Chapter 41 Winter's Comin'
Day turned back into night and still they waited. Jody went home and changed clothes, ready to go when needed. If they lost Bart she fully intended to ride with the Mavericks to find Meyers and the Sanborns. Bret and Beau continued to hold vigil over Bart and Doc raised no objections when they took turns sleeping on the floor. Neither was going to leave any time soon. Harry brought food at night and sat with them for a while but left to close the saloon at midnight. Georgia ran errands and brought whatever they needed so that both Mavericks were always there.
Bret was outside again when the sun came up. Funny thing, he'd played poker all night many times and watched the sun rise, but it never looked quite the way it did this morning. He smoked another cigar as the light came up through the trees and he wondered what the day would bring. He was so tired; his mind went off on the funniest tracks. How did Pappy meet Momma? In all the years growing up and listening to Pappy's tales, neither of the boys ever asked that question. Suddenly Bret wanted to know. What went through Pappy's mind when Belle told him of his impending fatherhood? Was he happy when a second son was born? And how did he feel about grooming them to replace him as the best poker playing Maverick in all of Texas? Surely Beau must have similar questions? Maybe not. Beauregard and Bentley were brothers, true enough, but not as alike as Bret and Bart were.
Even though Pappy married first and had a child first, Uncle Ben had been quicker to settle down, content to stay in Texas and raise his son. Beauregard was still traveling from place to place, leaving Belle and the boys alone for long stretches at a time. His was a never ending journey driven by the Maverick wanderlust. It wasn't until Belle took ill and died that Pappy realized what he had missed, and knew it was too late to get it back. That was one of the reasons for the standing edict that 'his boys' not marry until they were thirty-eight. Get it all out of the way first, then stay in one place and find peace and joy in what you had.
So Bret watched another sunrise and said a silent prayer that it wouldn't be his brother's last. Doc was afraid to give them any hope, yet the longer Bart held on the more Doc believed anything was possible. The waiting was intolerable but the thought of the waiting ending was even more agonizing.
He glanced down the street and watched a lone horseman ride slowly towards the hotel. Somewhere a rooster crowed and a dog barked, signaling the beginning of another day. His mind was off and running again, wondering what it was like for Bart growing up with him as an older brother. Not only him but Beau, too. Did Bart feel picked on or protected? Beat up or beat down? Loved or loathed? Bret had to admit there were times when the last thing in the world he wanted was a little brother. Little no longer, they were almost the same height but Bret and Pappy were solid, built hard and muscular. Bart was thinner, more willowy, more like Momma had been. Beau favored Bret's build more than Bart's. All three were good sized men, and though they all claimed to be pacifists, each was more than capable of holding his own in a fair fight. That's why all this bothered Bret so much; Bart was sucker punched from the very beginning and never stood a chance. Between the physical beating and the mental and emotional beating he'd been subjected to, his hands were tied behind him from the start.
God, where was all this coming from? What had happened to the man whose mind was content to worry about drawing the third trey or whether the fat man with the cigar was bluffing? Had they been here so long and gone through so much that he was forever changed? And what if he wasn't? What if he was still the same womanizing, con man card sharp? What then? Would he go right back to drifting from town to town, chasing that one elusive big pot? Would he end up like Pappy, old and alone?
He shook his head as if to rid it of all these thoughts and stubbed out the cigar. Beau walked out the front door of the office and leaned against the hitching rail in front of the building. "Looks different when you're not inside a saloon, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." Pause. "Any change?"
"Nope." Beau reached up and scratched his head. "Winter's comin'."
"Yeah." This is what they were reduced to talking about? "Beau, I have to ask you something."
There was an ominous statement. Beau asked anyway, "What?"
"Georgia. What's going on there?"
Beau decided to proceed with immense caution. Just because Bart hadn't given him a hard time didn't mean that Bret wouldn't. "Nothing at the moment."
An 'oh-no-you-don't' look passed from the oldest Maverick to his cousin. "You know what I mean."
Why was it so much easier to talk to Bart? It had always been that way, even when they were kids. Chronologically closer to Bret, he was still emotionally closer to Bart. Maybe he wanted Bret's approval but was afraid he wouldn't get it? Well, Bart wasn't here to be his conscience, so Bret would have to do. He decided to plunge ahead. "I'm in love with her, Bret."
Did Beau think he didn't know that already? "And what are you going to do about it?"
Bret's answer left Beau momentarily taken aback. Was it going to be this straightforward and easy with Bret, too? Beau hadn't anticipated this out of Uncle Beauregard's oldest son. Maybe neither of his cousin's was as much like their father as Beau feared. "I'm going to marry her."
That was not a totally unexpected answer. Beau had some sort of 'proper society' moral filter that neither of Pappy's sons seemed to possess. After all, he was the one boy out of the three that volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army rather than be drafted. Bart and Bret were a little more likely to look at society's restrictions and flaunt them; Beau was more willing to abide by them. "Have you asked the lady yet?"
Beau looked down at the ground and kicked at a lump of dirt. He sounded about ten years old when he answered "No."
"Don't you think you should?"
"I was waiting until this was over."
"What if it doesn't end the way we want it to? How much longer are you gonna wait then?" Bret almost didn't say the rest of it, but decided he should. "Are you waiting for Bart's blessing?"
Beau shook his head. "No, he already gave me that."
Bret was surprised that Beau had spoken to Bart. How much had he missed while he was off chasing Meyers? "And you're still waiting for -?"
"I don't know. The right time?" Beau sounded totally unsure.
"Which is going to be when?"
"I don't know."
Bret asked the question that Bart hadn't. "Are you sure?"
The answer was waiting for him. With no hesitation Beau stated, "Yes."
"Then ask the woman, for God's sake."
Almost as if on cue, Georgia Mayfield left 'The Three Mavericks' Saloon and started up the sidewalk with breakfast, or at least what passed for breakfast. She'd finally given up on trying to feed this group and brought simply coffee and toast. Beau hurried down the street to meet her, leaving Bret standing on the sidewalk alone. The way he'd been in the very beginning, and might have to be again.