Chapter 28 Wanderlust Quelled
Bret pulled his jacket closer as the chill wind whipped past him. 'When did it get so cold?' he wondered, and then 'and we're still here?'
The Mavericks' were not cold weather people. Born and raised in Texas, they all seemed to thrive more in warmer climates. That's why Bret had trouble understanding Jessie living so long in Montana. Summers were fine, but winters? He probably would have been gone a long time ago were it not for Bart and the inability to leave. Georgia was right about him. He was usually the first to move on, that wanderlust to see what was around the next corner.
No sense worrying about it now, he wasn't going anywhere until Bart was out of jail. That was the purpose for the cold morning ride, once more back out to the JP ranch to try and pick Burt Felton's brain. And hope against hope that Felton could place Rusty Meyers at the ranch sometime before the murder.
Bret had taken it upon himself to continue paying Felton's wages, along with one or two other ranch hands, just to keep the place going. No sense letting Jessie's home and surrounding land fall into disorder; if nothing else the land could be sold when everything was settled. Besides, Jessie was buried there, along with the unmarked grave, and she was, after all was said and done, a Maverick. Pappy would never forgive him for disrespecting a Maverick. So Felton still 'rode herd' on the property. The murder scene inside the house had been cleaned and repaired and Felton was temporarily living there.
The hastily erected gate and fence had been torn down, reduced to the discarded logs they once were. Bret was glad about that. Jessie didn't want any fences or gates and she wouldn't have been pleased with Edgar's reasons for erecting them. Only a few more minutes in this cold to the house.
'Better think about a heavier coat' was the next thing that went through Bret's mind. If they were going to be stuck here for a while he had no intention of freezing to death. He urged his horse on through the cold wind.
He could see smoke rising from the chimney as he approached the ranch. Not much else a 'caretaker' could do on a day like today. The only livestock left were a few horses, all the rest had been sold or given away. Once they were watered and fed the best place to be was inside in front of a nice fire. As soon as Bret reached the hitching post he dismounted and tied his horse up. Three long strides and he was across the porch and in the house.
Burt Felton was doing just what Bret thought about, sitting in front of the roaring fireplace. He stood up as soon as Bret entered. "Mr. Maverick, I wasn't expectin' you."
"Sit down, Burt, there's no need to get up on my account. I just need to get warm."
"Come on over and sit down," Burt invited unnecessarily. Bret was already across the room warming himself. "I got a pot a coffee on the stove. Want some?"
"Sure. Black, please."
Burt poured two cups and brought them back. "What brings you out here in this wind?"
Bret cleared his throat and started. "I need to know if you saw a stranger out here with Edgar either a few months back or right before he was killed. Woulda been older than me, not as tall, built about the same, dark hair, clean shaven, unfriendly sort. Could have been alone, could have had two other men with him. Remember anybody like that?"
Burt sat and sipped his coffee while he thought. Finally he shook his head. "Didn't see nobody like that earlier in the year. But there was a fella here about five or six weeks ago fits that description. Mr. Pike didn't seem real glad to see him. Don't know what they talked about but Mr. Edgar was shoutin' at one point and then the fella you was askin' about rode off. That's the only time I seen him."
Bret digested this information. It confirmed just what he'd thought – Pike had in some way threatened the outlaw, and he was ultimately repaid with a bullet. "Any idea where this man might have gone?"
"Nope. Though when he left he rode down towards Silver Creek. There's lots of places a man can stay hidden down there if'n he wants to."
Bret drained his coffee cup and set it down. "Thanks, Burt, that's the information I needed. Anything else I should know?"
"Not that comes to mind. Everythin's kinda peaceful without Mr. Edgar here raisin' hell."
Maverick rose to go. "You know how to get me if you need anything?"
"Yes sir, I'll just send Luke or Bobby in to the saloon."
"Good. If I'm not there they can see Beau. He's usually around somewhere."
'Down by Silver Creek, huh?' was the first thing Bret thought. The wind was just as biting as before but he headed the gelding towards the creek, anyway. He couldn't afford this to be a dead end. He needed to find Rusty Meyers or one or more of the Sanborns as soon as possible. It wasn't quite as miserable in the shelter of the trees and Bret wandered around for a while before he stumbled across what he was looking for – a small poorly built cabin tucked away at the very back of a grove of blackjack pine trees. He pulled his horse up and dismounted, careful to be as quiet as he could just in case. It looked like the cabin was deserted.
Bret left the horse tied to a tree and slowly made his way closer. It was deserted alright, but inside there was evidence that someone had been there fairly recently. A fire had been burned in the old stove and there were boot prints in the soft earth. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a burned piece of paper stuck in the stove grate. He pulled it out and found partial words. 'Barker Corners Arms' was at the top and '….born' remained of the right side bottom. Regrettably, Bret couldn't remember the name of the hotel Bart stayed at the one night he spent in Barker Corners but it could be the only hotel in town. And could the rest be 'Sanborn'? It was worth a try. Bret put the paper back where he found it and left the cabin. He needed to get back to town and see Bart before taking off for the south. He prayed there would still be a trail to follow.
Alvin had unlocked the saloon doors and was open for business when Beau finally got there. Georgia's door was still closed so Beau assumed she wasn't in yet. He grabbed another cup of coffee from behind the bar and headed upstairs. He was surprised to find Jody waiting for him in the office. "Miss Jody, how are you on this cold and blustery day? And what can I do for you?"
"Sit down and talk to me, Beauregard," Jody pronounced. "There are things I want to know – no, need to know – and you all are leaving me out when you pass information around. I am not a child and I have just as much at stake here as the rest of you. I'm tired of being excluded."
Beau wasn't expecting this. What was Jody talking about? "Jody? What is it you want to know?"
"Did Bret get back from Sundown? What did he find out? What evidence did he bring back? What's he doing next?" She had just about run out of steam, but not quite. "And what are you going to do about my mother?"
The last question was the most difficult. "Well, in the order that you asked: Yes Bret got back, he found a match for the gun Bart had, he got an affidavit from the marshal in Sundown swearing that the gun belonged to Rusty Meyers and not Bart, he went out to the JP this morning to talk to Burt Felton, and what do you mean what am I going to do about your mother?" Beau was out of breath by the time he finished.
Even Jody had to laugh at the string of answers. "Alright, I guess I did ask a lot of questions. Who's Rusty Meyers?"
"The scoundrel that beat up Bart and killed your Uncle Edgar. Rusty did the murder and framed Bart. Killed Edgar with his gun and then planted it on Bart in exchange. Bret's trying to find him."
"Good. Progress on that front. Now, what about my mother?"
Beau watched Jody's face as he answered. There was no indication of anger or discomfort, more of curiosity. "My relationship with your mother is our business."
Jody was persistent. "It affects me now and it will affect me in the future."
"How so?" Beau asked.
There was hesitation in Jody's voice when she spoke. "Once you leave Silver Creek I'm the one who has to pick up the pieces."
"And what makes you think I'm going to leave?"
"The same thing that makes my mother believe it. You're a Maverick. You're bound to go sometime."
Beau was taken aback. There was absolute certainty in Jody's voice and on her face. He looked at her very quietly and stated, "I love your mother."
The young woman in front of him shook her head. "Doesn't matter. Aunt Jessie had the Maverick wanderlust and you all do too. We both know that one day you'll get out of bed and not be able to stay here anymore. You'll try to fight it but it won't do any good. You'll make yourself and everyone around you miserable. And when you can't stand it one more day, one more hour, you'll go. And it won't matter how you feel about her. She'll still be here, and you'll be gone. And I'll have to deal with the consequences." She stopped just long enough to catch her breath. "You didn't see her when my father died. She loved him with every fiber of her being. She's strong and determined and that's the only reason she survived." Pause. "And now she's in love with you. And I don't know how she'll get through it when you go."
The man sitting behind the desk was stunned. And in that moment he faced a truth that he hadn't wanted to face for quite a while – she was absolutely right. And he was miserable. Beau let all the things that she just said filter through his mind. How could he not have seen this coming? Was he so blinded by his feelings for Georgia Mayfield that he allowed his knowledge of himself as an itinerant gambler and drifter to be ignored? Did he expect to change? Did he want to change? The answer to both questions was 'no.'
Overwhelming guilt and dejection washed over him. He allowed himself to become so wrapped up in the ongoing drama with Edgar Pike and his cousin that he closed his eyes to the pain he would eventually inflict on the woman he loved.
What was he going to do now? That was the question he had to ask himself. Now that he was aware of the potential pain and suffering he was going to cause Georgia, was it better to let both of them enjoy what they had for a while longer or end things now? Pull the bandage off slowly or quickly? Could he just take care of his day to day life and not answer all these questions?
Jody was still sitting in front of the desk talking. Beau hadn't heard a word she'd said for the past five minutes. What could he tell her? What should he tell her? "Jody?"
She was silent until he heard her say "Yes, Beauregard?"
"I'm going to marry your mother."