“She didn’t tell me, either, Jimmy. But you wouldn’t understand.”
Jimmy puckered his forehead. “I guess ma kind of throwed us down, didn’t she, dad?”
“We’ll have to forget about it,” said Big Jim slowly. “Down at Aunt Jane’s place in—”
“Somethin’ ‘s burnin’, dad!”
Big Jim turned to the stove. Little Jim gazed at his father’s back critically. There was something in the stoop of the broad shoulders that was unnatural, strange—something that caused Little Jim to hesitate in his questioning. Little Jim idolized his father, and, with unfailing intuition, believed in him to the last word. As for his mother, who had left without explanation and would never return—Little Jim missed her, but more through habit of association than with actual grief.
He knew that his mother and father had not gotten along very well for some time. And now Little Jim recalled something that his mother had said: “He’s as much your boy as he is mine, Jim Hastings, and, if you are set on sending him to school, for goodness’ sake get him some decent clothes, which is more than I have had for many a year.”
Until then Jimmy had not realized that his clothing or his mother’s was other than it should be. Moreover, he did not want to go to school. He preferred to work on the ranch with his father. But it was chiefly the tone of his mother’s voice that had impressed him. For the first time in his young life, Little Jim felt that he was to blame for something which he could not understand. He was accustomed to his mother’s sudden fits of unreasonable anger, often followed by a cuff, or sharp reprimand. But she had never mentioned his need of better clothing before, nor her own need.
As for being as much his father’s boy as his mother’s—Little Jim felt that he quite agreed to that, and, if anything, that he belonged more to his father, who was kind to him, than to any one else in the world. Little Jim, trying to reason it out, now thought that he knew why his mother had left home. She had gone to live in town that she might have better clothes and be with folks and not wear her fingers to the bone simply for a bed and three meals a day, as Little Jim had heard her say more than once.
But the trip to Aunt Jane’s, down in Arizona, was too vivid in his imagination to allow room for pondering. Big Jim had said they were to leave in the morning. So, while supper was cooking, Little Jim slipped into his bedroom and busied himself packing his own scant belongings. Presently his father called him. Little Jim plodded out bearing his few spare clothes corded in a neat bundle, with an old piece of canvas for the covering. His father had taught him to pack.
Big Jim stared. Then a peculiar expression flitted across his face. Little Jim was always for the main chance.
“I’m all hooked up to hit the trail, dad.”
In his small blue overalls and jumper, in his alert and manful attitude, Little Jim was a pocket edition of his father.