Little Jim talked horses and cattle and ranching with the grown-ups and took their good-natured joshing philosophically. He seldom retorted hastily, but, rather, blinked his eyes and wrinkled his forehead as he digested this or that pleasantry, and either gave it the indifferent acknowledgment of “Shucks! Think you can josh me?” or, if the occasion and the remark seemed to call for more serious consideration, he rose to it manfully, and often to the embarrassment of the initial speaker.
Little Jim liked to go to town with his father, yet he considered town really a sort of suburb to his real world, the homestead, which he had seen change from a prairie level of unfenced space to a small—and to him—complete kingdom of pasture lot, hayfield, garden, corrals, stable, and house. Town was simply a place to which you went to buy things, get the mail, exchange views on the weather and grazing, and occasionally help the hands load a shipment of cattle. Little Jim helped by sitting on the top rail of the pens and commenting on the individual characteristics of the cattle, and, sometimes, of the men loading them. In such instances he found opportunity to pay off old scores. Incidentally he kept the men in good humor by his lively comment.
Little Jim was six years of age when his mother left to resume her former occupation of waitress in the station restaurant of Laramie, where she had been popular because of her golden hair, her blue eyes, and her ability to “talk back” to the regular customers in a manner which they seemed to enjoy. Big Jim married her when he was not much more than a boy—twenty, in fact; and during the first few years they were happy together. But homesteading failed to supply more than their immediate needs.
Occasional trips to town at first satisfied the wife’s craving for the attention and admiration that most men paid to her rather superficial good looks. But as the years slipped by, with no promise of easier conditions, she became dissatisfied, shrewish, and ashamed of her lack of pretty things to wear. Little Jim was, of course, as blind to all this as he was to his need for anything other than his overalls, shoes, and jumper. He thought his mother was pretty and he often told her so.
Meanwhile, Big Jim tried to blind himself to his wife’s growing dissatisfaction. He was too much of a man to argue her own short-comings as against his inability to do more for her than he was doing. But when she did leave, with simply a brief note saying that she was tired of it all, and would take care of herself, what hit Big Jim the hardest was the fact that she could give up Little Jim without so much as a word about him. Every one liked Little Jim, and the mother’s going proved something that Big Jim had tried to ignore for several years—that his wife cared actually nothing for the boy. When Big Jim finally realized this, his indecision evaporated. He would sell out and try his fortunes in Arizona, where his sister Jane lived, the sister who had never seen Little Jim, but who had often written to Big Jim, inviting him to come and bring his family for a visit.