As Black Belle rolled another former Brood member into the ditch, Arthur leaned up on his dirtied shovel and let out a few deep breaths. He had never liked digging holes. He'd spent too much time digging them for those he cared about at one time or another. But even before those troubling times, back when he was a young boy working any job he could find, he never liked the activity. One particular mound of dirt would always end up hurting his back and force him to halt his work. And now was no exception. As he groaned at the pain in his lower spine, Black Belle looked back to him with a sarcastic smile. "You miss any of this, while you were sleeping?"
Arthur shook his head. "No, I did not." He scowled down at the bodies of the dead men. "God damn fools."
"I'm surprised they came this far north." Black Belle said, grabbing a shovel of her own and sticking it into the mound of dirt and emptying it back into the ditch. "What few Brood members are left, stick closer to Annesburg." Belle felt a fleeting sense of optimism for the first time in decades. "Unless this was them."
"Would we be that lucky?" Arthur asked, never believing himself to be all that fortunate.
"Probably not," Belle answered, ruffling her hair. "But I'm getting old. Time to start letting everyone else be pessimistic."
Arthur chuckled as Belle continued to drop dirt into the ditch of the dead men. "Well if they are the last, I say good riddance."
"You familiar with 'em?" Belle asked.
"Had more than a few run-ins," Arthur replied. "Killed a camp of theirs at Beaver Hollow back before my...sleep." He groaned at the last word, still hating how it sounded. "Rescued a girl that was trapped inside their cave."
"She's lucky you found her when you did," Belle replied. "These sons of bitches weren't known for their kindness." She paused her shoveling and looked over him. "Beaver Hollow, you say?"
Arthur nodded. "It's where Du-," Arthur bit back the name of his former friend. "It's where my group last lived."
"A particularly famous group?"
Arthur shrugged. "Depends on who you talk to."
The shimmer of a smile appeared on Belle's lips. "Do you think I'm an idiot, Morgan?"
"So why are you avoiding the name, Dutch Van der Linde?"
Just hearing the man's name managed to stir up some lingering anger in Arthur which Belle noticed as he clenched his fists. "Because the last time I saw him, he left me to die on a mountain after betraying everything I thought we stood for."
Belle's silence lingered until she returned to filling the ditch back up with dirt. "Forget I brought it up, then."
Arthur nodded and decided he'd rested long enough and went back to shoveling his own dirt back into the ditch. By the time they were done, a voice reached their ears.
"Hey," Arthur and Belle looked back towards the cabin at the sound of Charlotte's voice. "Food's cooking if you're hungry."
If the coffee Arthur had tasted was better than before. The roasted trout Charlotte had made was downright divine. Whether it was simply the first food he had tasted in years or if Charlotte was that good of a cook, he didn't really give a damn at that point.
"Enjoying the food?" Charlotte asked.
"It's excellent Ms. Charlotte. Thank you."
She waved him off. "Think nothing of it. It's the least I could do." She took a drink of her coffee before continuing. "If you don't mind me asking, what have you been up to, Arthur?"
"Taking a nap," Belle replied biting into her own fish.
"She's not that far off," Arthur admitted rubbing the back of his neck. He really needed to find a better name for what happened to him than that. "The last thing I remember was passing out on a mountain in 1899."
Charlotte's eyes went wide. "1899?!"
Arthur nodded, barely holding back a smile at seeing the surprise on her face. The fact that he was seeing any face at all was still a miracle to him. "Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are. When I went down," He thought back to John and the two bastards who had left him to die and felt his muscle tense up as he rubbed his chest. "I was sure I wouldn't get back up." He whispered.
Charlotte noticed his muscles going rigid and put her hand over his free one. "Well, can't say I'm a big believer in the almighty but that sounds like a miracle to me." She didn't try to hide her smile as Arthur looked over to her as if he'd been snapped out of a trance.
"I'm sure it sounds strange..." He continued.
"There's no sound about it, It is strange." Belle piped back in wiping her mouth with her sleeve. "I've heard natives spew myths around a campfire that make more sense than a man falling asleep for nearly a decade and waking up. In the wilderness no less"
"As I said, I don't understand it either," Arthur replied.
"Well, you're alive and that's more than enough for me. " Charlotte said, looking down and seeing her hand was still over his and quickly pulling away. "And feeling better too, it looks like."
Arthur shrugged again as he pulled out the empty bottle of medicine Belle had given to him after that coughing fit. "That's another mystery."
"Who left you that stuff?" Belle asked. "Doctor of some kind?"
"A man named Francis Sinclair, according to a note," Arthur replied. "I met him out in the woods and helped him out by finding some rock carvings."
"Rock carvings?" Belle laughed.
"The man was more than a little strange." Arthur conceded. "But then he disappeared when I went back to see him after I found them all. He left this huge mess of papers nailed to his wall with a bunch of drawings on it." He rubbed his head as if the very act of recalling the event and the images stuck to the wall gave him a headache. "That was the last I seen of him. "
"So, all you did was help him find some carvings?" Belle asked.
Arthur could sense the condescending attitude in her voice and quickly defended himself. "Hey, it wasn't easy. I had to ride all over to find the bastards."
"I'm sure you did, Morgan." Belle nodded. "But when you really look at it, how does doing what you did, cause him to give you medicine that treats TB? Hell, where would he even get stuff like that?"
Arthur gestured to Belle. "See, now you're understanding my confusion."
"He couldn't have just seen you and thought you needed help?" Charlotte asked biting into her own fish. "It's not impossible for people to be kind, after all."
Arthur tilted his head. That was possible. The man was strange but he seemed good-natured. Maybe he just came across him in the wilderness and..." Arthur shook his head. There was still the fact that Buell was alive and well and that neither he nor Arthur had aged at all. There were just too many questions where Francis was concerned and the longer he thought on the man, the more his head hurt. "If it's all the same, I'd rather change the subject."
"Sure," Charlotte replied. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Has anything interesting happened over the last few years?" Arthur asked, hoping Charlotte's reply would be a bit more enlightening than Belle's.
Arthur went silent for a moment and mentally sorted through all the questions he had. "You hear anything of Dutch Van der Linde or a group of his?"
Charlotte narrowed her gaze as she thought before shaking her head. "Nothing comes to mind. Not since his gang made national news with that train heist back in '99."
Charlotte got up from her table and moved over towards her bedroom. "I always pick up some newspapers whenever I need to head into town for supplies. Just a little extra reading to pass the time."
"And you just keep 'em around?" Belle asked, surprised as much as Arthur was by the quirk.
"It passes the time." Charlotte defended, combing through a pile of perfectly folded up papers until she found what she was looking for. "And about a month after I last saw you, I saw this headline." She walked back over to Arthur and handed him an almost decade-old newspaper. It's headline, DUTCH VAN DER LINDE DISAPPEARED.
Arthur let out a depressed chuckle as he continued to read. "Of course they didn't get him."
"Lost him in the Heartlands, I think," Charlotte replied, crossing her arms as she sat back down in her chair. "Maybe I missed it in the papers recently but I'm fairly certain he hasn't been heard from since."
Arthur crumpled the edge of the newspaper in his hands as he read about the train robbery, the attempted capture at Beaver Hollow, and his subsequent escape across the Heartlands. Dutch's luck with escapes was almost as reliable as the federal government's incompetence, so it didn't surprise him too much that him, Javier, Bill, and Micah had once again slipped through the Pinkertons' fingers.
No, what was far more interesting is that this might've been the last time Dutch did something big. In all the years Arthur had known him, he'd never stay too quiet for this long. Certainly not for almost a decade. The only reason Arthur could think of why he'd stay quiet that long was if he had finally gathered enough money to retire like he always said he would.
He looked away from the paper and over to Charlotte who seemed to be trying to gauge his reaction as he read. "I must admit, I'm not sure I would've been that trusting of you when we first met had I known you were an outlaw."
Arthur sighed, fearing he'd have to explain that part of his life to her sooner or later. "Look, I..."
"Now don't you start trying to make him feel guilty," Belle spoke up for him.
"I'm not," Charlotte replied. "Just stating a fact." She looked back at Arthur and smiled. "It doesn't change what you did for me, so don't worry about me kicking you out or anything."
Arthur felt his gratitude to the woman deepen and returned the smile. "Thank you."
Belle swallowed her last bit of fish before speaking up again. "So, now that we can talk about the bastard," She turned to Arthur with a wildfire in her eyes. "You planning on hunting Van der Linde down?"
"I ain't sure yet," Arthur said. "Why?"
Belle leaned back in her chair and shrugged. "Just wondering. Things do get boring out here."
Charlotte reached over and lightly punched Belle's shoulder. "If you don't like it, you can go." She pointed out.
"I'm not saying it's bad," Belle replied, rubbing her shoulder. "Just offering my help, if he wants it."
Arthur chuckled at the women and scratched his head. Going after Dutch was an option but if he hadn't been seen for almost a decade, what were the chances of Arthur finding him? If he did actually score enough money to retire, he could be anywhere. Canada, New York, Guarma, goddamn Tahiti, it didn't matter. Despite his hatred for the man his father figure had become, Arthur didn't want to waste his new found life chasing after a ghost.
"I don't want to waste my time looking for a fool," Arthur replied, looking over to Belle. "But thanks for offering."
"Sure," Belle nodded. "So what are you planning to do, Morgan?"
Arthur thought for a moment before looking out towards the window. The sun was still high in the sky and Buell looked bored standing outside. "Right now, just enjoy the day."
Arthur spent the rest of the daylight out on Buell riding through the wilderness surrounding Charlotte's cabin. The fear of Pinkertons finding him was long gone and now Arthur could enjoy the wind in his face, the sound of the trees, and the echo of a far off train whistle, as Buell carried him down the winding road. He always did his best thinking like this, and thinking was exactly what he needed to do right now. Just what the hell was he going to do? For the longest time, he'd been under the impression he was a dead man walking. He'd been throwing himself into suicidal situations, helping people he wouldn't have wasted time on a few years earlier, and trying his damnedest to act like a better man than he actually was.
If Francis' note was real and he actually had a chance at a future now, what was he supposed to do with it? He'd already ruled out searching for Dutch and Francis himself, finding Charles was a possibility that needed to be looked at further, but who else could he look for? Charles? Sadie? Mary-beth? Karen? Pearson? Tilly? Where was he going to start? He reached up to scratch his head and noticed he didn't have his hat.
His thoughts came to a halt. John. Abigail. Jack. They were all still out there. He had nothing to base it on aside from a gut feeling, but he knew they were alive somewhere. The fire he saw in Marston's eyes back on the mountain was all the proof he needed to believe he'd found them and got them away from that chaos. If John had actually listened to Arthur and actually built them a life somewhere, the last thing he needed to do was show up on their doorstep like an unwanted ghost. He didn't need to try and find them just because they had his hat. He sighed as he scratched his head. But he still did miss that thing. And his notebook for that matter. He'd have to get a new one sooner or later.
The echo of a far off wolf's howl changed Arthur's train of thought as he remembered the three men who had sided with Dutch over him and John. First, there was Javier. He was probably Arthur's least hated of the three. Arthur and he had always gotten along until that disaster in Guarma. Hell, even when things came to ahead in Beaver Hollow, he was the only one on Dutch's side who didn't fully raise his gun at him and John. Arthur wasn't sure what he would do if he crossed paths with him again and that was more than he could say for the other two.
Bill was the next man Arthur thought of. Out of everyone else in the gang, Bill was the only one who never cared for the idea of making enough money to never be heard from again. To him, the money was just a nice bonus. He loved the chaos of being an outlaw and often talked about someday having a gang of his own. One that was every bit as wild and dangerous as he was. Arthur knew he'd still be out there causing mayhem where ever he could and since it had been almost a decade, maybe he did have his own gang now to help him. If they ever crossed paths again, Arthur was fairly certain he'd have to kill him. If nothing else, to help Shaun rest easy after the fool got him killed.
That just left Micah. Arthur's hands shook at just thinking of the bastard. If Dutch had led them all to the point of destruction, Micah was the one who pointed him in the right direction. The rat had been tearing up the gang practically since he joined up and not a day went by that Arthur didn't think he'd been better off leaving him in Strawberry to be hanged. Micah had sold them all out to the Pinkertons, shot Susan, and nearly killed him on the mountain. The only real hiccup in his plan was that Dutch didn't join him at the end. A memory that Arthur still felt proud of. If there was a man he might go out of his way to track down and kill, it would be him.
By sunset, Arthur was back at Charlotte's cabin standing out on the deck with the only women who knew he was alive.
"You sure you don't want help tracking Van der Linde?" Belle asked, rocking back in her chair with her Lancaster on her arm.
Arthur thought for a moment before shaking his head. "Before everything happened, he told me revenge was a fool's errand. And despite whatever he is now, he's right about that."
"You're a better man than me Morgan," Belle replied. "If I was left to die on a mountain and I survived..." She clicked her tongue and Arthur wondered just what kind of hell she'd have brought down on someone who'd done that to her. "But yours is probably the smarter move."
She was right, it was the smarter move not waste time on vengeance. But his ride had reminded Arthur that he was a bit of a hypocrite as well. "Then again," Arthur chuckled. "I've never been all that smart, and even if I don't go after Dutch, Micah's a bastard I'd love to see put in the ground."
"So what are you planning to do then?" Belle asked, ceasing her rocking. "Go after him?"
Arthur leaned back against the outer wall of Charlotte's cabin."I'm not quite sure."
"Your welcome to stay here, if you want," Charlotte said, looking up from her book. "I've made a nice home here and it's only possible thanks to you."
Arthur shuffled his feet at her gaze. "I wouldn't want to impose..."
"Morgan, she's already offered," Belle laughed at the outlaw. "Besides, living out my days with another outlaw doesn't sound too bad. We can swap stories or something."
"Why can't you and I swap stories?" Charlotte asked over to Belle.
Belle shrugged her shoulders. "What kind of stories could you have?"
"There was the time I saw a bear in the woods..."Belle gestured her hand towards the woman as if she had just proved her point. "It was a big bear though." Charlotte defended.
"Did you track it down or shoot it?" Arthur asked, barely hiding a smile.
"No." Charlotte huffed. "You could've emptied a dozen bullets at that thing straight in the eyes and all it would've done is make it mad."Arthur let out a laugh as Belle chuckled at the woman who now buried her face in her book. "Fine, what story could you have?"
Belle tilted her head as she thought of a wild adventure from her younger days."There was the time I robbed two stagecoaches and a train in five hours."
"I don't really see how that compares," Arthur told Belle. "You gotta remember, Charlotte saw a big bear."
It was Belle's turn to let out a laugh as Charlotte's face went red with embarrassment. Charlotte likely would've changed the conversation until Arthur yawned.
"Gettin' tired?" Belle asked.
"Nah," Arthur waved her off. "Just a little air in the lungs, nothing to..." Arthur felt his knees buckle and a familiar pain in his chest reappear. A cough erupted from his mouth and by the time the second followed, Charlotte was already on her feet to get his medicine but Arthur held up a hand to stop her. "Just...give me a second." Arthur wheezed out as another few coughs came up from his throat. Despite the surprise, the pain that usually came with each cough wasn't as bad as had been before. A more than welcome step compared to the last few months before he went down. "On second thought, I think I'll call it a day."
"Good," Charlotte replied. "I've set up a place for you inside. Get some rest."
"He's been resting for a decade!" Belle called out as Arthur moved inside. "You want him to relax, go grab some liquor and put on a sho-"
"You know, there's a bear out there if you want another story to swap around!" Charlotte yelled back to the outlaw. Arthur laughed ass he sat down on a makeshift mattress Charlotte had set up. They were two very different people than the ones he used to run with, but hearing friendly voices again as he drifted off, made him more than a little nostalgic for the gang. He wanted to see them again, Sadie, Charles, anyone he could without ruining thier lives. That was probably selfish of him but he didn't care. He had a second chance now, and before anything else he wanted to make sure the people he cared about were all right.
And with that plan in place, Arthur drifted off to what would hopefully be a much shorter sleep
A/N: So, this came out a whole hell of a lot later than I thought it would but hey, that's the way it works. Hope you guys enjoyed it and let me know your thoughts either way. Next chapter we keep the ball rolling.
See ya later.