I am not the biggest fan of fix fic, but I really was itching to tie a few things together with these two. While this contains details and bits of information from the Charles Portis novel, it is meant to fit in somewhere shortly after Mattie losing her arm in the 2010 film.
And the usual disclaimer, of course. These are not my characters: I only try to analyze them with alarming enthusiasm.
It was not until twenty minutes after he entered the room – announced, naturally, by a bright ringing of spurs and the curling smell of tobacco smoke – that he finally said something: though the Marshal likely would have remarked that twenty minutes was an unprecedented amount of time for my visitor to have kept his mouth shut.
I did not open my eyes.
Chair legs began to whine as he rocked back and forth. The chugging sound from his pipe, huff-puff like a railway locomotive, kept time with his hah-pah steam engine breaths. And he will be sitting at the foot of the bed, I told myself, with his fringed rodeo clown's coat and his starchy cowlick, and nothing at all will have changed.
Except, of course, that his tongue had not quite knit itself up from being nearly bitten in half. With the Texan drawl it made him nigh incomprehensible. I imagined the line between his pale brows sharpening with impatience.
But I did not open my eyes.
While the noisings about my humorless disposition are somewhat exaggerated, understand that I was not doing this for the sake of my own amusement. A week of bed rest, spent in a drafty back room of the house Dr. Medill kept with his wife, had left me cagey and irascible. Cold morning air was causing the place my left arm had been to ache. My backside had not yet forgotten a certain thrashing it had received, courtesy of the incorrigible man who was once again disturbing my much-needed sleep.
And I would not pander to his smug nature by doing anything to suggest I was glad to see him.
So I did not open my eyes.
Thunk, chair legs were set back on the wooden floor. One more long peal from the spurs with their big rowels, as his feet plunked down as well. He was leaning forward: probably with an elbow on his knee, that scrubby mustache adding its disenchanted shape to his scowl. There was an articulated pop as his lips yielded the pipe stem to speak.
"Missh Rossh. I would like to know jusht how long you aim to lie there playing posshum."
One corner of my mouth gave a treacherous yank.
My fingers teased at a loose thread in the bedsheets while I assessed the situation.
Our Lord had said it Himself, that charitable or merciful deeds are best done in secret. And I thought that making the man labor through any more sibilant syllables – like the ones featured in "you are acting shilly" or "a Texshas Ranger desherves a cshertain amount of reshpect" – would be decidedly unmerciful of me: even if the book of Matthew preceded that teaching on mercy with a rather ironic analogy about not letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing.
I opened my eyes.
Sunlight nailed me through the forehead when I did. Propping myself up against the pillows was an awkward endeavor. I tilted my chin back, just enough so that a squinting glare slid down my nose at him.
"Good morning, Mr. LaBoeuf. I see that smack upside the head has not had its normally curative effect on your manners."
Though it came from beneath a crown of white gauze, LaBoeuf's thick features were arranged in that same look as before - the one which dallied between flummoxed and harassed. Buckskin had been exchanged for trousers and a band collar shirt, arm fitted through a sling to ease the weight on his injured shoulder, but he had still managed to fix his ranger's badge in place.
His nostrils flared a bit, then a long plume of smoke sighed out from between his lips. His annunciation was more careful this time.
"Good morning, Miss Ross. I see some of that rattlesnake poison is still running around in your blood." He stretched his legs before crossing them at the ankles. "I am disappointed in Medill. He told me you were making good recovery time, but his work was clearly not thorough enough."
I glanced away in irritation, caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror mounted above the room's dresser. LaBoeuf may very well have been right in his assessment; my complexion was sallow. My hair was unwashed, unbound because I had not yet devised a way to form braids with one hand. Bruised shadows gathered in the hollows around my eyes. And there, of course, was the left sleeve of my pin-tuck nightgown, hanging down as limp and empty as a corn husk.
Which meant that my right arm had to come across my body to reach the bedside table. A small brown bottle sat there next to a shot glass.
"I take no issue with Dr. Medill's abilities. He was a contract army surgeon at Fort Scott in Virginia, and has been in this practice long enough to know the difference between injected venom and inherently choleric humors."
LaBoeuf said nothing, offered no explanation for his presence, and I took this as an invitation to go on talking. Company had been sparse over the last week anyway. My mouth was dry, my tongue in a mild state of disuse. "What I do take issue with, however, is the fact that he prescribes his patients this vile slew in the guise of anesthesia."
I picked the bottle up and brandished it. LaBoeuf squinted, cocked his head to better see the label. He read its printed words aloud.
"...Perry Davis painkiller?"
"It's nothing but herbal medicine."
My fingers attempted to prise the cork free. It was a futile (f-u-t-i-l-e) attempt. "Yes, so Mr. Davis would have us believe. As if any imbecile could really mistake the smells of ethyl alcohol and opiates."
"You are lucky you have anything, Miss Ross. Physicians back where I come from put little stock in these laudanums and ethers. Whether he is brought in pistol-whipped or feverish, the best any man can hope for is a shot of brandy."
I pinned him with another scrutinizing glare. A glow from the pipe bowl kicked up to illuminate his face, as it had done that first night I noticed him on the porch, and I saw there was a coy, bemused sort of expression sitting in his eyes.
I made a note to be scandalized about this later as I uncorked the bottle with my teeth. Amber liquid sloshed out into the tumbler
"The gunshot wounds I cannot help with. But you Texans would suffer fewer fevers if you did not all have such an overt fondness for lapping up the stagnant water in hoof prints." Cool glass was brought to my lips. The medicine had a rusty, acidic smell, and I wished dearly that I could pinch my nose against the evil taste. "Though I would still prefer ditch water over this concoction."
"Take a breath and let it out before you try drinking. Do not inhale for a few seconds afterward, either."
My brow quirked inquisitively.
He gave a one-sided shrug. "A common trick for shooting hard liquor."
"I'm sure I wouldn't know. I am not in the habit of putting a thief in my mouth to steal my brains."
"It is the same basic principle."
I ended by taking his advice. My breath made a rounded whistle over the blown glass rim, then the drink was tossed back: it scorched a path all the way to my stomach. My innards cringed. I must have assumed quite a foul expression, as well, because LaBoeuf allowed this to entertain him before he remarked, "It will hasten your recovery, at least."
I rubbed at my lips with the back of my hand.
"That is another thing. For all his talk about quick recoveries, the fact is that Dr. Medill has condemned me to another three days of bed rest atop the seven I have already endured. Mama was here with Lawyer Daggett for the operation, but she has since gone home to look after Little Frank and Victoria. I cannot allow her to go on managing things by herself - at this rate I will have to be transported home on a stretcher laid out in the aisle of a train coach."
LaBoeuf sat up a bit straighter in his chair. "But you feel you are getting better?"
"Dr. Medill says I will feel somewhat more myself once the last of the morphine has gone out of me."
"And?" he prompted further.
The pipe sat forgotten in his hand, smoke making lazy curlicues up into shafts of light from the window. LaBoeuf really was frowning now, that line between his eyebrows clearly drawn. I realized that his cheeks looked hollow. Bristly, too, as if he had been shaving with his knife for the past several weeks. His hair, or what could be seen of it above the bandages, was a disheveled mess that caught the sun like hay chaff.
I found myself half-way through the motion of attempting to cross my arms before I remembered why that would not work. "I see you have chosen to make this is a matter of utmost importance."
He glanced to his right, then, at something on the far wall.
My eyes followed his, found that I was studying myself in the mirror for a second time: and both of us studying that left sleeve, which contained nothing below the elbow. Pain had continued to chew its way up the sawed-off bone, further still into the muscles of my neck and back, but I did not reach for the Perry Davis bottle again.
I was not permitted to complain, I knew. Tom Chaney had shot my father in cold blood; I had shot Chaney in much the same way. I had taken Chaney's life, even if I had deemed him undeserving of it; the shot's recoil had eventually cost me my arm, which I suppose I had not been thought of as deserving either. The scales had been weighed, measured, balanced as they always were. In His righteousness He does not oppress. Nothing is gotten for free.
So I watched the girl in the mirror open her mouth to say, with a level voice, "Then I am doing as well as can be expected."
"Good." Crick, LaBoeuf slumped back in his chair. "I am glad to hear that."
The strain of keeping propped up against the pillows was beginning to make my head light. Despite my complaints about Dr. Medill and the length of his ordered bed rest, I had been forced to realize that he was at least correct about the time it took to recover from surgical blood loss: I had tried to walk yesterday. My legs had given out before I managed one round of the bedroom.
A long breath escaped me. But I did not join LaBoeuf in slumping back.
"...And while we are speaking of time, Mr. LaBoeuf, I would like to hear an excuse for your tardiness in coming here. If you are looking for Marshal Cogburn, he has flown the coop."
LaBoeuf raised his pipe again.
Another comma of smoke flared up. His look became more ponderous than angry.
And his rattled brains apparently decided that this was a terribly witty remark, because his shoulders began to jerk with weak, helpless laughter. It turned almost instantly to coughing, then to clutching at his shoulder with a groan.
"Oh, Lord. Leave that bottle open there, would you?"
His pipe was set on the floor. He was careful in standing up: he did not bend so much from the knees as the middle, unfolding to full height and steadying himself (ching-ching said the spurs) before he plodded over to where the Perry Davis bottle sat.
"Flown the coop. That is excellent." He accepted the glass from me. He held it steady while I dispensed another fifth of gut-searing potion. "Of course, I knew that already. I had been around to the Chinese grocery where he kept a room before Medill told me. My guess is that he's gone up to Fayetteville, to finish the business about Ned Pepper's gang with Chief Deputy Upham. Whose soundness of mind should be questioned, by the way, for handing Cogburn a Federal badge in the first place..."
LaBoeuf commended the painkiller to his lips and downed it like a shot of rye whiskey, almost bending back with exaggerated gusto. He sucked his teeth in contemplation.
"...Hmpf. Tastes better than anything from Lieutenant Tay's cabinet, at least."
I could very well have hucked the bottle at him then: a painful grimace, darting over his countenance as the bitter aftertaste struck, was all that saved him.
Oblivious to the fact that he had just escaped bodily harm, LaBoeuf remained standing beside the bed.
"And as for legitimate delays, I have been laid low myself. The head is fine, just a few things shaken loose which I will admit were never screwed in too tight in the first place." He gestured towards his shoulder. "It is this right here that's the problem."
"I was asking after you to Dr. Medill. He says you are very lucky."
"Yes, lucky that Cogburn's bullet passed through mostly muscle and shattered my shoulder blade on its way out instead of my collarbone on its way in. I will not have full use of it for a month, at best. Several days at the Monarch boardinghouse have been punishment enough."
"Ah. I had wondered myself what Mrs. Floyd's weekly rate was."
"Same as her daily rate, seventy-five cents with two meals and a dollar with three. A dime extra for hot coffee at breakfast, though, and the spare blankets and clothing were two dollars in total." LaBoeuf peered into the empty shot glass. Tilted it this way, that, observed oblong colors reflected around its sides. "Or did she say two dollars and fifty cents? Plus the seventy-five cents in soap for washing up, and the nickels that were for the...Damn."
I arranged my face into a properly indignant look. "That is rather dishonest of Mrs. Floyd, subjecting a man who has been knocked insensible to her extortion racket."
"Racket. That is just the word." Mild though my insult was, it flew past him. "It would not be so bad, really, except for the food. Those chicken dumplings are nothing but flour with grease. At the very least she could serve something besides grits for breakfast every morning. I had sworn never to eat the godforsaken things again, but there you have it."
"And what is the exact nature of your prejudice against grits, Mr. LaBoeuf?"
"It is not so much a prejudice as a blinding hatred. My battalion lived on them for the six weeks between Hatcher's Run and Fort Stedman. Major Burks bartered off his underclothes for a few fifty-pound sacks of grits and that is what the twenty-five of us ate, half a cup of grits per day to each man. Around the end of February I cut the sole out of my right shoe to eat that instead, and was glad to have it." He tried to lift his bad shoulder. Poking out from the sling, the fingers of his left hand went tense before relaxing. "I might have done the same thing here, except Agatha Floyd said she would charge me for the pot I boiled the leather in and the salt with which I seasoned it."
I pursed my lips to keep from laughing. "Well. In my own personal opinion, that is one of the nicer things about traveling abroad."
He turned away to set the glass back, cork the painkiller.
"What would that be?"
"Sitting down to a proper meal when one returns home again. Will you be leaving soon?"
LaBoeuf must have caught the amusement in my voice (upon further consideration, I suspect this reaction from me was the chief goal of his griping monologue) because when he turned back he was smiling. It deepened fine little creases in the skin around his pale eyes, at corners of his mouth.
Between thirty and thirty-five, I guessed him then. Closer to thirty. Younger than I had first figured, but somewhat more worn.
"The station at Ysleta is not what you'd call a homestead. Its office and barracks are just a gathering of adobe buildings, really, not counting the added wing on the commanding officer's house. If you were after good food or comfortable sleeping quarters, you would do best to keep on riding into El Paso." One hip was leaned up against the bedside table. "I will be taking the train back tomorrow morning."
"Waco, first. I sent a wire to the McLennan County magistrate several days ago along with one to the Bibbs family, let them know how things had ended with Chelmsford. Or Chaney, if you prefer. "
"Remember, Mr. LaBoeuf, you are to split that bounty with the Marshal once you have collected it." My fingers returned to pulling at the bedsheet's loose thread. "Can you collect it, without a body as proof?"
"That will not be a problem. After you two left I found Chelmsford in the branches of a pine tree, a couple of hundred feet below the ledge. The other marshals arrived in time to help me cut him down." LaBoeuf cleared his throat. "His chest had been blown open with a Sharps carbine rifle."
There was a leaping pause, during which a drawstring cinched inside my own chest.
LaBoeuf still had not returned to his chair. He seemed to be waiting for my reply.
I turned my attention away from him to consider it.
Out in the front office, I heard Dr. Medill's feet trip and stumble over his rug. Judging by the warm aroma that reached my nose, Mrs. Medill was making bread in her kitchen. I imagined the white flour that was likely powdered all over her hands. I imagined her cleaning them in the washbowl, her chapped red knuckles and small, split nails.
I even imagined her twirling the wedding band on her finger while she scrubbed, mostly because that was a habit of my own mother's: Mama, standing there on flat feet, spinning her silver wedding ring and letting the light play across its surface.
Holding this picture in my mind, I was able to produce a suitable answer.
"It is a good firearm, but I have found that it kicks a bit hard."
LaBoeuf seemed to reach some kind of resolution just then. I could see the muscles in his throat working as he swallowed.
"Like a draft horse," he agreed. "Too large a bore, likely. I never did climb back up to look for it. Huh, so much for Cogburn's quip about taking it on an elephant hunt. It will rust solid out there on that bluff."
(Years afterward, I would learn that this was a lie. Business would find me back in Le Flore County, Oklahoma – which is what that part of the Choctaw Indian Nation became – and pleased to discover Bagby's store still in operation. During our conversation he would tell me that the posse of marshals had stopped by his outpost on their way to Fort Smith, half a day behind us, to get what temporary treatment was available for LaBoeuf's head: while he was there, the Texan had exchanged his .50 caliber Sharps carbine for a sack of tobacco."The gun's stock was cracked," Bagby would explain, mystified. "Like kindling, when you break it over your knee. I do not know.")
For now, in my ignorance, I nodded. "Elephants are scarce in this part of the world anyhow."
LaBoeuf moved back from the bed a few paces and began fumbling through his pockets. With the bad shoulder it was a tricky feat.
"Besides clearing up specifics of transport with the undertaker, there was also the matter of searching Chelmsford's body once it had been brought back. Ranger policy, you know. We collect the man's personal traps in the event any kinfolk should come asking – mostly things you would be expecting, of course. Several .44 rim-fire cartridges for the Henry rifle he was carrying, a deck of cards with two of the jacks missing, bowie knife, a few strips of salt pork, and, ah..."
He finally reached into his right breast pocket. Found something, drew it out, offered it to me inside a secretively clenched fist.
His fingers uncurled.
I shut my eyes. Opened them again.
"I recalled you mentioning it, " he went on.
But I did not say anything. Could not say anything, really: all I found myself capable of was staring down at the thing that sat on LaBoeuf's broad, callused palm.
It was Papa's second California gold piece.
Gently, I picked it up.
Rubbed my thumb along its edges, over the stamped markings.
Papa had gotten the two gold pieces as a marriage present from my grandfather in Monterey, California. ("John Spurling," Papa would laugh, "ever the pragmatist.") Papa himself believed that the gold pieces brought him luck, and sewing them up in his trouser band had been Mama's idea. ("So he can never lose them," she'd winked at me, as I watched her needle skip through the fabric like a stone over water. "So he can think of us wherever he goes.")
I had liked to look at them when I was very young, and Papa had liked showing them to me. They were called ingots, he had explained, 'ingot' being the proper name for their rectangular shape. Moffat and Company had minted them in San Francisco in 1850. (" Oh, and look right here – your eyes are better than mine, Mattie – this pitted sort of spot, on the upper left edge?...There is always a round stem of gold, a sprue, that gets left behind from where they pour the molten metal into its mold...Ah, go on, laugh. I will bet you cannot say that three times fast, either...Is that right, now? Well, then, try it!...Anyway, the sprue gets cut off later. But they must have been hasty in finishing this one, and left that mark behind.") Papa's mind was always filled with things like that. Things he had read somewhere or learned offhand, things to be shared with whoever was interested.
He had known how to tell the call of a meadowlark from that of a waxwing. How to best keep leather tack from cracking. He had known and told us the story of the Midnight Caller many times over, during which he always managed to do the ghostly caller's voice better than I was ever able to. He had known how a Revolutionary musket would have worked, how to roll a silver dollar across his knuckles, how to get the bead of sweet sap from a honeysuckle flower, and how his two lucky California gold pieces had been made.
And I had forgotten about them, I realized.
Had the second gold piece even crossed my mind in the past few days, I would have given it up for lost: as was fair. The scales had been weighed. They had been measured. I had killed a man, had been allowed to keep my life in return, and it seemed only right that one small ounce of gold supply the remaining counterbalance to justify that.
Had Papa's second California gold piece even crossed my mind, I would have said that having it returned to me would be an unnecessary thing. Unmerited.
But here it was.
LaBoeuf cleared his throat again. Shifted his weight.
The spurs did not make any chiding remarks this time, but the noise of wooden floor creaking under his feet – a noise I suddenly found plain, solid, familiar – was what finally made me look up at him again. His own eyes were fixed on his boots.
Something caught inside my throat.
"Thank you, Mr. LaBoeuf."
This was spoken in what I found to be an unusually mollified tone, so I was forced to make amends immediately thereafter.
"...Although I was not aware it was Ranger policy to go about picking dead men's pockets."
LaBoeuf put his good hand to his hip. The thumb floundered, accustomed to being hooked against that showy cartridge belt, before it was slipped into his trouser pocket. "If we are going to be petty, you should know that Chelmsford had it in his boot."
"Ah. So you are required to divest men of their shoes, as well. I hope you had the foresight to take his coat while you were at it."
"Why is that?"
"Because your current one has a bullet hole in the left shoulder, not to mention drag marks down its front, and the George Catlin Rodeo resumes touring in March. I understand the clowns must be uniformly well accoutered."
"I don't know about that." LaBoeuf trudged back to his chair. The pipe was picked up, brushed off. He sat heavily down and began puffing at it again like an over-sized boy playing professor. "Goading angry bulls seems more your territory than mine."
"Certainly not. I am in full possession of my wits."
"That is a generous estimate."
"You would argue otherwise?"
"Miss Ross, I have had you pegged for a half-wit since the moment I watched you swim that horse across a damn freezing cold river."
"Then I am afraid you have mistaken madness for a shrewd business acumen." The light-headedness finally won over, spun me gradually backwards and down against the pillows. My hand, still closed around Papa's gold piece, slipped under the covers. "And that was not so difficult. I rode Mr. Atkinson's goat through a plum thicket after Will Guffey dared me to."
I was not able to see LaBoeuf's face, as I was now looking at the cracked ceiling above my bed. But there was a short pause, which made me think that he was grinning when he asked, "Was it your father who taught you how to ride?"
The spurs made their sharp ching-ching noise as he repositioned his feet. Apparently, he intended to sit there until the pipe was finished. "I would have liked to have met him."
Upon closing my eyes, I realized that the lashes were damp. Somewhat.
"You would have never met a more honorable or earnest man. Whatever promising business venture came his way, he would have made sure to include you in it - even if he had to do some hoorawing along the way. But that was Papa for you, his brother's keeper. " I mulled these words over, trying to keep from mumbling as I sunk down into sleep again. "And you would not need to worry about bad tempers and such, either. I am nothing like him."
"You do alright for yourself."
I yawned. "Flattery will not get you far with me, Mr. LaBoeuf."
"LaBoeuf," he parroted back.
My brow scrunched itself into a frown. I cracked one eye open. "What?"
"Just 'LaBoeuf' will do fine."
Light in the room had only grown brighter, as Dr. Medill's accommodations did not include curtains. My eyes shut again.
"Alright then, LaBoeuf."
Quiet settled back in place. Pipe smoke continued to float about the room. Noises from the spurs, creaking from the chair and bed, sounds from the world outside, all meshed of them together into a lulling hum as I laid there with my thoughts.
My fingers turned the California gold piece over again.
In a few days' time, when my legs held steady beneath me, I would stand before that mirror on the wall. I would be stripped to the waist, my bandages pulled as far aside as I could manage. I would be able to look plainly at the judgment that had been dealt me, the lesson which had inscribed itself in the scarified flesh and blunted shape of my missing arm, and no doubt I would find it just. Yes.
Then I would sit with the two gold pieces in my lap alongside Papa's pocket watch, his knife. I would hold the watch up to my ear and listen to its spider-nest gears turning, place the gold pieces in my hand and keep them there until the metal grew warm. I would likely cry, and tell myself there was no shame in it: because it was all over and finished with now, and did not feel at all like I had thought it would. Because I knew I would never be able to repay Marshal Rooster Cogburn for what he had done. Because I had lost as much as I had gained and would never speak with my father about his lucky gold pieces again. Because things had changed, and would go on changing and changing still, and that was their way.
But for now I let myself be comforted by these trivial things here, the pipe smoke and the spurs and the creaking chair, because they really were just same as before: though I could not escape the feeling that I had overlooked some minor detail. It was a niggling doubt, like suspecting I had missed a number in the bookkeeping.
Another fifteen or twenty minutes may have passed, I am not sure. I was somewhere between waking and sleep when I heard a last reedy huff, the tobacco burning itself up inside the pipe. Toc-toc, LaBoeuf tapped its bowl out against the metal bed frame.
Spurs rattled as he stood, and I listened for the methodical steps that would carry him out of the room. Out into the street, out onto the train platform, and for all intents and purposes out of my life.
The footfalls did not, however, tend immediately in that direction: instead they beat themselves carefully, haltingly back over to the bedside.
And stopped there.
("...Though you are very young, and sick, and unattractive to boot.")
I remembered now.
There was a muttering sigh, that sagging kind of sound you make when you are tired and must bow to retrieve something. He had bent at the waist to bring his head down, I guessed. Cloth rustled, maybe the rough fabric of his pant leg against a sheet. And he smelled not of dust, as I had been expecting – it was dust, and tobacco, and buckskin warmed by the sun, and saddle soap made from beeswax and lye.
He was close enough that this ruffled a small tendril of my hair: made it float back, hang still like a dandelion tuft, nod back down to brush the skin of my forehead. An absurd fluttering sensation went all up through me.
I did not open my eyes.
Truth be told, I gave some thought to swinging at him with my good arm. Perhaps a sound wallop in the gut would suffice, I mused, to remind him that Martha Francine Ross was a respectable gentlewoman and not the slumbering Briar Rose to be accosted at leisure. I might have opened my eyes at that moment and made a fool of him.
But I thought about the white crown of gauze on his head. About the shoulder stiff with bandages, the arm cradled gingerly in its sling, the affected speech. I thought about the proudly polished badge, which must have taken a good fifteen minutes to pin on. Very likely he had stabbed himself a few times trying to manage the task single-handed.
I thought about Sergeant LaBoeuf of the stalwart Texas Rangers: who had pursued Tom Chaney across many months and hundreds of miles because there was a reward in it. LaBoeuf, with a shallow reservoir of patience and a large ego that bruised rather easily: who had still been willing to rifle through a dead man's boots, had probably argued with the undertaker and forced open the coffin to do so, had delayed his journey a full day or more, and all to give back one little gold piece to the girl who had caused him so much trouble in the first place.
So, once more, I did not open my eyes.
And I waited.
Waited for what would probably be pair of dry, thin lips to press against the crown of my hair, or my brow, or even my cheek. I was still, and I waited.
I waited until that one sighing breath, that light heedless shiver, had been doubled over and doubled over in my mind and I was sure I would either go mad or strike him after all. I waited even a moment beyond that.
And at this crucial moment of the break, there was a shifting of weight on booted feet.
There was something that may have been a grumble of words as he straightened up again. The sound of cloth, spurs, as he stepped back.
LaBoeuf had stood and walked away.
Willpower alone kept up my act. Blood burned my face into what I imagined was an unattractively blotchy flush. My head filled itself up with a string of unprintable obscenities and insults: bumptious nincompoop. Over-dressed charlatan. Swaggering, addle-pated, cowlicked Texas brush-popper. In graciously deciding not to make a fool of him just this once, I had allowed myself to be made a fool of instead.
When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand is doing. Indeed!
Stupefied with anger, an erratic pulse thrumming in my ears, I listened to LaBoeuf's footsteps cross the room. The brass doorknob was grasped. Tock, its latch turned easily.
For a very long time there was silence.
A third sigh, shorter and more decisive than the others.
"Well, Mattie." Hinges squeaked. "Lord help the man who thinks he can steal anything from you."
Then out he went, spurs ringing: down the hall, through Dr. Medill's front office, ching-ching-ching until I could not hear them anymore, and the smell of tobacco smoke following after.
I opened my eyes, turned myself over to look.
LaBoeuf had not shut the door behind him.
To point out a few anachronisms: while Mattie states in the novel that her father's California gold piece has a value of just over thirty-four dollars, the highest value a Moffat and Co. gold ingot actually carried was about sixteen dollars: but it seems that no other California company minted coins matching the rectangular shape described in the book and shown in the movie.
And with 19th century medicine being what it was, Mattie would probably not have been this coherent even a week after her operation. Or LaBoeuf, for that matter. Maybe the mutual dopey behavior was what I was aiming for here.
The title is from the hymn 'Leaning on the Everlasting Arms', which is heard in melody throughout the movie and is the song at the end.
Thank you very much for reading. Questions, suggestions, ideas, critiques, ranting and raving are always welcome.