Lost In A Blizzard





"Rowdy" Vaughan--he had been christened Rowland by his mother, and

rechristened Rowdy by his cowboy friends, who are prone to treat with

much irreverence the names bestowed by mothers--was not happy. He stood

in the stirrups and shook off the thick layer of snow which clung, damp

and close-packed, to his coat. The dull yellow folds were full of it;

his gray hat, pulled low over his purple ears, was heaped with it. He

reached up a gloved hand and scraped away as much as he could, wrapped

the long-skirted, "sour-dough" coat around his numbed legs, then settled

into the saddle with a shiver of distaste at the plight he was in, and

wished himself back at the Horseshoe Bar.



Dixie, standing knee-deep in a drift, shook himself much after the

manner of his master; perhaps he, also, wished himself back at the

Horseshoe Bar. He turned his head to look back, blinking at the snow

which beat insistently in his eyes; he could not hold them open long

enough to see anything, however, so he twitched his ears pettishly and

gave over the attempt.



"It's up to you, old boy," Rowdy told him resignedly. "I'm plumb lost; I

never was in this damn country before, anyhow--and I sure wish I wasn't

here now. If you've any idea where we're at, I'm dead willing to have

you pilot the layout. Never mind Chub; locating his feed when it's stuck

under his nose is his limit."



Chub lifted an ear dispiritedly when his name was spoken; but, as was

usually the case, he heard no good of himself, and dropped his head

again. No one took heed of him; no one ever did. His part was to carry

Vaughan's bed, and to follow unquestionably where Vaughan and Dixie

might lead. He was cold and tired and hungry, but his faith in his

master was strong; the responsibility of finding shelter before the dark

came down rested not with him.



Vaughan pressed his chilled knees against Dixie's ribs, but the hand

upon the reins was carefully non-committal; so that Dixie, having no

suggestion of his master's wish, ventured to indulge his own. He turned

tail squarely to the storm and went straight ahead. Vaughan put his

hands deep into his pockets, snuggled farther down into the sheepskin

collar of his coat, and rode passive, enduring.



They brought up against a wire fence, and Vaughan, rousing from his

apathy, tried to peer through the white, shifting wall of the storm.

"You're a swell guide--not," he remarked to the horse. "Now you, you

hike down this fence till you locate a gate or a corner, or any darned

thing; and I don't give a cuss if the snow does get in your eyes. It's

your own fault."



Dixie, sneezing the snow from his nostrils, turned obediently; Chub,

his feet dragging wearily in the snow, trailed patiently behind. Half an

hour of this, and it seemed as if it would go on forever.



Through the swirl Vaughan could see the posts standing forlornly in

the snow, with sixteen feet of blizzard between; at no time could he

distinguish more than two or three at once, and there were long minutes

when the wall stood, blank and shifting, just beyond the first post.



Then Dixie lifted his head and gazed questioningly before him, his ears

pointed forward--sentient, strained--and whinnied shrill challenge.

He hurried his steps, dragging Chub out of the beginnings of a dream.

Vaughan straightened and took his hands from his pockets.



Out beyond the dim, wavering outline of the farthest post came answer

to the challenge. A mysterious, vague shape grew impalpably upon the

strained vision; a horse sneezed, then nickered eagerly. Vaughan drew up

and waited.



"Hello!" he called cheerfully. "Pleasant day, this. Out for your

health?"



The shape hesitated, as though taken aback by the greeting, and there

was no answer. Vaughan, puzzled, rode closer.



"Say, don't talk so fast!" he yelled. "I can't follow yuh."



"Who--who is it?" The voice sounded perturbed; and it was, moreover, the

voice of a woman.



Vaughan pulled up short and swore into his collar. Women are not, as a

rule, to be met out on the blank prairie in a blizzard. His voice, when

he spoke again, was not ironical, as it had been; it was placating.



"I beg your pardon," he said. "I thought it was a man. I'm looking for

the Cross L; you don't happen to know where it is, do yuh?"



"No--I don't," she declared dismally. "I don't know where any place is.

I'm teaching school in this neighborhood--or in some other. I was going

to spend Sunday with a friend, but this storm came up, and I'm--lost."



"Same here," said Rowdy pleasantly, as though being lost was a matter

for congratulation.



"Oh! I was in hopes--"



"So was I, so we're even there. We'll have to pool our chances, I guess.

Any gate down that way--or haven't you followed the fence?"



"I followed it for miles and miles--it seemed. It must be some big field

of the Cross L; but they have so very many big fields!"



"And you couldn't give a rough guess at how far it is to the Cross

L?"--insinuatingly.



He could vaguely see her shake of head. "Ordinarily it should be about

six miles beyond Rodway's, where I board. But I haven't the haziest idea

of where Rodway's place is, you see; so that won't help you much. I'm

all at sea in this snow." Her voice was rueful.



"Well, if you came up the fence, there's no use going back that way; and

there's sure nothing made by going away from it.--that's the way I came.

Why not go on the way you're headed?"



"We might as well, I suppose," she assented; and Rowdy turned and rode

by her side, grateful for the plurality of the pronoun which tacitly

included him in her wanderings, and meditating many things. For one, he

wondered if she were as nice a girl as her voice sounded. He could not

see much of her face, because it was muffled in a white silk scarf. Only

her eyes showed, and they were dark and bright.



When he awoke to the fact that the wind, grown colder, beat upon her

cruelly, he dropped behind a pace and took the windy side, that he might

shield her with his body. But if she observed the action she gave no

sign; her face was turned from him and the wind, and she rode without

speaking. After long plodding, the line of posts turned unexpectedly a

right angle, and Vaughan took a long, relieved breath.



"We'll have the wind on our backs now," he remarked. "I guess we may as

well keep on and see where this fence goes to."



His tone was too elaborately cheerful to be very cheering. He was

wondering if the girl was dressed warmly. It had been so warm and sunny

before the blizzard struck, but now the wind searched out the thin

places in one's clothing and ran lead in one's bones, where should be

simply marrow. He fancied that her voice, when she spoke, gave evidence

of actual suffering--and the heart of Rowdy Vaughan was ever soft toward

a woman.



"If you're cold," he began, "I'll open up my bed and get out a blanket."

He held Dixie in tentatively.



"Oh, don't trouble to do that," she protested; but there was that in her

voice which hardened his impulse into fixed resolution.



"I ought to have thought of it before," he lamented, and swung down

stiffly into the snow.



Her eyes followed his movement with a very evident interest while

he unbuckled the pack Chub had carried since sunrise and drew out a

blanket.



"Stand in your stirrup," he commanded briskly "and I'll wrap you up.

It's a Navajo, and the wind will have a time trying to find a thin

spot."



"You're thoughtful." She snuggled into it thankfully. "I was cold."



Vaughan tucked it around her with more care than haste. He was pretty

uncomfortable himself, and for that reason he was the more anxious

that the girl should be warm. It came to him that she was a cute little

schoolma'am, all right; he was glad she belonged close around the Cross

L. He also wished he knew her name--and so he set about finding it out,

with much guile.



"How's that?" he wanted to know, when he had made sure that her

feet--such tiny feet--were well covered. He thought it lucky that she

did not ride astride, after the manner of the latter-day young woman,

because then he could not have covered her so completely. "Hold on! That

windy side's going to make trouble." He unbuckled the strap he wore

to hold his own coat snug about him, and put it around the girl's slim

waist, feeling idiotically happy and guilty the while. "It don't come

within a mile of you," he complained; "but it'll help some."



Sheltered in the thick folds of the Navajo, she laughed, and the sound

of it sent the blood galloping through Rowdy Vaughan's body so that he

was almost warm. He went and scraped the snow out of his saddle, and

swung up, feeling that, after all, there are worse things in the

world than being lost and hungry in a blizzard, with a sweet-voiced,

bright-eyed little schoolma'am who can laugh like that.



"I don't want to have you think I may be a bold, bad robber-man," he

said, when they got going again. "My name's Rowdy Vaughan--for which I

beg your pardon. Mother named me Rowland, never knowing I'd get out here

and have her nice, pretty name mutilated that way. I won't say that my

behavior never suggested the change, though. I'm from the Horseshoe

Bar, over the line, and if I have my way, I'll be a Cross L man before

another day." Then he waited expectantly.



"For fear you may think I'm a--a robber-woman," she answered him

solemnly--he felt sure her eyes twinkled, if only he could have seen

them--"I'm Jessie Conroy. And if you're from over the line, maybe you

know my brother Harry. He was over there a year or two."



Rowdy hunched his shoulders--presumably at the wind. Harry Conroy's

sister, was she? And he swore. "I may have met him," he parried, in a

tone you'd never notice as being painstakingly careless. "I think I did,

come to think of it."



Miss Conroy seemed displeased, and presently the cause was forthcoming.

"If you'd ever met him," she said, "you'd hardly forget him."

(Rowdy mentally agreed profanely.) "He's the best rider in the whole

country--and the handsomest. He--he's splendid! And he's the only

brother I've got. It's a pity you never got acquainted with him."



"Yes," lied Rowdy, and thought a good deal in a very short time. Harry

Conroy's sister! Well, she wasn't to blame for that, of course; nor for

thinking her brother a white man. "I remember I did see him ride once,"

he observed. "He was a whirlwind, all right--and he sure was handsome,

too."



Miss Conroy turned her face toward him and smiled her pleasure, and

Rowdy hovered between heaven and--another place. He was glad she

smiled, and he was afraid of what that subject might discover for his

straightforward tongue in the way of pitfalls. It would not be nice to

let her know what he really thought of her brother.



"This looks to me like a lane," he said diplomatically. "We must be

getting somewhere; don't you recognize any landmarks?"



Miss Conroy leaned forward and peered through the clouds of snow dust.

Already the night was creeping down upon the land, stealthily turning

the blank white of the blizzard into as blank a gray--which was as near

darkness as it could get, because of the snow which fell and fell,

and yet seemed never to find an abiding-place, but danced and swirled

giddily in the wind as the cold froze it dry. There would be no more

damp, clinging masses that night; it was sifting down like flour from a

giant sieve; and of the supply there seemed no end.



"I don't know of any lanes around here," she began dubiously, "unless

it's--"



Vaughan looked sharply at her muffled figure and wondered why she

broke off so suddenly. She was staring hard at the few, faint traces of

landmarks; and, bundled in the red-and-yellow Navajo blanket, with her

bright, dark eyes, she might easily have passed for a slim young squaw.



Out ahead, a dog began barking vaguely, and Rowdy turned eagerly to

the sound. Dixie, scenting human habitation, stepped out more briskly

through the snow, and even Chub lifted an ear briefly to show he heard.



"It may not be any one you know," Vaughan remarked, and his voice showed

his longing; "but it'll be shelter and a warm fire--and supper. Can you

appreciate such blessings, Miss Conroy? I can. I've been in the saddle

since sunrise; and I was so sure I'd strike the Cross L by dinner-time

that I didn't bring a bite to eat. It was a sheep-camp where I stopped,

and the grub didn't look good to me, anyway--I've called myself bad

names all the afternoon for being more dainty than sensible. But it's

all right now, I guess."





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