Chapter 40 Ride Like the Wind
Another long night with no sleep. How can you be expected to sleep when your best friend lay dying? Both the Mavericks had this same thought. As did Jody, who was up and down all night. When dawn broke on another day the slimmest of threads still held Bart Maverick on the right side of life, as three of the people he cared most about in the world kept vigil and prayed.
Bret knew there was something he had to do. Pappy had been left oblivious in Texas while his youngest son fought for his life in Montana. While they had all laughed at one time or another about not sending bad news in a telegram it looked for all the world like it was time to break the rule. Bret steeled himself to send the one message he'd never wanted to send.
Even at this early hour the telegraph office was open. It was almost painful to write out the short message, and Bret argued with himself a long time before sending it. Finally he handed the form over to Sammy and waited for the confirmation that it was on the way.
Bart in bad shape.
Get here in a hurry.
This is not a joke.
He walked back slowly to Doc Washburn's and stopped outside the door to light a cigar. Why were they even here? If Pappy hadn't called them all home last year he and Bart and Beau would be off somewhere playing cards and chasing money and women. Instead they were in Montana in Silver Creek, in the middle of nowhere, tending to a nightmare that an unknown aunt had sent their way. So that a miserable little man they'd never met before could try to kill his brother. Why hadn't Bart stayed at the saloon that night? Why did Pike want so badly to hurt a Maverick? And why Bart? Was it because of his resemblance to Jessie? Or was he just in the wrong place at the right time? Why hadn't it been him or Beau? Momma had made him promise to take care of his brother, and he'd failed miserably at the task. 'What a good protector you were, Bret Maverick. Where's your brother now?'
His guilt-ridden thoughts were interrupted by Georgia's approach. There was a truly decent person, something that Bret believed from their first meeting. And Beau had claimed her for his own. Right under their very noses. Bret tipped his hat and opened the door for her. She carried a tray with a coffee pot, cups, and eggs with some kind of breakfast biscuit. Bret couldn't help smiling a bit; Georgia was determined they were going to eat whether they wanted to or not. When she was through the first door he hurried ahead to open the door to the inner office for her. Beau jumped to his feet, taking the tray from Georgia and setting it on a cabinet. Jody was awake and talking again in that quiet, soothing tone of voice to her 'brother', praying that somewhere inside he could hear her. Doc Washburn had gone out to the Sadler ranch to deliver a baby and left instructions for Jody to follow about the laudanum and Bart's on-again, off-again fever.
"Any change?" Georgia whispered to Beau as she poured coffee.
"None to speak of," he answered. "Just like the last time. Only this one's got to be worse. Wherever he is in there he knows that Bowman didn't find Rusty Meyers. If it was me instead of him I'd probably have given up a long time ago. At least Bart's still fighting."
Georgia handed him a cup and brushed his fingers as he took it from her. His touch was like ice. She pulled back, startled, and looked into his eyes. There was pain and bewilderment, anger, and fear, and something new – hatred. She turned away quickly, not willing to see the new emotion. She went next to Jody, who looked up and smiled at her but never quit the story she was telling Bart. Georgia listened to her relate the tale of the five frogs of Fergus County and marveled at Jody's love and loyalty. She poured coffee and set it down next to the young woman and prayed that her determination would not be in vain.
Bret had returned to the room and reached willingly for a cup of the hot, black liquid. She wondered where he'd been this morning so early and it was almost as if he heard her unspoken question. "Sent a telegram to Pappy," he explained. "Thought I better."
She nodded in understanding and agreement. If Bart were her son she would want to know. Especially if things didn't go well. 'Don't think that way, Georgia,' she told herself. 'He has to wake up.' She hated to consider what it would do to Jody if the second man she'd ever loved in her life died, too.
She then set about her hardest task of the day – trying to get each of them to eat. Bret took one look at the food and turned away. No wonder Bart had stopped eating – he was just like his brother in that regard. Jody took some eggs and promised to eat. Beau had no intention of eating – until he smelled the biscuits. Then his stomach won out over his heart. "Alright," he told her, "stop trying to feed us."
Doc Washburn returned mid-morning and announced that the Sadler's were the proud parents of a new baby girl. They'd named her Catherine Louise and were thrilled with her arrival. Bret looked questioningly at the body of his brother, still barely breathing, that lay on the exam table where he'd been laid down yesterday and wondered – a new life in the world to take the place of a departing life? If that was true, did it have to be Bart?
About an hour later Mort Bowman came in the front door, followed closely by Deputy Willis. Sometime during the night Willis had given up and gone home, sure that there would be no escaping that night. The door to the inner exam room had been left open by Doc when he returned from the Sadler's. Bowman assumed he was welcome and walked in to a hoard of angry Mavericks. This time he was forced to deal with Bret, who blocked his entrance any further into the room.
"What do you want, Sheriff?" The tone of Bret's question was decidedly unfriendly.
"Well, I just wanted to see how the prisoner was doing," Bowman explained.
Bret stared at the imbecile who had helped put his brother in this position. "He's only a prisoner because you arrested the wrong man. And his name is Bart. Bart Maverick. Mr. Maverick to you."
The sheriff took a step back when confronted by Bret's venom. "No need to get hostile with me, young man. I was just doing my job."
Bret stood as tall as he could and put his right hand on his gun. "Just what is your job, Sheriff? Arresting innocent men? Terrorizing women? It sure isn't capturing wanted criminals, far as I can see. Do you torture puppies in your spare time? Just what is your job?"
Mort Bowman back peddled further. "See here . . . I just . . . . how dare you . . . . "
Bret's right hand remained on his gun. Beau walked up behind him and stood with him. "Get out of here, Sheriff. You're not welcome here."
Mort Bowman walked backwards out of Doc's offices, not wanting to turn his back on Bret and Beau. "I'll be back as soon as I talk to Judge Kincaid," he shouted at them and hurried back to the jail.
Jody crept up behind Beau and asked, "What's all the shouting about? What's going on?"
"Just puttin' out the trash," was his only answer. Even Bret snickered at that.
It was early afternoon before they had another visitor, this time the Judge himself. There was no change in Bart; his breathing was still ragged and he alternated between freezing cold and scalding hot. Beau had gone back to the hotel and procured a cot and blankets and he and Bret carefully moved Bart from the exam table to the makeshift bed. Doc, with Bret or Beau's help, kept giving him laudanum every few hours as well as the aspirin regimen he'd tried when Bart was beaten. Whether it was doing any good was questionable; there'd been no change since the original collapse in court. Doc couldn't determine if Bart was unconscious or asleep, but at least they were able to get medicine in him on a regular basis.
Judge Kincaid was polite and well-mannered enough to knock rather than just barge in to the doctor's offices. Jody answered the door and ushered the Judge in, bringing him all the way to the inner office. He conferred for a few minutes with Doc Washburn and then motioned Bret over. "Mr. Maverick, I need to return to the county seat for a few days to handle another trial. I'm going to postpone the rest of this one for approximately a week to give your brother time to recover. If he is able to continue at that time we will proceed. If not I will make a decision about further postponement. Either way I will be back. I wish you and your family luck."
"Thank you, Judge." Bret was fortunate that Kincaid had chosen to communicate his plans in person rather than sending the sheriff over. After the earlier 'visit' neither man was in the mood to encounter the other.
Late that afternoon Sammy came running down to Doc's office with a reply from Pappy.
How's my boy?
Just like Pappy to send a three word telegram. How was Bret supposed to answer that? What do you tell a man when his son might be dying? Bret sent a message back with Sammy.
Once Pappy's answer was on the way Bret found Beau standing on the back porch of Doc's office watching the sun set. Beau had the wistful look in his eyes that Bret saw whenever he thought about his mother; he was so young when she died that he really had no memory of her. Bret wondered what was on his mind to cause such reflection; he didn't have to wait long to find out.
"Ever wonder where we'd be if we weren't gamblers?" There was a question that hadn't been asked before.
"Nope." That was the only answer Bret had for his cousin. The thought had never crossed his mind. Pappy taught him to play when he was about three years old and he'd never looked back. As soon as Bart was old enough to hold the cards in his tiny little hands he'd played too. And Beau was always right there with them. The thought of working for a living was unappealing to them, all of them, though they were all capable of many different jobs. And very often had to take one of those when the cards ran bad.
But spend his life doing something else? No, thank you. That kind of life wasn't for him. The time they'd spent in Silver Creek had been fun and exciting, heartbreaking and painful. His biggest desire at this exact moment was to get on his horse and ride. Anywhere there was money and women, his brother and his cousin. As far away from Montana as that horse would carry him. Now.