A Novel Excerptby David Corbett
November 8, 1881
Be forewarned, my news is not good.
I killed a man, and but for luck would have killed another, for which it now appears I will likely be hanged.
Three men in all died in the affray. Make no mistake, the violence was mutual. We defended ourselves. More importantly, though hatred admittedly enflamed both sides, those responsible for the mortalities, myself and the Earp brothers, two of whom took bullets as well, acted under color of the law.
That now, however, appears to matter little, for the forces aligned against us, men without principle or honor, who treat the truth like a rag to polish their hypocrisy, will say or do anything to watch us swing.
Small surprise, I suppose, for if history teaches us anything, it is that men can always produce attractive arguments to justify their disgraceful actions.
Then again, that is precisely what is being said of us. That we used the law to justify butchery. It is not true, Mattie, I swear that to you.
This turn in events has me wishing that I could not just write to you, but speak directly, openly, as we so often did long into the night at the house on Cat Creek, or that summer I hid away with you and your family in Jonesboro.
In particular I find myself revisiting over and over the evening when your father sought fit to reprimand the increasingly heedless and dark turn in my nature.
Rage is no virtue, he told me. Look all around, and what do you see but the folly, the ravages, of anger? The sense of power that flights of temper evoke will betray you sooner or later. It is a masquerade intended to hide the gentler, nobler, more vulnerable aspects of your heart.
I’m sure you recall the scene. You were sitting there with us, as were your mother and sisters and Jim Bob.
I responded uncharitably. I knew how his service during the war and imprisonment at its end continued to gnaw away at his spirit, and yet I could not hold my tongue. I had witnessed far too much weakness and humility in men I once admired, and it seemed to me—for I was young, and thus knew everything—that what was needed was not less anger and outrage but more, a bonfire of it in every heart, a conflagration.
He almost turned me out that night, returning me to Cat Creek, for the disrespect I showed toward both him and my father.
Later, you came to comfort me, and we left the house and walked beneath a threatening sky, with silent lightning flashes in the distance, talking as we trudged through high cotton to a windbreak of pines.
You told me that night that you comprehended your father’s concern but you understood something else as well, the elemental fire in my spirit, understood its causes—Mother’s horrible sickness and ugly death, my father’s insidious betrayals, the degrading occupation with all the scum and scavengers it legitimized.
More importantly, you told me that you loved me. We embraced and kissed and you let me press my hand to your heart, so that I might feel the fury of its beating.
It is that remembrance that has intensified and clarified my feelings of regret tonight. Your face rose up in my mind’s eye with such shocking vividness as I sat here, hoping to tame my thoughts, that I nearly wept with longing for your presence.