Little Jim knew that something strange had happened, because Big Jim, his father, had sold their few head of cattle, the work team, and the farm implements, keeping only the two saddle-horses and the pack-horse, Filaree. When Little Jim asked where his mother had gone, Big Jim told him that she had gone on a visit, and would be away a long time. Little Jim wanted to know if his mother would ever come back. When Big Jim said that she would not, Little Jim manfully suppressed his tears, and, being of that frontier stock that always has an eye to the main chance, he thrust out his hand. “Well, I’ll stick with you, dad. I reckon we can make the grade.”
Big Jim turned away and stood for a long time gazing out of the cabin window toward town. Presently he felt a tug at his coat-sleeve.
“Is ma gone to live in town?”
“Then why don’t you go get her?”
“She don’t want to come back, Jimmy.”
Little Jim could not understand this. Yet he had often heard his mother complain of their life on the homestead, and as often he had watched his father sitting grimly at table, saying nothing in reply to his wife’s querulous complainings. The boy knew that his father had worked hard to make a home. They had all worked hard. But, then, that had seemed the only thing to do.
Presently Big Jim swung round as though he had made a decision. He lighted the lamp in the kitchen and made a fire. Little Jim scurried out to the well with a bucket. Little Jim was a hustler, never waiting to be told what to do. His mother was gone. He did not know why. But he knew that folks had to eat and sleep and work. While his father prepared supper, Little Jim rolled up his own shirt-sleeves and washed vigorously. Then he filled the two glasses on the table, laid the plates and knives and forks, and finding nothing else to do in the house, just then, he scurried out again and returned with his small arms filled with firewood.
Big Jim glanced at him. “I guess we don’t need any more wood, Jimmy. We’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“What? Leavin’ here?”
His father nodded.
“Goin’ to town, dad?”
“Just us two, all alone?”
“Yes. Don’t you want to go?”
“Sure! But I wish ma was comin’, too.”
Big Jim winced. “So do I, Jimmy. But
I guess we can get along all right.
How would you like to visit Aunt Jane, down in Arizona?”
“Where them horn toads and stingin’ lizards are?”
“Yes—and Gila monsters and all kinds of critters.”
“Gee! Has Aunt Jane got any of ’em on her ranch?”
Big Jim forced a smile. “I reckon so.”
Little Jim’s face was eager. “Then I say, let’s go. Mebby I can get to shoot one. Huntin’ is more fun than workin’ all the time. I guess ma got tired of workin’, too. She said that was all she ever expected to do, ’long as we lived out here on the ranch. But she never told me she was goin’ to quit.”