He let a last note quiver far, far away, until it dissolved in the moonlight. Everything was so beautiful that Laura wanted it to stay so forever. But Pa said it was time for little girls to go to bed.
Then Laura heard a strange, low, distant sound. "What's that!" she said.
Pa listened. "Cattle, by George!" he said. "Must be the cattle herds going north to Fort Dodge.'"
The next morning when Laura runs out of the house, she sees two men on horseback talking to Pa. Their skin is tanned dark brown and they have flaps of leather over their legs, and spurs, and wide-brimmed hats. Handkerchiefs are knotted around their necks, and pistols are on their hips.
They say, "So long!" to Pa and "Hi! Yip!" to their horses and gallop away.
"Here's a piece of luck!" Pa says to Ma. The cowboys want Pa to help keep the cattle out of the ravines along the creek bluffs. Pa will get a piece of beef for his help. Pa ties his biggest handkerchief around his neck. He shows Laura how it helps to keep the dust from the trail out of his mouth and nose. Then he rides off along the Indian trail.
He is gone all day and comes home at sunset covered with dust. There is dust in his beard and in his hair and on the rims of his eyes. He doesn't have any beef yet, because the cattle aren't all across the creek.
Pa doesn't play the fiddle and goes straight to bed after supper. Laura lies awake, listening to the wailing cowboy songs far away in the night. After everyone else is asleep, Laura creeps to the window and peeks out. She sees three fires glowing against the edge of the land.
The next day, Pa heads off to work again. All day Laura and Mary hear the cattle bawling and see the dust blowing. Suddenly, a dozen longhorn cattle come rushing up the draw away from the creek. A cowboy on a spotted mustang gallops madly to get in front of them. He waves his big hat and shouts, "Hi! Yi-yi-yi!" as they gallop out of sight.
Laura spends the rest of the afternoon running back and forth, waving her sunbonnet and shouting like a cowboy. Ma finally tells her to stop. It is not ladylike to yell like a cowboy.
Late that afternoon, three riders came out of the west, driving a cow and her little baby. One of the riders is Pa, and he explains that the calf is too little for the journey and the cow is too skinny to sell so the cowboys have given them to Pa.
Ma, Mary, and Laura are so excited and even Baby Carrie laughs for joy. Now they will have milk to drink and butter for their cornbread.
The cow is wild and doesn't want Pa to milk her, but he pushes her against the stable and drives some slabs deep into the ground on the other side. The slabs hold her tight so she can't get away, and Pa milks her. He gets a tin cup almost full of milk.
"Tomorrow I'll build a strong, high yard for the cow, that the wolves can't get into." Pa says.
That night, Baby Carrie enjoys drinking her milk, for they all decide she should have it all. But everyone enjoys the delicious beef steaks and cornbread. As they eat, they listen to the far away songs of the cowboys.
I already knew from a previous chapter that there are no cows in this area for me to practice milking. OK, there are some wild cows, and that would fit very well with this chapter, but even my bravado quails at the thought of being seen chasing someone's wild beef cattle through a field, trying to milk them.
There are no free-range herds heading through here to the happenin' Canadian cattle markets, so riding the open range wasn't an option either. But, like Laura, I could always embrace the mystique of the lonesome cowboy.
Yes, I would become a cowboy.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
"Laura ran back and forth, waving her sunbonnet and yelling, "Hi! Yi-yi-yi!" till Ma told her to stop. It was not ladylike to yell like that. Laura wished she could be a cowboy."
The first stop on my pathway to cowboy-hood was the thrift store. Cowboys were very thrifty people, after all, and wouldn't have felt any shame in wearing someone's cast off duds. You never can tell when someone will randomly decide to unload hundreds of dollars of beautiful Western finery in just the perfect size for you. But you can tell it wasn't today. I did get a couple of cute shirts and a nice jacket, so all was not lost.
Then I moved on to a fancy-shmancy high-end department store. Yes, I'm talking about Penney's. I haven't bought a new-from-the-store pair of jeans for myself in over 5 years, and when I did, they were always from Walmart. A real cowboy doesn't skimp in the jeans department---cheap jeans have brought out the yodel in more than one hapless son of the range. I was going high quality all the way, baby!
Evidently, in my years of absence from the jean market, it has gotten---ahem--a tad more difficult to find a pair that fits my girlish figure. To save my readers from the trauma I had to endure, I am including a handy field guide to the Language of Jeans.
Low-rise: You'll put the "muffin" in muffin-top, girlfriend!
Boot cut: Made for a giraffe. I'm more along the lines of a pygmy horse.
Flattering fit: If you're a Brazilian super-model. If you're not, don't bother.
Skinny jeans: Free humiliation with every purchase!
Attractive embroidery and design: Will only appear on low-rise or skinny jeans. Those of you shaped like normal people are out of luck.
I should also include a little warning about fitting room mirrors. Don't look in them. Just don't.
It was challenging, but flinty determination is a fitting character trait for any cowboy. I persevered and walked out of there with a pair of jeans I didn't absolutely hate. Score one for me. Now, on to boot shopping.
The second store had only a couple of pairs in the style I was looking for. But both of them were absolutely gorgeous. I finally picked the one that was a little wider in the leg, since for *gasp* $150 I expected to get quite a bit of mileage out of them (think "Ya-ya Sisterhood of the Traveling Boots") and not everyone has my shapely (read: scrawny) legs.
I also picked up a cowboy hat there, because no cowboy would be caught out on the open trail without his hat. The sun was brutal, and if you lost your hat, you might be forced into wearing----oh, the horror---a sunbonnet. Besides, I looked cute in it.
"I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy."
"I see by your outfits that you are cowboys, too."
(It's a Smothers Brothers joke...you had to be there)
Then we got down to the serious business of looking beautiful. At our age, it takes some fierce focusing to pull it off!
It was lots of fun getting to be the Montanan version of a princess for the day. I'm not the type that does the whole "getting fixed up and going out" thing very much, so I really enjoyed shucking off my work-a-day persona for a couple hours. And I got to do it without the actual inconveniences of the real cowboy experience.
Dust, bugs, saddle sores. You can keep them.
I'll just stand around looking cute.