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Rowdy of the Cross L

B. M. Bower

  Produced by Mary Starr


  By B.M. Sinclair (AKA B. M. Bower)


  1. Lost in a Blizzard 2. Miss Conroy Refuses Shelter 3. Rowdy Hires a New Boss 4. Pink as "Chappyrone" 5. At Home at Cross L 6. A Shot From the Dark 7. Rowdy in a Tough Place 8. Pink in a Threatening Mood 9. Moving the Herd 10. Harry Conroy at Home 11. Rowdy Promoted 12. "You Can Tell Jessie" 13. Rowdy Finds Happiness

  CHAPTER 1. Lost in a Blizzard.

  "Rowdy" Vaughan--he had been christened Rowland by his mother, andrechristened Rowdy by his cowboy friends, who are prone to treat withmuch irreverence the names bestowed by mothers--was not happy. He stoodin the stirrups and shook off the thick layer of snow which clung, dampand 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. Hereached up a gloved hand and scraped away as much as he could, wrappedthe long-skirted, "sour-dough" coat around his numbed legs, then settledinto the saddle with a shiver of distaste at the plight he was in, andwished himself back at the Horseshoe Bar.

  Dixie, standing knee-deep in a drift, shook himself much after themanner of his master; perhaps he, also, wished himself back at theHorseshoe Bar. He turned his head to look back, blinking at the snowwhich beat insistently in his eyes; he could not hold them open longenough to see anything, however, so he twitched his ears pettishly andgave over the attempt.

  "It's up to you, old boy," Rowdy told him resignedly. "I'm plumb lost; Inever was in this damn country before, anyhow--and I sure wish I wasn'there now. If you've any idea where we're at, I'm dead willing to haveyou pilot the layout. Never mind Chub; locating his feed when it's stuckunder his nose is his limit."

  Chub lifted an ear dispiritedly when his name was spoken; but, as wasusually the case, he heard no good of himself, and dropped his headagain. No one took heed of him; no one ever did. His part was to carryVaughan's bed, and to follow unquestionably where Vaughan and Dixiemight lead. He was cold and tired and hungry, but his faith in hismaster was strong; the responsibility of finding shelter before the darkcame down rested not with him.

  Vaughan pressed his chilled knees against Dixie's ribs, but the handupon the reins was carefully non-committal; so that Dixie, having nosuggestion of his master's wish, ventured to indulge his own. He turnedtail squarely to the storm and went straight ahead. Vaughan put hishands deep into his pockets, snuggled farther down into the sheepskincollar of his coat, and rode passive, enduring.

  They brought up against a wire fence, and Vaughan, rousing from hisapathy, tried to peer through the white, shifting wall of the storm."You're a swell guide--not," he remarked to the horse. "Now you, youhike down this fence till you locate a gate or a corner, or any darnedthing; and I don't give a cuss if the snow does get in your eyes. It'syour own fault."

  Dixie, sneezing the snow from his nostrils, turned obediently; Chub,his feet dragging wearily in the snow, trailed patiently behind. Half anhour of this, and it seemed as if it would go on forever.

  Through the swirl Vaughan could see the posts standing forlornly inthe snow, with sixteen feet of blizzard between; at no time could hedistinguish more than two or three at once, and there were long minuteswhen the wall stood, blank and shifting, just beyond the first post.

  Then Dixie lifted his head and gazed questioningly before him, his earspointed 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 answerto the challenge. A mysterious, vague shape grew impalpably upon thestrained vision; a horse sneezed, then nickered eagerly. Vaughan drew upand waited.

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

  The shape hesitated, as though taken aback by the greeting, and therewas 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, thevoice of a woman.

  Vaughan pulled up short and swore into his collar. Women are not, as arule, to be met out on the blank prairie in a blizzard. His voice, whenhe 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 forthe 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 goingto 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 matterfor 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 fieldof 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 CrossL?"--insinuatingly.

  He could vaguely see her shake of head. "Ordinarily it should be aboutsix miles beyond Rodway's, where I board. But I haven't the haziest ideaof where Rodway's place is, you see; so that won't help you much. I'mall at sea in this snow." Her voice was rueful.

  "Well, if you came up the fence, there's no use going back that way; andthere'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 rodeby her side, grateful for the plurality of the pronoun which tacitlyincluded him in her wanderings, and meditating many things. For one, hewondered if she were as nice a girl as her voice sounded. He could notsee much of her face, because it was muffled in a white silk scarf. Onlyher eyes showed, and they were dark and bright.

  When he awoke to the fact that the wind, grown colder, beat upon hercruelly, he dropped behind a pace and took the windy side, that he mightshield her with his body. But if she observed the action she gave nosign; her face was turned from him and the wind, and she rode withoutspeaking. After long plodding, the line of posts turned unexpectedly aright angle, and Vaughan took a long, relieved breath.

  "We'll have the wind on our backs now," he remarked. "I guess we may aswell keep on and see where this fence goes to."

  His tone was too elaborately cheerful to be very cheering. He waswondering if the girl was dressed warmly. It had been so warm and sunnybefore the blizzard struck, but now the wind searched out the thinplaces in one's clothing and ran lead in one's bones, where should besimply marrow. He fancied that her voice, when she spoke, gave evidenceof actual suffering--and the heart of Rowdy Vaughan was ever soft towarda 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 hervoice which hardened his impulse into fixed resolution.

  "I ought to have thought of it before," he lamented, and swung downstiffly into the snow.

  Her eyes followed his movement with a very evident interest whilehe unbuckled the pack Chub had carried since sunrise and drew out ablanket.

  "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 thinspot."

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

  Vaughan tucked it around her with more care than haste. He was prettyuncomfortable himself, and for that reason he was the more anxiousthat the gir
l should be warm. It came to him that she was a cute littleschoolma'am, all right; he was glad she belonged close around the CrossL. 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 herfeet--such tiny feet--were well covered. He thought it lucky that shedid not ride astride, after the manner of the latter-day young woman,because then he could not have covered her so completely. "Hold on! Thatwindy side's going to make trouble." He unbuckled the strap he woreto hold his own coat snug about him, and put it around the girl's slimwaist, feeling idiotically happy and guilty the while. "It don't comewithin a mile of you," he complained; "but it'll help some."

  Sheltered in the thick folds of the Navajo, she laughed, and the soundof it sent the blood galloping through Rowdy Vaughan's body so that hewas almost warm. He went and scraped the snow out of his saddle, andswung up, feeling that, after all, there are worse things in theworld 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," hesaid, when they got going again. "My name's Rowdy Vaughan--for which Ibeg your pardon. Mother named me Rowland, never knowing I'd get out hereand have her nice, pretty name mutilated that way. I won't say that mybehavior never suggested the change, though. I'm from the HorseshoeBar, over the line, and if I have my way, I'll be a Cross L man beforeanother day." Then he waited expectantly.

  "For fear you may think I'm a--a robber-woman," she answered himsolemnly--he felt sure her eyes twinkled, if only he could have seenthem--"I'm Jessie Conroy. And if you're from over the line, maybe youknow my brother Harry. He was over there a year or two."

  Rowdy hunched his shoulders--presumably at the wind. Harry Conroy'ssister, was she? And he swore. "I may have met him," he parried, in atone 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 wholecountry--and the handsomest. He--he's splendid! And he's the onlybrother 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. HarryConroy's sister! Well, she wasn't to blame for that, of course; nor forthinking 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, andRowdy hovered between heaven and--another place. He was glad shesmiled, and he was afraid of what that subject might discover for hisstraightforward tongue in the way of pitfalls. It would not be nice tolet her know what he really thought of her brother.

  "This looks to me like a lane," he said diplomatically. "We must begetting 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 turningthe blank white of the blizzard into as blank a gray--which was as neardarkness as it could get, because of the snow which fell and fell,and yet seemed never to find an abiding-place, but danced and swirledgiddily in the wind as the cold froze it dry. There would be no moredamp, clinging masses that night; it was sifting down like flour from agiant sieve; and of the supply there seemed no end.

  "I don't know of any lanes around here," she began dubiously, "unlessit's--"

  Vaughan looked sharply at her muffled figure and wondered why shebroke off so suddenly. She was staring hard at the few, faint traces oflandmarks; and, bundled in the red-and-yellow Navajo blanket, with herbright, dark eyes, she might easily have passed for a slim young squaw.

  Out ahead, a dog began barking vaguely, and Rowdy turned eagerly tothe sound. Dixie, scenting human habitation, stepped out more brisklythrough 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 showedhis longing; "but it'll be shelter and a warm fire--and supper. Can youappreciate such blessings, Miss Conroy? I can. I've been in the saddlesince sunrise; and I was so sure I'd strike the Cross L by dinner-timethat 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 badnames all the afternoon for being more dainty than sensible. But it'sall right now, I guess."