“Well, I—er—I punch cows,” he admitted guardedly, his gaze elsewhere than on her face.
“I knew you were a cowboy, the moment you entered the door! I could tell by the tan and the straight, elastic walk, and the silk handkerchief knotted around your throat in that picturesque fashion. (Oh, I’m older than you, and dare speak as I think!) I’ve read a great deal about cowboys, and I do admire you all as a type of free, great-hearted, noble manhood!”
Andy looked exactly as if someone had caught him at something exceedingly foolish. He tried to sugar his coffee calmly, and so sent it sloshing all over the saucer.
“Do you live near here?” she asked next, beaming upon him in the orthodox, motherly fashion.
“Yes, ma’am, not very near,” he was betrayed into saying—and she might make what she could of it. He had not said “ma’am” before since he had gone to school.
“Oh, I’ve heard how you Western folks measure distances,” she teased. “About how many miles?”
“I suppose that is not far, to you knights of the plains. At home it would be called a dreadfully long journey. Why, I have known numbers of old men and women who have never been so far from their own doors in their lives! What would you think, I wonder, of their little forty acre farms?”
Andy had been brought to his sixteenth tumultuous birthday on a half-acre in the edge of a good-sized town, but he did not say so. He shook his head vaguely and said he didn’t know. Andy Green, however, was not famous for clinging ever to the truth.
“You out here in this great, wide, free land, with the free winds ever blowing and the clouds—”
“Will you pass the butter, please?” Andy hated to interrupt, but he was hungry.
The strange lady passed the butter and sent with it a smile. “I have read and heard so much about this wild, free life, and my heart has gone out to the noble fellows living their lonely life with their cattle and their faithful dogs, lying beside their camp-fires at night while the stars stood guard—”
Andy forgot his personal embarrassment and began to perk up his ears. This was growing interesting.
“—And I have felt how lonely they must be, with their rude fare and few pleasures, and what a field there must be among them for a great and noble work; to uplift them and bring into their lonely lives a broader, deeper meaning; to help them to help themselves to be better, nobler men and women—”
“We don’t have any lady cowpunchers out here,” interposed Andy mildly.
The strange lady had merely gone astray a bit, being accustomed to addressing Mothers’ Meetings and the like. She recovered herself easily. “Nobler men, the bulwarks of our nation.” She stopped and eyed Andy archly. Andy, having observed that her neck was scrawny, with certain cords down the sides that moved unpleasantly when she talked, tried not to look.