I thought that you would like to know.
I do not think you will be averse to hearing a short account of my own life. I was a Ranger for many years, both feared by the lawless and praised by the righteous, of which I am, I believe, justifiably proud. I was married for six months in the year that would have contained your eighteenth birthday. My wife passed away while birthing our daughter Lizzie, who also died.
The years have not taken the missing from me, but they have taken my youth. I am an old man now, Mattie Ross. I know that you are a woman now, grown and approaching age yourself, but I confess that I cannot picture you so. I ever remember you as the small, determined person who did not bear me ill-will for a beating and fought harder than any officer with whom I have since served.
I do not expect a response from you, though if you wish to return one, I will receive it with pleasure and read it with satisfaction.
I read the letter over three times, noting the inelegant handwriting that nonetheless articulated a certain elegant economy of phrase. Mr. LaBoeuf had not changed. He was still the unassuming gentleman of my recollections.
I put the paper aside and began to form a cake of cornbread, satisfied that my own predictions had come true. I'd often imagined the futures of both Marshall Cogburn and Mr. LaBoeuf, though the Marshall's had always been somewhat vague in my mind; Mr. LaBoeuf, on the other hand, my imagination had always showered with quiet honors of the sort he had apparently attained.
I let myself ponder his sadness for a moment. Like me, he was not given to a great deal of mirth, but even so, no man deserves such a grief. I wondered that he had not married again, for my mind recalled him as a pleasant-looking man with passable manners as long as he wasn't after one with a switch. Perhaps, like me, he had not found the time.
I thought I ought to send a response, but as is my usual practice, I ate dinner and read a chapter of the Psalms before taking to bed, intending to pen the letter in the morning. During the night, I dreamed of Tom Chaney and awoke with satisfaction that he was dead.