Chapter 49 Heading North
They left the jail and they left the town. Bret and Beau headed for the dilapidated cabin that Bret discovered when he was looking for evidence some weeks back. It didn't take them long to find it, and from all indications it had accommodated visitors recently. No way of telling who or how many, but there were fresh boot prints on the floor and wood had been burned in the stove. Bret was a Galvanized Yankee Tracker the last moments of the Civil War and he was able to follow the trail without too much trouble. The people they were trailing were challenging anyone to find them. Once Bret got a good look at the trail he realized that a lot of time was spent going around in circles, no doubt to confuse whoever was pursuing them. No wonder Mort and the posse hadn't been able to track the outlaws.
They followed the trail until it grew too dark to do so any further. They'd been around Silver Creek several times, back down through the North Woods and eventually out past Bondall's Meadow. More than once a single rider had broken off from the group and headed back towards town. Eventually the rider rejoined the others and moved on with them. Beau agreed that it seemed the Maverick brothers' intuition that they were being watched was correct. They were about fifteen miles from the town of Silver Creek when they camped for the night, headed towards Placerville. Both brought an extra blanket so they could avoid making a fire in the dark, when it would be easier to spot them. Cold beans weren't the most appealing meal on the planet but neither cared much for food right now, anyway. The only things they were focused on were named Meyers and Sanborn.
Bret missed his brother. Even though he and Beau spent more time together since Bart was imprisoned than they had in a long while and had grown closer than ever over the past few weeks, it didn't feel the same. Bart had exactly the same blood in his veins, and even though they were very different men, in many ways they were very much alike. He missed the kinship they shared, often finishing each other's thoughts when one or the other of them had some kind of scheme going. Had they lost that closeness with Bart's extended illness? Would they ever be able to get it back? One thing was certain - in order to maintain those ties, Bret had to find Meyers. He was convinced Meyers was, indeed, the killer and the Sanborns were more or less 'tag alongs.'
He and Beau would be up and on their way at first light. Their time was growing ever shorter, and if this failed they had a jail break to plan.
The rest of the afternoon in the jail was quiet and Bart got some much needed rest. Along towards evening Georgia brought dinner and elected to stay and drink coffee with him. It was welcome respite from the two emotional basket cases that she'd spent the day tending to.
"How is Pappy?" Bart asked when he'd finished eating.
"For a man in his position, I'd say he's doing fairly well," was her thoughtful reply.
"A man in his position?"
"You know. You and everything."
"Oh. Yeah. I guess it would be hard." Bart hadn't thought about that aspect of the situation until now.
Georgia snorted in disgust. "Hard? You'll never know what hard is until you have a child of your own. When they get hurt, you hurt. When they suffer, you suffer. When one of them gets sentenced to hang - you get the picture."
"What do you do?" Bart seemed genuinely interested.
"Whatever you have to do. To stop the hurt, to ease the pain, to stop the hanging."
"Hmmmmm. It must be grueling."
"It's the hardest thing on earth, to see your child suffering and not be able to fix it. The only thing harder is to see your child die."
That one hit really close to home. What Pappy must be going through! "Georgia, if I ask you to do something for me would you try to do it?"
"Of course, Bart! Whatever you need."
"This is awkward . . . . everything I told you about Caroline and the marriage?"
"Pappy doesn't know any of that."
"You never told him?"
He shook his head. "Nope. I couldn't talk about it to anyone. I haven't even told Bret some of the things I told you. If I get hung . . . . . " the construction on the gallows had already started. What he was asking Georgia to do wouldn't be easy, and he knew it wasn't fair. But Pappy would take it a whole lot calmer if he heard about it from Jessie's partner, a woman he had come to know and admire. If Bret was smart he'd never tell Pappy that he knew any of it . . . . . .
"Of course," she answered quietly. "But why didn't you let him know? Surely it would have been comforting to know you could talk to him about it?"
"No," was his quick reply. "Pappy isn't the most reasonable person I've ever known. Once we were grown and out on our own he was pretty much done with the father thing. He was there if we needed him but he let us know that his parenting days were over. I figured he'd have the 'you made your own bed, now lie in it' attitude. And there was the promise I'd broken."
"The one where Bret and I promised not to marry until we were thirty-eight years old. Why he picked that age I don't now but we did promise him."
Georgia had to laugh. "That sounds exactly like a father to me."
Bart laughed a little with her. "Maybe you're right."
"You do know how much your father loves you and your brother, don't you?"
He considered that question for a moment. "I never thought about it. I'm sure he does, but . . . . "
"There are no 'buts' about it. He's upstairs in Bret's hotel room right now agonizing over what happened this morning. As far as he's concerned if you die, he dies."
"MY Pappy? We are talking about Beauregard Maverick, aren't we?"
"Is that so hard for you to believe?"
She wanted to understand his reasons. "Why?'
"Because Pappy is . . . . . . Pappy," Bart stated. "That's the only way I can put it. It's just not something I would expect from the man that raised me."
"It's true. He might not show you that side but it's there. I ought to know." Her voice got very quiet suddenly. "I've got a daughter sitting up there with him that's falling to pieces."
"And it's killing you, isn't it?" He'd gotten very wise in a hurry.
"Yes, it is. The thought of losing you is tearing her apart just like it's tearing Beauregard apart. And there's not much I can do for either of them."
He stood up and braced his weight against the bars. "Sure there is. You can go be with them. I take it they're together?"
"Oh yes, they make a fine pair."
"Then go to them, Georgia. Go take care of them. I can't do that, but you can. And they're both going to need you in case . . . . . "
She wouldn't let him finish the thought. "No. Don't even consider that."
"One more thing before you go." Pause. "I have a will made out. Hiram has it. Would you see that it gets taken care of?"
"Won't Hiram do that?"
"Yes, but Jody won't want to abide by it. I left my ownership of 'The Three Mavericks' to her."
There was silence in the jail for a moment and Bart thought Georgia was unhappy with him. "Did I do something wrong?"
When she looked at him she had tears in her eyes. "No, son, you did nothing wrong. Does Jody know?"
"I told her last night."
Ah, that answered a lot of questions. Why Jody was so late getting home. Why she was so upset. Why she kept talking to herself and insisting 'she wouldn't take it.' What kind of a man was this? On the verge of being wrongly convicted for a crime he didn't commit and worrying about her daughter. With no agenda of his own; nothing to gain by being selfless; just wanting to make things right for Jody. If this was the last request he ever made of her, who was she to deny it? "Yes, Bart, I'll see to it that your wishes are honored."
Cold and clear and bright and light, Beau and Bret took the chance of a small fire in the morning and made coffee. They were lucky it hadn't snowed more during the night; and grateful. Bret had been up before dawn and followed the tracks north for a while before returning to camp. They were definitely headed towards Placerville. That meant they were leaving the Silver Creek area and the Mavericks were running out of chances to catch them. There was only one way through the canyons to Placerville unless they sliced across dense forest and undergrowth and cut back into the road on the other side of Boones Ridge. If Bret and Bart took the 'shortcut' they could beat the outlaws to Placerville. But if the gang deviated from the road and went to Shanksville instead, Bret and Beau could miss them entirely. They drank coffee hurriedly and planned their courses; Bret would take the route to Placerville and Beau to Shanksville. They doused the fire, mounted their horses and rode.