The cold, miserable rain that had begun that morning had by afternoon turned into a heavy snow that chilled the bones and made visibility almost nonexistent. Cody cursed under his breath. He hated winter with its cold, snow, and ice. It was bad enough delivering mail on a good day, but here he was out in this awful weather and it wasn’t even his turn.
“Last time I do something nice for somebody,” the rider muttered, thinking about how he had let Kid talk him into taking the run. All Cody wanted right now was to get home to a good meal and a warm bed. Sweetwater was still at least four hours away and the sky was rapidly growing darker.
Cody pushed his horse as fast as he dared in the inclement weather. The snow was starting to pile up and the young man knew he’d have to seek shelter soon, because there was no way he could make it to the station by nightfall in this storm.
So intent was he at scanning the countryside for a place to hole up for the night, that Cody didn’t notice he’d left the path until it was too late. With a shout, horse and rider broke through the crust of snow and plummeted into a gully.
The first thing Cody noticed was the fact that he was warm. The second thing was the pain in his ankle. Opening his eyes, he found himself in a strange room. Other than the bed on which he lay there was a chest with a wash bowl and pitcher, as well as a lamp, on top. There was also a straight back chair where a thin little girl with sandy hair sat.
When the child noticed Cody looking at her, she called, “Mama, he’s awake!” and scurried from the room.
Almost immediately, a plump, smiling woman entered the room. She was followed by a large man with a neatly trimmed beard and a boy of about ten.
“Well, now, you’re lookin’ a sight better,” the woman declared. “How do you feel?”
“Sore.” Cody answered.
“That’s to be expected after the tumble you took,” the woman continued. “Just be thankful that our Peter here heard you yell.” She patted the boy next to her.
Cody nodded. “Thanks, but where am I?”
The man answered this time. “At the Lawson farm. I’m John Lawson. This is my wife, Martha and our son Peter.”
“My name’s William Cody.” Cody informed them. Then he asked, “How close am I to Sweetwater?”
“About half a days ride.” John answered. “But you’ll not be goin’ anywhere for a couple of days.” Cody looked puzzled and John added. “You’ve sprained your ankle pretty bad. My wife and daughter bandaged it up, but you need to take it easy for a few days. And even without that, there’s a small blizzard going on outside.”
Cody gave a frustrated sigh. Then he thought of something. “My horse?” he asked.
“He’s fine. I put him in our barn,” Peter told him.
“Thank you.” Cody smiled at the boy.
“Are you hungry?” asked Martha.
“Yes ma’am,” Cody answered enthusiastically.
“Anna!” the woman called. “Bring our guest some food.”
Cody looked at the door and his eyes widened as a figure appeared. The young woman was dressed in a simple calico work dress, but to Cody she looked like an angel. Her hair was like spun gold and as she brought the food over, he could see she had beautiful violet eyes. Cody was temporarily speechless.
“This is our oldest, Anna,” her mother spoke up. Anna smiled shyly as she handed her mother the tray and left again.
While Cody ate, Martha told him how Peter and John had been out checking traps when Peter happened to hear a yell and they found Cody. Cody listened, but he kept glancing at the door, wondering if Anna would return. When someone did come in it was the little girl Cody had first seen.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Kristen.”
“Nice to meet you.” Cody gave her a smile.
“Now, Kristen, Mr. Cody doesn’t need any of your chatter,” her mother said. Then turning to Cody Martha said, “You just get a good night’s rest and we’ll see if you can hop about some tomorrow.”
Cody nodded. “Thank you for the food, ma’am.”
“Think nothing of it,” Martha told him. Then she steered Kristen out the door and left Cody to sleep.
Cody awoke to the sound and smell of bacon frying. As if on cue, his stomach grumbled. Glancing around the room, Cody spotted his clothes on the chair. He swung his legs out of bed and gingerly tested his ankle. It gave under his weight and he quickly sat back down on the bed.
There was a tap at the door and John Lawson entered. “I heard you stirring around and thought you might need some help.”
“Looks like I might,” Cody admitted, rubbing his ankle.
Anna was placing the biscuits on the table when Cody and John came in. “Good morning, Papa,” she said sweetly. Then smiling at Cody, she added, “Good morning, Mr. Cody.”
Cody smiled back. “Mornin’, Miss Lawson.” Even though he could hear the wind howling outside, Cody would have sworn that the sun was out, so radiant did the girl’s smile appear to him.
The family and their guest sat down around the table. “Whose turn is it?” John asked.
“Mine, Papa.” Kristen replied, folding her hands and bowing her head. Cody glanced around and quickly did the same while the little girl asked the blessing.
“That storm’s still going strong.” John commented. “Don’t look like it’ll die down till tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Just as well,” Martha stated. “Mr. Cody needs a few more days to rest that ankle.”
“I hate to impose on ya’ll though,” Cody responded.
“Oh, fiddlesticks, it’s no problem at all.” Martha assured him.
“How’d you get caught in this storm anyway?” John asked.
“I was on my way home. I ride for the Pony Express,” Cody informed them.
“Wow,” Peter whispered, the admiration apparent in the boy’s voice and face.
When breakfast was over Martha told Peter, “We need some more wood. With that wind whistling like it is, the house is getting colder.”
Peter went to a side door which opened into a lean-to. There was plenty of wood stacked against the wall. Cody hobbled over to help the boy.
Anna watched the lean young man. “Peter can do that. You oughta rest that ankle, Mr. Cody,” she commented.
“I’m fine,” Cody assured her, carrying the logs to the fireplace. Even with a blizzard, work on the little farm did not stop. Martha and Anna had taken seats in the two rocking chairs and were busy sewing. John mended a harness, while Peter whittled a piece of wood. Kristen sat in front of the fire, playing with her doll.
“How long you folks been here?” Cody asked John.
“Nearly three years now. ‘Fore that we lived in Wisconsin.” John told him. “It took about a year to get the farm started good, but it’s starting to pay off now. We had good crops this year.”
The morning passed and at lunch Martha encouraged Cody to eat all he wanted. Cody obliged her by having seconds of everything.
That afternoon, Peter got out his marbles and Kristen plopped down beside her brother to play. “You wanna play, Cody?” she asked.
“Kristen, where are your manners?” scolded her mother. “Say Mr. Cody.”
“That’s alright, ma’am,” Cody hastily spoke up. “It’s fine if you all call me Cody.” Looking at the little girl, he answered, “Sure, I’ll play.”
“Watch Kristen; she cheats.” Peter informed Cody as the rider joined them on the floor.
“Do not!” Kristen argued. “You just don’t like losin’ to a girl.”
John chuckled. “There was a time when Anna could have beaten you all,” he stated.
“That was years ago, Papa,” Anna protested with a slight flush. “I’ve grown up since my wild childhood.”
“Yeah, now she’s just a prissy girl,” Peter said in disgust.
“I can still beat you, smarty.” Anna retorted.
“Prove it.” Peter dared. Cody smiled at the boy. It reminded him of himself at that age, teasing his older sister. Anna looked as uncomfortable as his sister used to, too.
Anna looked at Cody. He seemed to be waiting to see what she would do. Anna found herself attracted to the young man and didn’t want to appear childish in front of him. Still, a dare was a dare. She settled herself beside Kristen and accepted Peter’s challenge.
Within minutes, Anna had won every marble. Peter looked amazed. “Don’t dare me, little boy,” Anna teased as she ruffled his brown hair. “You’re still no match for me.”
“Play again?” Peter begged.
Anna shook her head. “I’ve got work to do.” She returned to her chair and picked up her sewing.
Cody came over after one game. “That was pretty good marble playin’,” he told her.
“Thank you, Cody.” Then Anna shook her head. “That just doesn’t sound right. May I call you Will instead?” she questioned in a soft voice.
A wide grin brightened Cody’s face. “Sure, if you’d like, Miss Lawson.”
“You can call me Anna,” she replied as she smiled back.
Martha and John Lawson exchanged glances and smiled. Their daughter was growing up.
“Papa, can we have some popcorn?” Kristen asked after supper.
“I don’t see why not,” her father answered.
“I’ll get the corn and the popper,” Anna volunteered.
“I’ll help.” Cody sprang up to follow and instantly regretted it as pain shot through his ankle. Careful to conceal the pain, he followed Anna to the kitchen.
“Your family seems nice.” Cody commented as he watched Anna getting the things ready.
“Thank you, Will,” she answered. “What’s your family like?”
“Well, the Express is my family now,” he replied with a grin. He then told her a little about Emma, Teaspoon and the other riders. Anna was soon laughing merrily at Cody’s descriptions.
“We’d better go back before Kristen has a fit,” Anna said, still giggling at the thought of the baseball game Cody had told her about.
The young people all sat before the fire and Cody held the popper over the coals. The kernels were soon exploding and Anna filled a pan with fluffy white popcorn.
“It looks like the snow outside,” Kristen commented, popping some in her mouth.
“But not as cold and wet,” Cody pointed out.
“Tell us a story, Papa,” Kristen begged.
“You’ve heard all my tales dozens of times,” John protested.
Kristen’s face brightened with an idea. “Why don’t you tell us a story, Cody?”
Cody thought about it a moment and then asked the little girl, “You wanna hear about the time I met a bear?”
Kristen nodded, her eyes wide. “Did you have to fight the bear and shoot him?”
“Nope, he was a friendly bear.”
“You’re teasin’ me,” Kristen claimed. “There’s no friendly bears.”
“This’n was. See, this old trapper raised him from a cub. His name was Bart.”
“The trapper?” Peter asked.
“No, the bear,” Cody clarified.
“Bart the bear.” Kristen settled back in Anna’s lap to listen to Cody’s story.
“That was some story,” Peter commented when Cody finished.
“Bedtime now,” Martha stated, looking at Kristen’s sleepy eyes.
“Aw, Mama,” the girl started to protest, but a yawn stopped her. Laughing, Martha hustled her youngest upstairs to the room the girls shared.
“You’d better get some sleep, too, young man,” John told Peter. “That storm’ll probably be over come morning and we’ll have a heap of work to do.” Peter nodded and went up to his room.
Anna rose and Cody stood up, wincing a little.
“Are you alright?” Anna asked with concern.
“Yeah, just got stiff sittin’ there so long,” Cody told her. “Good night, Anna.” He turned to the guest room.
“Good night, Will,” Anna responded. Cody thought his name had never sounded so sweet.
Sure enough, the storm was over the next day. John and Peter were putting on their coats to go tend the stock, when Cody appeared from the bedroom.
“I’ll help,” he told them. His ankle was still a little sore, but Cody managed to take care of Soda and help feed and water the Lawson’s horses and cows.
When the men folk returned to the kitchen Martha and Anna had breakfast ready.
“I need to be headin’ on today,” Cody spoke up while they were eating. Anna looked at him, disappointment written on her face, and then excused herself.
Kristen leaned over to confide to Cody, “Anna likes you. She told me so last night.”
Martha spoke up. “You really ought to take it easy one more day, Cody. I noticed you’re still limping.” Cody contemplated it and then agreed. One more day of resting would be nice.
When Martha and Kristen went to make the beds, Cody went to the kitchen where Anna was washing dishes. Picking up a dish towel, he began to dry the dishes.
Anna turned to regard him with her violet eyes. “Thank you, but you don’t have to.”
“I want to,” Cody told her. Together they finished the dishes.
“I’m stayin’ until tomorrow,” Cody informed Anna.
“I’m glad, Will,” she said gently. “I was hoping you’d stay a little longer.”
“You were?” Cody asked with a pleased smile. Anna nodded and turned to gaze out the window. “Sure is cold and disagreeable lookin’ out there,” Cody commented as he took in the drifts of snow and the still cloudy and dull gray skies.
“You should see it in the spring,” Anna found herself telling him. “There’s a meadow just over that hill.” She pointed to a tree-lined rise. “The whole place is carpeted in wild flowers. You can’t imagine the colors; the yellow-green of new grass, deep blues, vivid reds, pastel pinks, and tiny white star flowers scattered about. And the smell, it’s like honey and expensive perfume all rolled into one. I love to go there to read or just sit and think. It’s my special place.” Anna’s eyes shone as she remembered all the times she’d sat and dreamed of one day finding a special young man to share her spot with.
Cody was picturing Anna in a sea of wild flowers, her golden hair shining like the sun and the violet of her eyes putting the flowers to shame. It was this young woman that would be the most beautiful, he thought, not the meadow. Cody came out of the day dream to look out at the snowy landscape again. “Spring is a lot better than winter,” he stated.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Anna argued. “Each season is special, it just depends on your perspective.”
“What’s good about winter? It’s cold and everything’s dreary,” Cody scoffed.
Anna shook her head. “Look again.” She pointed out the window. “I see a clean, peaceful world under a fluffy white cloak. The air is so sharp and crisp you can almost touch it and it makes your nose tingle when you breathe. Diamonds couldn’t be any shinier than the sun off snow. And a snowfall is a grand time. The downy flakes drift down like thousands of tiny doves. The stillness that surrounds and envelops you is so vast that you can hear each snowflake as it falls and lands with a tiny tinkling sound like little crystals.”
Cody stared at her in amazement. She had made it sound so beautiful. They stood gazing into each other eyes.
“You gonna kiss now?” Kristen’s voice piped up.
They both whirled to find the child watching with a half questioning, half expectant look on her face.
Cody looked away with a slight smile, while Anna turned red. “What are you doing in here?” Anna asked sternly.
“Just came to see if you were done.” Kristen shrugged.
“What’s goin’ on?” Peter entered the kitchen.
“Anna and Cody are gonna kiss.” Kristen informed her brother.
“Ohh…Anna’s got a boyfriend,” Peter teased in a sing-song voice. Kristen willingly joined in.
“I am not kissing anyone and I don’t have a boyfriend!” Anna sputtered. “Honestly, don’t you two nuisances have something else to do?” Her siblings both shook their heads, their eyes still dancing with mischief. “Well, go find something to do,” Anna commanded. Still laughing, Peter and Kristen grabbed their coats and headed outside to play.
When they were gone, Anna refused to meet Cody’s eyes. Never in her life had she been so embarrassed. “I’m sorry about all that,” she apologized.
Cody laughed merrily. “They’re just kids. Besides, they had some pretty good ideas.”
Anna looked up at that. “I think you’re awfully nice and pretty, too, Anna. And I really would like to come back and visit you if it’s alright.” Cody explained.
“I’d like that, Will.” Anna said shyly, looking into eyes as blue as the spring sky.
Cody slowly leaned over to kiss her cheek. Neither of them noticed the two impish faces pressed to the window.
Cody saddled Soda and was ready to ride out after breakfast.
“Thank you again, Mr. Lawson, ma’am.” Cody nodded to John and Martha. They smiled and nodded back, knowing that they hadn’t seen the last of this young Express rider.
“Bye, Peter. Bye, Kristen.” Cody turned to the children. “Ya’ll be good.”
“Bye, Cody,” they replied, and Kristen gave him a hug.
Cody led his horse to the end of the yard. Anna walked beside him. “See ya in the spring,” Cody grinned.
“I’ll be waiting, no matter the season.” Anna smiled.
Cody gave her a quick kiss and mounted Soda. Waving good-bye, he rode off.
As he headed home, Cody whistled happily. He looked around at the blue sky, the sparkling white expanse of the countryside, the snow-flocked trees. Today it all looked beautiful and serene; he didn’t even feel the cold.
Maybe winter wasn’t such a bad season after all, William Cody thought to himself.