True Grit (Charles Portis) 4*

true gritThis book is adorable.  Amongst drunken gunslingers and filthy outlaws, here’s skinny little Mattie Ross bossing it up.  She’s a 14-year-old girl with a sense of entitlement you usually see on a 40-year-old CEO.  From the way Mattie makes unhesitating business decisions, you’d think she’d been running the family farm even before her father was murdered.  True Grit is half adventure tale, half black comedy, as Mattie, a federal marshall, a Texas Ranger, and an assortment of murderous train robbers talk past each other because no one has the cognitive capacity to deal with Mattie.

The most hilarious part is that Mattie won’t shut up about her lawyer.   If she likes someone, no matter how bloody the situation, she tells them she can refer them to a good lawyer.  If she doesn’t like someone, she says this:

I said, “I don’t like the way you look.”

Quincy stopped his work.  He said, “Are you talking to me, runt?”

I said, “Yes, and I will say it again.  I don’t like the way you look and I don’t like the way you are cutting up that turkey.  I hope you go to jail.  My lawyer will not help you.”

I love it!  Now let’s watch Mattie beat a sophisticated businessman into a whimpering pulp.  Atticus Finch could learn a thing or two from this kid:

I said, “I want three hundred dollars for Papa’s saddle horse that was stolen.”

He said, “You will have to take that up with the man who has the horse.”

“Tom Chaney stole it while it was in your care,” said I.  “You are responsible.”

Stonehill laughed at that.  He said, “I admire your sand but I believe you will find that I am not liable for such claims.  Let me say too that your valuation of the horse is high by about two hundred dollars.”

I said, “If anything, my price is low.  Judy is a fine racing mare.  She has won purses of twenty-five dollars at the fair.  I have seen her jump an eight-rail fence with a heavy rider.”

“All very interesting, I’m sure,” said he.

“Then you will offer nothing?”

“Nothing except what is yours.  The ponies are yours, take them.  Your father’s horse was stolen by a murderous criminal.  This is regrettable but I had provided reasonable protection for the animal as per the implicit agreement with the client.  We must each of us bear our own misfortunes.  Mine is that I have temporarily lost the services of my watchman.”

“I will take it to law,” said I.

“You must do as you think best,” said he.

“We will see if a widow and her three small children can get fair treatment in the courts of this city.”

“You have no case.”

“Lawyer J. Noble Daggett of Dardanelle, Arkansas, may think otherwise.  Also a jury.”

“Where is your mother?”

“She is at home in Yell County looking after my sister Victoria and my brother Little Frank.”

“You must fetch her then.  I do not like to deal with children.”

“You will not like it any better when Lawyer Daggett gets hold of you.  He is a grown man.”

“You are impudent.”

“I do not wish to be, sir, but I will not be pushed about when I am in the right.”

“I will take it up with my attorney.”

“And I will take it up with mine.  I will send him a message by telegraph and he will be here on the evening train.  He will make money and I will make money and your lawyer will make money and you, Mr. Licensed Auctioneer, will foot the bill.”

“I cannot make an agreement with a child.  You are not accountable.  You cannot be bound to a contract.”

“Lawyer Daggett will back up any decision I make.  You may rest easy on that score.  You can confirm any agreement by telegraph.”

“This is a damned nuisance!” he exclaimed.  “How am I to get my work done?  I have a sale tomorrow.”

“There can be no settlement after I leave this office,” said I.  “It will go to law.”

He worried with his eyeglasses for a minute and then said, “I will pay two hundred dollars to your father’s estate when I have in my hand a letter from your lawyer absolving me of all liability from the beginning of the world to date.  It must be signed by your lawyer and your mother and it must be notarized.  The offer is more than liberal and I only make it to avoid the possibility of troublesome litigation.  I should never have come here.  They told me this town was to be the Pittsburgh of the Southwest.”  [Pittsburgh of the SW, lolz.]

I said, “I will take two hundred dollars for Judy, plus one hundred dollars for the ponies and twenty-five dollars for the gray horse that Tom Chaney left.  He is easily worth forty dollars.  That is three hundred and twenty-five dollars total.”  [Now this is skill.  She didn’t start with her full list– just the headline item, and then brings the rest to bear after he’s committed to negotiations.]

“The ponies have no part in this,” said he.  “I will not buy them.” [Right before getting killed, Mattie’s father had bought 4 ponies for $25 each, but Mattie has no use for ponies anymore.]

“Then I will keep the ponies and the price for Judy will be three hundred and twenty-five dollars.”

Stonehill snorted.  “I would not pay three hundred and twenty-five dollars for winged Pegasus, and that splay-footed gray does not even belong to you.”

I said, “Yes, he does.  Papa only let Tom Chaney have the use of him.”

“My patience is wearing thin.   You are an unnatural child.  I will pay two hundred and twenty-five dollars and keep the gray horse.  I don’t want the ponies.”

“I cannot settle for that.”

“This is my last offer.  Two hundred and fifty dollars.  For that I get a release and I keep your father’s saddle.  I am also writing off a feed and stabling charge.  The gray horse is not yours to sell.”

“The saddle is not for sale.  I will keep it.  Lawyer Daggett can prove the ownership of the gray horse.  He will come after you with a writ of replevin.”

“All right, now listen very carefully as I will not bargain further.  I will take the ponies back and keep the gray horse and settle for three hundred dollars.  Now you must take that or leave it and I do not much care which it is.”

I said, “I am sure Lawyer Daggett would not wish me to consider anything under three hundred and twenty-five dollars.  What you get for that is everything except the saddle and you get out of a costly lawsuit as well.  It will go harder if Lawyer Daggett makes the terms as he will include a generous fee for himself.”

“Lawyer Daggett!  Lawyer Daggett!  Who is this famous pleader of whose name I was happily ignorant ten minutes ago?”

In conclusion, Mattie steamrolls him until she gets her full $325 and uses $100 to hire Rooster Cogburn to kill Tom Chaney.  As a kicker, she buys back one pony for $18 and sleeps in Stonehill’s stable because she doesn’t feel like paying 75 cents for a boarding house.


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