Chapter 9 Vigil
No day ever passed as slowly as that one did. Beau tried to get Bret to eat, drink some coffee, change clothes, anything, but he wouldn't budge from Bart's side. He got his brother as cleaned up as he could manage and kept cold compresses on his forehead. One of them had to function, so Beau forced himself to do just that.
He went to the sheriff's office to report the beating, then to Hiram Foster's office, where he introduced himself as the 'missing Maverick'. Attorney Foster was appalled by the violence and offered any assistance possible. After Beau left there he went to the saloon. Harry was noticeably rattled and Georgia insisted on coming back to the hotel with him. He tried to warn her off, afraid that Bart's appearance would upset and sicken her. She was shocked by the look of the body in the bed but was more disturbed by Bret's refusal to move. It was his brother, by God, and if Bart wasn't going to stick around then at least Bret wasn't going to let him go home alone. So Georgia sat with Bret, while he sat with his brother.
Around 4 o'clock Doc Washburn came back. Only then did Bret get up from the chair at Bart's bedside and leave the room. He returned in just a minute, as the doctor finished his second exam of the day. Bret looked at the doctor hopefully but there wasn't much the older man could say. "All I can tell you is he hasn't developed a fever. Not yet, at least. Probably that aspirin helping. Keep givin' it to him and pray that he doesn't have an infection goin' on anywhere. He's young and strong. That's in his favor. Not much else. Send for me if anything changes." Then he was gone and Bret was back at the bedside.
Georgia sent Beau down to get something to eat and bring food back for her and Bret. He didn't want to leave, either, but she convinced him it wouldn't do anyone any good to starve to death. When Beau returned he brought two dinners. Georgia wolfed hers down but Bret wasn't interested. He did take a cup of coffee and Georgia was glad to see him get anything in his system.
When the sun went down Bart was still hanging on. Harry came by and brought a bottle of the saloon's best whiskey and three glasses. After Harry left Beau poured shots for all three and drank his in record time. Bret waved his away and then thought better of it and took the drink. Georgia set hers down on the nightstand. Beau finally sat in a chair by the open window and stared out into the street. There was no doubt in his mind that Edgar Pike was responsible for this. God help him if Bart died.
Beau started thinking about all the things that the three boys had done together as kids, all the pranks played on one another, all the times they found themselves in trouble up to their eyeballs. They'd been together in good times and bad, and they were together here and now. Bart had to pull through. Beau couldn't imagine life without him or Bret, for that matter. They were his brothers, just with a different father. He heard a noise and jerked his head off of his hand, realizing that he'd been asleep. Georgia was nowhere to be seen. Bret was talking. Talking to Bart.
"Remember that time we decided we could fly? And the only thing that stopped us from breaking our legs was the pile of hay we hadn't raked into the stalls? And when Beau accidentally dropped the toad into Lily Mae's soup? And then had to explain to Lily Mae why her soup jumped?" Bret laughed at the memory. He was desperate for Bart to hear his voice and come back to them. Bret kept reminiscing. "Uncle Ben wouldn't speak to you for a week when you convinced Beau that a straight beat a full house. And what about the time I almost drowned when you and Beau pushed me off the raft we built? You two couldn't sit down after Pappy got done with you." He stopped talking and there was only the faint sound of Bart's breathing. When Bret resumed he was so quiet that Beau could barely hear him. "You can't go, Brother Bart. I've still got too many tricks to play on you; too many girls to steal from you; too much money to win from you. Too much time to spend with you. You can't leave. You're all that I have left of Momma. You need to stay with me." He took a deep breath. This was his brother who lay there hanging between life and death and Bret was trying to will him back to his side of that line.
Beau wondered what Bret would think if he suspected that Beau was awake and listening. He knew that the brothers were close but he'd never heard Bret like this. They were always so casual in their affection for each other that Beau didn't expect the total despair he heard in Bret's voice. What would Bret do if Bart died? What would Beau do if Bart died? Bart was as much his little brother as he was Bret's. Maybe even more, now that they were older. Bart and Beau had spent a lot of time together since Beau came home from England and had grown even closer than they were as children. His mind couldn't even conceive of a life without Bart in it.
He was so tired. He pulled out his watch and looked at it. 2 a.m. The longer that Bart kept breathing the better his chances were. Beau knew he couldn't hold his head up any longer and closed his eyes for just a moment. Then he laid his head down on the table. He was asleep instantly.
Another gray, rainy day. Over twenty four hours had passed since the cousins found Bart lying in his own blood and not much had changed. Beau woke with a start when he heard Bret moving around and realized it was morning. He was stiff from sleeping at the table all night and was surprised to find Bret standing with his leg on a chair, looking out the window. There was a lit cigar in his mouth and a grim expression on his face. "Morning, sunshine," he told Beau once he realized that his cousin was awake. "I won't ask if you slept well."
Beau tried to say something but his mouth refused to form the words. He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs and looked around the room. Georgia was gone. Bart hadn't moved since Bret first laid him down in the bed but there was a little color in his face. He stood up too fast and staggered some before righting himself. Bret reached out to grab his arm and Beau was surprised at the gentleness of the touch. "Careful, partner, I can't have two of you down at the same time." Beau shook his head again and finally got words to come out.
"How is he?" He jerked his head towards Bart as he spoke.
Bret sighed and looked down at the chair. "No difference as far as I can tell. Looks a little better but hasn't made a sound." His gaze drifted back out the window. "Only good thing is he can't complain to us about how much he hurts."
"Georgia?" That was Beau's next question.
"She left this morning. Said she'd be back with coffee. Haven't seen her yet."
They stood quietly for a moment until Beau inquired, "You eaten anything?"
Bret gave Beau a strange look, as if to ask "Are you serious?" Instead he just said "No. No interest."
There was a soft knock at the door and Beau went to answer it. There stood Georgia and Jody, carrying a coffee pot, cups, and a tray with plates full of biscuits and gravy. Beau took the tray and set it on the table. Jody came in with her mother and walked over to the bed. "Has he regained consciousness yet?"
"Nope." Bret accepted the full coffee cup that Georgia handed him. She looked questioningly at Beau and he nodded ascent. She poured another and gave it to him. "Sit down and eat. You can't keep going on just coffee." She looked straight at Bret as she spoke. He snorted a laugh and told her, "You've never seen us when we're broke and on the trail."
Beau almost felt guilty when he sat at the table and dug into the plate of biscuits. The food tasted fine but after only two or three bites his insides had enough and let him know in no uncertain terms that it was time to quit. Bret never even gave the plates a serious glance before walking back over to Bart's bedside. His brother needed to wake up.
Jody and Georgia talked quietly for a moment and then Georgia turned to Beau. "I'm going to the saloon. There's a shipment coming in today and Harry's too busy to check it in. Jody's going to lend a hand. Is there anything you need before I go?"
Beau stared plaintively at the still body in the bed. "I know," Georgia told him, "but there's nothing I can do there. See if you can get Bret to eat something, please?"
"That's a lost cause," Beau mumbled under his breath. Georgia and Jody left and the door closed softly behind them. The stillness in the room was frightening. Beau felt like he would lose his mind if he didn't get out of there for a few minutes. "I'm going to see the sheriff," he told Bret as he picked up his hat. "I need to know if Pike is back yet."
Bret's demeanor visibly changed. His whole body stiffened and he let his hand rest on his gun. "Do that, would ya? I'd like to have a few words with Mr. Pike. In private."
Beau left the room and closed the door behind him. He made his way downstairs and stopped at the front desk as the clerk asked "How is he this morning, Mr. Maverick?"
"Still alive" was Beau's only response. He walked outside and down the street to the sheriff's office. Sheriff Bowman looked up when Beau entered the office but didn't seem surprised to see him.
"Mr. Maverick, what can I do for you today?"
"You can tell me what's being done about the attack on my cousin."
"Well, sir, there's not much I can do at this point in time. No description, no eyewitnesses, don't even know how many of 'em there were. How is he this mornin', by the way?"
Beau was unhappy with the response but the sheriff had a point. "There's been no change."
Mort Bowman shook his head. "Sorry to hear that. Anythin' else I can do?"
"Yes, there is. What have you heard about Edgar Pike's return?"
The sheriff looked worried. "Now why the concern about Pike? Am I waitin' for a killin' to be done?"
Beau laughed, a disturbing sound. "Not yet. At least not by me. I can't speak for anyone else."
"I'd hate to have to arrest one 'a you boys. Specially in light of what's already happened."
Beau wanted the sheriff back on track. "Edgar Pike?"
"Haven't heard anything about him since he left for Denver. You figure he's behind this mess?"
"Who else?" came Beau's reply. "We haven't been in town long enough to make enemies."
Bowman rubbed his chin. "Guess not, come to think of it. I sure would like to talk to Edgar, myself. See if he has anything to say about all this."
"You mean besides 'all the Mavericks should burn in hell' rather than take over the saloon?"
"Yeah, I reckon that would be as good a place as any to start. Edgar can get a mite touchy when he thinks somebody's takin' his things."
"Touchy enough to have someone killed?"
"Now, don't go getting' ahead 'a yourself," the sheriff told him. "Nobody's been killed."
"You mean not yet, don't you?"
"Not as long as that cousin 'a yours is alive."
"And what about the two attempts on our lives the day before yesterday?"
The lawman thought for a minute. "Yeah, if he's behind one, he's probably behind all three. You got a point."
"So you'll talk to him when he comes back?" Beau wanted to drive the point home to the sheriff – you talk to him or we will.
"I'll bring him in and talk to him. I want answers, too. This was a nice, peaceful town."
"Was. Just remember when the time comes, the Mavericks didn't start this."
Bowman looked right at Beau. "I'll remember. Just you remember, the Mavericks ain't no law here."
"I don't think we're the ones that forgot, sheriff." Beau turned and left the office. He wasn't happy with the sheriff's reactions to his questions but he wasn't going to do anything about it right now. He walked back towards the hotel and stopped at Doc Washburn's on the way.
The doctor was setting the arm of a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. "You got to be more careful than that, Teddy. That's the third time I've set that same arm." He looked up as Beau walked in with a question in his eyes.
"No, Doctor," Beau answered the unasked question. "Just stopping by to check in with you."
"Whew, you had me there for a minute," Doc Washburn declared as he hustled Teddy back to his mother. "You know the routine, Mrs. Felder. Keep him out of that tree." Mrs. Felder and Teddy left the office.
"Well, since you're not here for that," the doctor sighed, "how's the patient? Has he come to yet?"
Beau shook his head unhappily. "No, not by the time I left a few minutes ago. That's what I've come to ask you about, Doctor. Hasn't he been unconscious an awfully long time?"
Doctor Washburn answered Beau as honestly as he could. "Maybe yes, maybe no. Don't really know. The heads a funny thing. Sometimes it's better if you don't know what's goin' on inside it."
That didn't answer Beau's question. "Still, Doctor, how long can he stay like that?"
A shake of the head was all the answer that Beau got. The doctor thought for a moment and then added, "He's dang lucky he's still breathin'. I didn't expect him to last this long. That's a good sign. Means he's still in there fightin.' Lot 'a men woulda' gone last night, like I expected him to. That boy's got a hard head. Run in the family?" He gave a little laugh with the last question.
"Yes, I expect it does." Beau thought of all the times one or another of them had been hit in the head and knocked out. The life of a gambler wasn't easy, but it was far preferable to work.
"Well, just keep prayin'. And be sure and send for me if he wakes up." Beau noticed the doctor said 'if' rather than 'when.' Is that what all this had come down to? Waiting for Bart to die?
'Thank you, Doctor."
Beau left Doc Washburn's office feeling worse than when he arrived. He wanted hope that everything would work out all right and there didn't appear to be much of that. He walked slowly back to the hotel, oblivious of all the people out in the town on this wet and gloomy day. When he got to Bart's door he couldn't bring himself to turn the knob or enter the room. Instead he went back to his own room and decided to wash, shave and put on clean clothes. Maybe it would make him feel better.
It took almost an hour to accomplish his tasks but he did feel restored when he was finished. He headed back to Bart's room, hoping that he could get Bret to leave for a while and do the same thing. He wasn't prepared for what he found when he opened his cousin's door.
Bret had finally passed out from exhaustion while sitting at Bart's bedside. He lay slumped over the foot of the bed, sound asleep. And Bart's eyes were open.