“Winter’s Chill” Brett Reeder Lost River Range, Mackay, Idaho,
The dog barking outside the barn drowned out even the howl of the blue norther. But Angel Favor was not one to be moved by a dog. Not when that wind blew a purple cloud wall from the north over what was a warm November day, smothering it in a deadly freezing hell in but a handful of hours.
But a pair of shotgun barrels poked in his wind-chapped face gave him plenty of reason to move, even if they were being held by this wisp of a girl.
“Whoa, there, Missy. Hope you know what you’re doing with that scatter gun,” Angel said as he held up his hands in exaggerated surrender. The gun looked to be a 12-gauge and the girl’s slender finger was wrapped around both triggers.
“I do. Now what are you doing in our barn? And put the fire out. Now!” the girl said. Angel gauged her to be about 12 too.
“I’m just trying to get out of this dam…I mean this darn blue norther, Missy. Finally get warm. Don’t mean no harm. Didn’t wish to bother the house and me and old Monkey Face over there was about to die if we didn’t some shelter. And quick-like.” Angel pointed to the corner where his shivering roan shared hay with a pair of mules in one of the stalls.
“Hope you don’t mind, I borrowed one of your blankets for my horse. She never could handle the cold. I can’t, either,” Angel said with a grin as he kicked out the small fire he’d built in a hole he dug in the hard-packed dirt floor.
“You haven’t answered my question, Mister,” the girl said as she raised the heavy barrels at Angel’s head again.
“Name’s Favor, Angel Favor, Missy. Or, as my grandma who named me would say, ‘Ahn-hel Fah-vore.’ But folks just call me Angel. I was a couple days out of Panhandle City on my way to the Diamond F looking for work, when this norther blew in like nothing I ever seen. And, well, here we are. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”
“I do mind. You say you came northeast from Panhandle?”
“Yes’m, more or less.”
“You run into anybody on the trail during that time?”
“No, Missy. Not a one.”
“You’re sure,” the girl said, as she eased her grip on the gun and idly let the the 12-gauge barrels droop toward the floor. The expression on her face fell as well.
Angel grabbed the muzzles and pulled the gun from her hands. The girl jumped back and tripped on the oversized boots she wore beneath her blanket robe.
“Honest, little Missy, I don’t mean anyone no harm. I wouldn’t even have stopped here if it weren’t for the cold. And for gosh sakes, now it’s snowing, too. Would it be too much to ask if I could come into your house just to get warm? Here, take the scatter gun back as a sign of good faith,” Angel said.
He offered the girl his hand and helped her to her feet, handing back the shotgun.
“All right, Mister. You can come inside. We’re good Christians in this house and Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. So that’s what we do”
“Amen to that, little sister,” Angel said, raising his hand to Heaven.
“Glad to hear that you believe those teachings, Mister. But there’s another one I ain’t said yet.”
“What’s that, Missy’?”
“How are you at caring for the sick?”
Once Angel saw to his horse’s comfort, he followed the girl through the freezing wind and cutting snow toward her house, pulling some firewood from the stack by the door. Before he entered, he took a look back at the barn. Or toward the barn, the blizzard having erased it from view, just as it had the footprints he and the girl had made only seconds before.
“This ain’t good,” Angel muttered to himself as he entered the cabin and pushed the door closed.
“All right, Mr. Angel Favor, you can throw one of those logs on the fire and shake out of your coat. There’s coffee in the pot and some stew left in the Dutch oven. Oh, and I’m Martine White. Folks call me Marti,” the girl said.
“I thank you kindly, Miss Marti. I ain’t been this cold since a Norther blow in like this in ’88. And that was a killer. I mean there was cattle foundered and froze in the snow from…”
“Stop! No more,” Marti said. “Now what was it you said about tending to the sick?”
“Well that depends on the kinda sick,” Angel said as he ladled the boiled down dregs of the stew onto a chipped white plate with blue flowers around its rim. “I ain’t know miracle worker or nothing, but I’ve tended some old boys back from snakebite, fevers, even got one boy from Kansas through the bloody flux.”
That’s when Angel heard the weak cough from behind a curtain at the far end of the cabin.
“What do you know about the grippe?” Marti asked. She pulled back the curtain and revealed a woman, Angel guessed to be in her mid-thirties, lying in a brass-framed double bed.
“My mother’s been sick with this fever and cough for days now and is only getting weaker. My Pa didn’t know what more he could do and set out yesterday morning to fetch a doctor from Panhandle City to see if he could help, you know,” Marti’s voice cracked, “save her.”
“You say your mama’s been like this for a few days now?” Angel asked.
“Yep. Fever, aches all over, then this cough. Mister, when you said you didn’t see my father on the road to Panhandle, an’ then this blizzard started, all I could think was I was going to be an orphan in a few days. And that’s only if this storm lifts.” Marti took the wet dish towel off her mother’s forehead and dipped it into a washers on the table next to her bed. She rung out the towel and placed back on her mother’s head.
“She’s burning up, Mister. Can you help at all?”
“Damn, Missy, the grippe, that there Russian influenza, is nothing I want to get too close to. I seen it run through Indian camps, cow camps, whole towns and leave…well, let’s say it wasn’t a good thing.”
“Then there’s nothing we can do. I don’t even know if my father’s made it to Panhandle or is holed up someplace in this storm, or his horse foundered or busted it’s leg, or…”
“Worryin’ like that’s not going to help your Ma or your pa. And most ‘specially you, Miss Marti.” Angel said.
He quickly put on his coat, pulled down his hat and moved toward the door.
“Your gonna leave us? What kind of Christian man would do such a thing?” Marti shouted as he grabbed the doorknob.
Angel turned and said, “I never claimed to be the greatest Christian ever wore shoes, but you stay here.” With that he opened the door to the howling wind and cold and strode out in the direction of the barn. he returned in a couple of minutes, his hat and shoulders covered in snow.
“Missy, would take my hat and shake the snow off it into your Mama’s basin there? We gotta help get her fever down first. Now, please tell me your Mama is a good baker. I need me some cinnamon,” Angel said as he shed his coat and placed it over a chair.
Marti looked up with a start from dropping the snow off the brim of Angel’s Stetson into the basin.
“Baking? Baking? My Mama’s dying here and you want to make a damn cake?”
“No, Missy, I ain’t much of a baker. But I seen this tin of medicines they sell in Dallas what claim to help with the influenza. Says on the tin they’re made of cinnamon and quinine.
“My mother’s spices are in that cabinet by the stove, but where in God’s name are you going to get…”
Angel pulled a small bottle from his pocket and plunked it on the table top.
“I ain’t never traveled without it since they give it to me in Cuba for the malaria. It’s good for fevers and whatever’s in your blood that might be making you sick. The cinnamon, or so my big sister taught me, can help with pains and helps with colds and the grippe. Now I don’t know how much of what is in them pills they had in the apothecary, but I’d say your mother’s not got much to lose if we make us a weak tea of these things and have her take as much as you can give her. Then there’s only one other thing I know that’ll help her now,” Angel said.
“What’s that?” Marti asked.
“Pray, Miss Marti. Pray like you never did before.”
“Here, Mama, try to take some of this tea. Might help you feel better,” Marti said as she spooned some of Angel’s concoction to her mother’s lips. Marti heard the door creak open behind her and felt the wind whoosh snow into the kitchen.
“Mister!” she called, as Angel closed the door behind him.
“Gosh darn that man. Now he leaves me to fend for myself. Don’t worry, Mama, I’m sure Pa’s on his way back with the doctor. We just had a bit of a storm that’s slowing him down,” she said. But Marti was beginning to feel none of them were going to survive this storem, one way or another.
Then the door burst open again and Angel rushed into the cabin looking like a Stetson-wearing snowman.
“You miss me, Miss Marti?” Angel said with something between a grin and a grimace. “I think I got something else that might help your mother until your daddy gets back with the sawbones.” Angel pulled yet another bottle from the pocket of his gum rubber rain slicker.
“What do you have now, Mister Favor?”
“You can call me Angel, Missy, seeing as how we’re going to be neighbors for awhile. This here is some horse liniment I picked up in Panhandle to help ease old Monkey Face’s aches and pains. Mine, too, truth to tell.”
“You’re not putting that stuff on my mother,” Marti blurted. “Like to burn the skin right off her.”
“No, Missy, I want her to breathe it.”
“Yep. I’m gonna put a dab of this here liniment in a pot of boiling water and let you mama breathe in the steam. This stuff’s got camphor and menthol in it and I just know I seen something in that same apothecary that folks with colds were supposed to smear on their chests. Supposed to break up their catarrh. Pretty sure it was something like this stuff. Sure as heck smelled something like it,” Angel said as he put a pot on the stove and set it to boiling.
“I’m just going to use a teeny tiny bit, all right? Just to get the vapors up. Might help. Couldn’t hurt more than what your poor mama’s going through right now. If I’m right, it might help her get up some of that stuff and ease her breathing,” he said.
After that, Angel wrapped some snow in an oilcloth tablecloth and his own coat and placed them on either side of the Mrs. White.
“Why don’t you get some sleep, Miss Marti?” Angel said to the girl. “I’ll keep the fire going and an eye on your mama.”
“But, Mama and, and my pa…”
“I’ll be listening for him, too. Was he well mounted when he left? Did he have a blanket and a decent coat?”
“My father has a good horse. Marcus Aurelius, he calls him. He’s a foreman at the Diamond F, so he needs a good horse for that and to keep our own stock under watch. And, yeah, he had a blanket on Marcus and Mama wouldn’t let him leave without his new coat,” Marti said.
“That’s good news, Missy. Now why don’t you get some sleep and I’ll keep an eye on your mama. Get me another pot of coffee going, if you don’t mind.”
“All right,” Marti sighed. “I’ve been up for a whole day and a half now and I don’t think I could stay awake another minute. Thank you, Mister Favor.”
“You can call me Angel, Missy. We been partners in helping your mama and I think partners can call each other by their first names,” Angel said with a grin.
“Thank you again, Mist…I mean Angel,“ Marti murmured as she rolled into the blankets of her bed behind another curtain dividing that end of the cabin. Angel could hear her rhythmic, soft breathing within a minute.
“Well, I guess I’d better make me some coffee,” Angel said. After the water had come to a boil, he let the ground beans sit in the pot for about a minute and then poured himself a cup from the rack that contained other pieces of the blue decorated china upon which he had eaten his stew. When was that? Four, five, six hours ago? He’d lost track of time. That sure is some mighty fine dishes to own when you’re living out here, he thought.
Angel looked over at Mrs. White. He had been fearful of touching Marti’s mother because, after all, she was a married woman. A gentleman does not touch a woman of such refinement in her nighty without benefit of clergy, he thought. Or, in some of the places he’d been, five dollars.
He also wasn’t so sure he wanted to get close enough to Mrs. White should she give him the illness that might take her life that very night. But with Marti sleeping soundly, the poor little mite, Angel knew he’d have to minister to the woman himself. He placed another pot of water on the stove and fetched the basin in which he had placed the liniment and water before.
“Damn, this does have a certain something to it,” he said to himself as his eyes watered and nose ran. He made another cup of his quinine and cinnamon concoction and moved to Mrs. White’s bedside.
He lifted the spoon to her slips and she weakly said, “Martine?”
“She sleeping over in her corner, Missus,” Angel said.
“Doctor?” she wheezed.
“No, ma’am. Just someone who stopped to help.” She took a sip of the tea and gave a weak cough. “That’s it, Missus. Let’s get some of that stuff up.”
“Matthew?” she whispered.
“No, ma’am. Angel, Angel Fav…oh, your husband. No, ma’am. He ain’t back yet. But don’t you worry. Little Martine has been taking extra good care of you. You’ve got yourself a strong little girl over there. She a downright hero.”
Mrs. White gave Angel a weak smile and began to cough again.
“Ma’am? I want to help you along a little with that cough. First have another sip of this tea and then I want you to sit up a little and breathe in some steam from a basin I’m preparin’. Think you can do that for me, ma’am?”
“Good. I’ll be back in two swishes with my other concoction.”
She grasped his hand and, in a weak voice, said, “Thank you, Mister…?”
“Angel, ma’am. Angel Favor. Now you just rest here for only a minute.”
Angel returned with the liniment-infused basin of water and a towel he had soaked. He placed the basin next to the woman and held the towel her head to keep the vapors where she could breathe them.
Mrs. White’s breath rattled in her chest and Angel thought this might be the end.
“Marti, Marti, come over here to your mama,” he yelled. He was fearful her mother was dying and didn’t want either of the White womenfolk to not say goodbye if this was it.
Angel pulled the towel away as Marti ran to her mother’s bedside.
“Mama? Mama? Are you all right?” Marti said.
Mrs, White gave a great sigh, followed a wet cough of loosened phlegm.
“Cover her mouth and let her spit that stuff out, Marti,” Angel said, just as Mrs. White coughed up another bit of the stuff congesting her lungs. She then took a deep inhalation and coughed again.
“Oh, Mama.” Marti cried. “Is this good, Mr. Angel?”
Angel’s mind was spinning. Had he killed this poor woman with his ministrations?
“I ain’t sure, Marti. Not at all. But better out of her than in, I’d imagine,” Angel said unconvincingly.
The dog suddenly barked, the cabin door flew open and a large man with a torn bit of blanket wrapped around his face stood in the doorway. He was covered in snow. Behind him, Angel could see the snow was not falling so heavy as before, but the wind still howled.
“Who’re you?” the man growled, a Colt pistol suddenly appearing in his hand.
“Pa!” Marti shouted and ran to the snow-covered figure, who raised his Peacemaker.
Angel stood back from Mrs. White and said, “Easy there, mister. I’m just a traveler caught in this norther who your daughter asked to help with her ailin’ mama.”
“It’s all right, Pa. Mister Favor has been helping me. I didn’t know what to do when you didn’t get back after the storm hit,” Marti said.
From the bed they hear a voice say, “Matthew, close that door before we freeze to death.”
“Sarah? Sarah!” Matthew White cried, holstered his revolver and rushed past Angel to his wife. “I was so afraid I’d return and you’d be…you’d be…gone. And…what the hell is all this? You smell like a gimpy horse and a tin of muffins. And the bed is getting wet from…is this snow?”
“That’d be some of the things I did to help your Missus,” Angel said.
Matthew White felt his wife’s forehead and noted her fever had broken. Her breathing was stronger and her grip on her husband was stronger than when he left two days before.
“I tried to get to Panhandle, but the norther overtook me and Marcus and I had to take shelter in the abandoned barn at the old Blandings’ place. Never could make it to the doctor,” he said, shaking his head.
“That’s how I found Mr. Favor, Pa. In our barn,” Marti said.
“I saw the roan in with my mules. You had to take my horse’s brand new blanket for that old mare?” White said.
“Under the circumstances, I didn’t get too choosy. I took the one on top,” Angel said.
“Well, whatever you did, it doesn’t matter because you helped my wife and daughter when I couldn’t. I don’t know how, but Sarah seems to have broken through from what I was afraid was the influenza we’ve been hearing so much about. I don’t know how we can thank you,” Matthew White said.
“Well, once all this storm ends up, I imagine you’ll might need some hands over at the Diamond F. I’m even better at taking care of stock than I am people,” Angel said.
“And he’s really good at taking care of people, Pa,” Marti said as she looked up into her father’s eyes.
“He’s a godsend, Matthew,” Sarah whispered from her bed.
“You got a job, Mister… I’m sorry, what’d you say your name was?”
“Ahn-hel Fah-vore. But most folks call me Angel.”
This story came out of nowhere and tried going back there three times. But, over the past three days I battled my way though it. I wanted to do a story about one of the great Blue Northers that struck the Texas panhandle in the latter part of the 19th Century, or the one in 1911. My friends from Texas and the southern Plains know what I’m talking about. I didn’t realize when I “built” Angel, how resourceful he was. He surprised all of us. Hope you could suspend your disbelief for a spell and enjoyed the story.