“Where’s your shootin’-iron?” queried Big Jim jokingly.
“Why, she’s standin’ in the corner, aside of yours. A man don’t pack his shootin’-iron in his bed-roll when he hits the trail. He keeps her handy.”
“For stingin’ lizards, eh?”
“For ‘most anything. Stingin’ lizards, Injuns, or hoss-thieves, or anything that we kin shoot. We ain’t takin’ no chances on this here trip.”
Big Jim gestured toward the table and pulled up his chair. Little Jim was too heartily interested in the meal to notice that his father gazed curiously at him from time to time. Until then, Big Jim had thought of his small son as a chipper, sturdy, willing boy—his boy. But now, Little Jim seemed suddenly to have become an actual companion, a partner, a sharer in things as they were and were to be.
Hard work and inherent industry had developed in Little Jim an independence that would have been considered precocious in the East. Big Jim was glad that the mother’s absence did not seem to affect the boy much. Little Jim seemed quite philosophical about it. Yet, deep in his heart, Little Jim missed his mother, more than his father realized. The house seemed strangely empty and quiet. And it had seemed queer that Big Jim should cook the supper, and, later, wash the dishes.
That evening, just before they went to bed, Big Jim ransacked the bureau, sorting out his own things, and laying aside a few things that his wife had left: a faded pink ribbon, an old pair of high-heeled slippers, a torn and unmended apron, and an old gingham dress. Gathering these things together, Big Jim stuffed them in the kitchen stove. Little Jim watched him silently.
But when his father came from the stove and sat down, Little Jim slipped over to him. “Dad, are you mad at ma for leavin’ us?” he queried.
Big Jim shook his head. “No, Jimmy. Just didn’t want to leave her things around, after we had gone. Benson’ll be movin’ in sometime this week. I sold our place to him.”
“The stove and beds and everything?”
Little Jim wrinkled his nose and sniffed. “Them things you put in the stove smell just like brandin’ a critter,” he said, gesturing toward the kitchen.
Big Jim gazed hard at his young son. Then he smiled to himself, and shook his head. “Just like brandin’ a critter,” he repeated, half to himself. “Just like brandin’ a critter.”
While his friends and neighbors called Jim Hastings “Big Jim,” he was no more than average size—compact, vigorous, reared in the Wyoming cattle lands, and typical of the country. He was called Big Jim simply to distinguish him from Little Jim, who was as well known in Laramie as his father. Little Jim, when but five years of age, rode his own pony, jogging alongside his father when they went to town, where he was decidedly popular with the townsfolk because of his sturdy independence and humorous grin.