Chapter 11 The Agony and the Ecstasy
Doc Washburn shook his head in surprise. "Don't know what to say. Didn't expect this. Bad as he was beat? I thought sure you were gonna lose him." He cleared his throat and gave Bret a stern look. "Still might. Depends on whether a fever starts workin' on him or not." Doc shook his head again. "Don't know what you did but it worked. Keep doin' it."
He picked up his bag and turned to go. Bret grabbed his arm and stopped him. "Doc, he hasn't said anything. He just lays there and looks at us. I don't even know if he hears us. What if he's not – " He couldn't bring himself to finish the question. Doc finished it for him.
"The same? All there? Can't answer that. Just gonna have to be patient. Like I told you before, the heads a funny thing. It's got its own timetable for doin' things. Especially when it's been beat up that bad. Give him time. He's still alive, ain't he? Right there says a lot." Doc pulled free from Bret's grip. "I got to go. Mrs. Sampson's havin' her baby. I'll come back when I can."
Beau opened the door for the doctor and he was gone. He and Bret looked at each other, wondering what the doctor wasn't telling them. Less than 48 hours ago Bart had been laughing and joking with them, trying to help determine their next move in dealing with Edgar Pike. Now his body lay in the bed where Bret had placed him but neither one knew where his mind was. Or if it was.
When Beau walked back into the hotel room and saw Bart's eyes open he nearly jumped up and down and shouted. He woke Bret immediately and the two of them did something they rarely ever did – they hugged each other with joy. That didn't last long, as both mean realized that Bart still wasn't moving or even trying to speak. He just lay there with his eyes open and no other signs of life. Beau left to retrieve the doctor and caught him leaving his office, headed for the Sampson house. He made a quick stop at the hotel to see the patient and then was gone. Which left the two of them wondering what was next.
"Bret, you've got to eat. You haven't moved out of this room in two days and the only thing you've had is coffee. Go get food. I'll stay here with Beau and Bart." It was Georgia, standing in the doorway. Neither man had heard her come in but both were glad to see her. Bret started to protest and then stopped. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. That had been unimportant as long as Bart's life was hanging in the balance. Suddenly he was starving. He grabbed his hat and turned to Beau. "Come get me if there's any change."
"Rest assured," Beau answered. He closed the hotel room door behind Bret and turned worriedly to Georgia. "He hasn't moved or spoken," Beau told her solemnly. He looked over at Bart, still lying in the same position in the bed, glassy eyed and staring at nothing. "What if he's not Bart?"
"Don't think of that. He's still alive, that's the important thing. He'll come back to you." Beau looked so downcast and unhappy that Georgia put her arms around him. He leaned into her and she held him while the damn broke and sobs racked his entire body. It took a long time for him to deal with all the pain he had been holding inside for the past two days. Slowly he salvaged control and looked down into Georgia's eyes. She was a beautiful woman and he kissed her. For just a moment she kissed him back, then pulled away, embarrassed and ashamed.
"Georgia . . . . . Mrs. Mayfield," he stammered. "I'm so sorry."
She turned away so that he couldn't see her face. "It's alright," she whispered. "You've been so worried."
"It was . . . it was inexcusable. It will never happen again." Beau was nearly beside himself. What had he done?
A weak sound emanated from the bed. It was Bart, with the tiniest bit of a smile trying to curl around his lips. He'd seen the whole thing. Beau would never forgive himself. Then the thought struck both he and Georgia at the same time – Bart was cognizant of what was happening around him. Maybe some good had come from the misguided kiss after all.
Bret felt like he'd been drowning for days and he was finally able to breathe air. Bart was alive! That was the most important thing that had happened in this whole fiasco, and Bret was more than grateful for it. As soon as he had some food in his belly he would go back and see where the next step in his brother's recovery would take them.
Once done eating he had a change of heart. After two full days and nights at Bart's bedside he was hot, dirty and in need of a bath. He stopped at the front desk and ordered a bath drawn, then went back to his own room, which he hadn't seen in days. An hour later he was clean, shaved and ready to go back and tend to his brother's needs. He had one more thing to do first and ran back downstairs to see if an answer to Bart's telegram to Pappy had arrived. It had, and it was short and to the point.
Can't divulge more until Pike handled.
Wire me when accomplished.
Brief and cryptic. Bret sighed. Just like Pappy to give them as little information as possible. What hadn't he told them? That would have to wait. Bret's only concern right now was Bart.
The brothers had done plenty of traveling and living on their own, sometimes with thousands of miles distance between them. But if one was in trouble, the other one was there. Bret couldn't imagine life without his brother somewhere, knowing that if he needed help, help was on the way. 'Thanks again, God,' Bret thought. 'Don't go just yet, Bart still needs you.'
When he returned to Bart's hotel room he found Georgia sitting at his brother's bedside telling him a story about Jessie and her mule. She looked up at Bret and smiled but kept talking to Bart. Beau was at the window smoking a cigar and staring disconsolately into the street. The rain had finally stopped and the sky was starting to clear. Bret waited until Georgia was finished and then went over to his brother's bedside. Georgia moved to the window and said something to Beau, trying to give Bret some privacy with Bart.
"Hey, Brother Bart, did you miss me? If you wanted my attention you didn't have to go to this extreme." Bret sat down and looked at his brother. There was no response, just the same blank stare. Bret tenderly took Bart's left hand in his and got very quiet. "You scared us good, you know? Don't do that again, okay?" He waited for a glance, a sound, a squeeze of the hand, anything. There was no reaction from his brother at all. Beau and Georgia were watching them now, holding their breath to see what happened next.
Bret was beyond desperate. What if Bart wasn't right anymore? He looked awful, only slightly better than before Bret washed off the blood. Both eyes were blackened and his nose had been broken. He was bruised and swollen everywhere that Bret could see. The handsome profile that all the women fell for had taken a beating. But what about the man inside?
"Bart, listen to me. I need to know you're still here. There's gotta be a way to let me know. I'm goin' crazy out here waiting' for you to come back. Please, Bart. Something. Anything." He paused for a moment, unsure whether he'd felt anything or not. There it was again, a small squeeze of the hand. No mistake. His brother was in there somewhere.
Georgia came back over to Bart's bedside. Bret looked up at her plaintively. "Can you help me please? He should have more aspirin and it's too hard to do alone."
"Of course," she answered. "Will you lift his head?"
Bret lifted Bart up carefully by the shoulders and held his head while Georgia picked up the aspirin and a water glass. It was difficult enough with both of them trying to get an almost comatose man to swallow pills, much less one of them alone. How had Bret managed it the past two days? The answer was simple: Beau. At this exact moment, however, Beau was physically in the room but his mind was a thousand miles away.
Or was it? With all that transpired in the last two days Beau hadn't thought of anything but Bart and what would happen if – but his mind didn't go there now, it went back to the unexpected kiss he had given Georgia. Georgia Mayfield, a widow woman with a 20 year old daughter. A woman old enough to be his mother. A woman who had been nothing but kind, considerate and helpful ever since they met. A woman that had seen a lot of things in life. A woman that he was falling in love with?