Uncle Jim had friends everywhere. Continually we were pulling up by one of the tiny two-roomed shacks wherein dwelt the small settlers. The houses were always of new boards, unpainted, perched on four-by-fours, in the middle of bare ground, perhaps surrounded by young poplars or cottonwoods, but more likely fully exposed to the sun. A trifling open shed protected a battered buggy on the thills and wheels of which perched numerous chickens. A rough corral and windmill completed the arrangements. Near the house was usually a small patch of alfalfa. Farther out the owner was engaged in the strenuous occupation of brushing and breaking a virgin country.
To greet us rushed forth a half-dozen mongrel dogs, and appeared a swarm of children, followed by the woman of the place. Uncle Jim knew them all by name, including even the dogs. He carefully wound the reins around the whip, leaned forward comfortably, and talked. Henry dozed; and I listened with interest. Uncle Jim had the natural gift of popularity. By either instinct or a wide experience he knew just what problems and triumphs, disappointments and perplexities these people were encountering; and he plunged promptly into the discussion of them. Also, I was never able to make out whether Uncle Jim was a conscious or unconscious diplomat; but certainly he knew how judiciously to make use of the subtle principle, so well illustrated by Moliere, that it pleases people to confer small favours. Thus occasionally he gravely “borrowed” a trifle of axle grease, which we immediately applied, or a cup of milk, or a piece of string to mend something. When finally our leisurely roadside call was at an end, we rolled away from unanimously hearty signals of farewell.
In accordance with our settled feeling of taking things as they came, and trying for everything, we blundered into varied experiences, none of which arrange themselves in recollection with any pretence of logical order. Perhaps it might not be a bad idea to copy our method, to set forth and see where we land.
One of the most amusing happened when we were out with my younger, but not smaller, brother. This youth was at that time about eighteen years old, and six feet two in height. His age plus his stature equalled a certain lankiness. As we drove peacefully along the highway we observed in the adjacent field a coyote. The animal was some three or four hundred yards away, lying down, his head between his paws, for all the world like a collie dog. Immediately the lad was all excitement. We pointed out the well-known facts that the coyote is no fool and is difficult to stalk at best; that while he is apparently tame as long as the wagon keeps moving, he decamps when convinced that his existence is receiving undue attention; that in the present instance the short grass would not conceal a snake; and that, finally, a 16-gauge gun loaded with number-six shot was not an encouraging coyote weapon. He brushed them aside as mere details. So we let him out.