They say my sixteen-year-old sister passes for a man and shoots like an outlaw, and I cannot argue it, since she has done both in her day.
Maude has been called a hardened criminal, and of this I must tell you, do not believe it. People say a great many things and only some of them are true.
This afternoon I watched from across the street as my sister was arrested. She made a small figure in her plain dark dress, her arms pulled behind her to cuff her wrists.
"Maude!" I shouted.
She didn't hear my voice over all those so filled with excitement. I felt my blood rush toward my feet, leaving me so dizzy and breathless I nearly sat down. For the crowd only saw my sister as a fugitive from the law, accused of being a horse thief, a bank robber, and a cold-blooded killer.
It'd been five months since we found our lost uncle Arlen and settled into a new life with him in Independence. I had begun to believe she might never be discovered to be the infamous Mad Maude, even though a dream came to me over and over, in which I opened a sack to find oatmeal cookies and two train tickets. I always found the oatmeal cookies tasty, and there was no sense of being short of time to catch a train.
I didn't yell again.
The dream flashed behind my eyes as Maude stepped into the sunlight, head held high, the law on both sides of her gripping her at the elbows. I'd never told my sister about this dream, not even that recent time she tried to talk me out of my determination to be ready for just such an occasion as this.
We were getting dressed for the day ahead of us, which was also my twelfth birthday. "When do you plan to go back to looking like a girl?" she said to me. Unlike my sister, I hadn't yet taken to wearing skirts again. Maude said of course I must, as soon as my hair grew in nicely. So long as I could wield the scissors this fate would not befall me.
"It doesn't matter how you dress, Sallie," Maude said. "They might still find out. Then again, they might not. I'm meanwhile missing the sight of my little sister."
"I'll whisper it into her ear," I said. "See if she don't surprise you one day."
"Doesn't," she said. "Is that a few bristles I see under your nose? Why, it looks like the beginning of a mustache."
"It's a shame I didn't ask your admirer, Mr. Wilburn, for a shaving lesson," I said. "That fellow had mustache material growing out of his ears."
Maude whopped me with her feather pillow and we were occupied with battle for a time. As soon as she wasn't looking, I touched my upper lip to be sure she was teasing.
I had begun to think she might be right about one thing--that we might never need to make a sudden run for it. But past events had impressed upon me how fast things could go wrong, and how different life might be after they did. Because of this, I kept some handy items for life on the trail in a sack in the loft. This meant fewer necessaries than you might guess. A horse and a canteen can get you through most anything.
The heroes in the dime novels I read were always planning ahead this way. Maude did not read much and so didn't appreciate this fact. That sack prompted her to remind me of a Bible story.
Three kings were in the desert and couldn't find water for themselves or their horses. They put their troubles before the prophet Elisha, who said to them what the Lord told him, which was, "Make this valley full of ditches. . . . Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water."
Even though it didn't make good sense to those kings to dig ditches, they did it, and sure enough, a big flood came and filled the ditches with water. Which meant you have to get ready for what you want.
"Or in this case," Maude had said, "don't get ready for what you don't want."
Maybe she was right, for a scant hour after Maude was arrested, I was taking stock and judged myself to be as ready as anyone can be for an event that will spin their lives in an unexpected direction.
My plan, in case of Maude's arrest, had always been to go in like a confused younger brother looking for his sister, arguing a case of they had mistook her for this other one. I had half a chance, for no one appeared to have noticed Maude had a younger sister, let alone an unexpected brother.
Only as I was riding to the sheriff's office, I knew why people resorted to packing a gun--in case that first plan didn't work out the way they hoped it would.
The way I saw it, I might could breach the doorway when there was only one lawman on hand. Then, in case he didn't believe my story of they had the wrong female and release my sister to me, I could try to get the drop on that single fellow.
I could see flaws all over this thinking.
One, Mad Maude and the Black Hankie Bandit, both notorious outlaws, were stuck in the same jailhouse. It might never come a time when only one lawman stood on duty. I could be waiting outside till I took root and sprouted leaves.
Two, once me and Maude were on the run, they would know to watch for her traveling with a boy. We had already been two boys, so they'd watch for that as well. And girls couldn't travel on their own without someone wondering why.
Three, the likelihood of getting myself shot.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Maude March on the Run! by Audrey Couloumbis. Copyright © 2007 by Audrey Couloumbis. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.