The sun had set and the night air was turning cold. The boy shivered as he worked his way through the trees, and hoped he could find a warm place to sleep. He finally gave up and sat under a tree, he drew his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees. Exhausted, he looked up at the sky then sighed and lowered his head to rest on his knees.
The boy’s head came up suddenly, what was that, that smell? He looked around and found the smell again. It was a fire and maybe bacon, maybe someone was camped near by. He got up and followed the smell of bacon, and then he saw it. A small stable, a line shack, and there was smoke coming out of the chimney.
Someone was in there so the boy snuck up to the window and peeked in. An old man was standing at the stove cooking something and there on the table was - the bacon.
His mouth was watering and he was trying to figure a way to get the old man out of the shack. He looked around and then picked up some stones and tossed them toward the stable.
Inside the old man heard the noise and went out to check on the horses.
The boy waited till the old man went into the stable and darted into the shack and grabbed the bacon. He was almost out the door to safety when the old man walked in and caught him.
“Well, well, whatcha doin’ young un?” He saw the bacon clutched in the boy’s dirty hand. “Are ya hungry, boy?” The old man asked.
“Yes sir, ain’t had nothing to eat for a couple days.” He looked down at the bacon in his hands and put the meat back on the table. He kept his head down and waited, he hoped the old man wasn’t going to beat him. That’s what usually happened when he got caught stealing food. He tried to hide his fear but was sure the old man him tremble.
“Name’s Jelly and this here is Lancer Ranch. Sit yer self down, nuf food for the both of us.” Jelly smiled and motioned for the boy to sit.
He moved slowly to the chair and sat down. “Aren’t ya gonna hit me for trying to steal your food?” He was still nervous but the old man didn’t seem threatening.
Jelly shook his head, “Naw, ain’t gonna be hittin’ on ya.” This kid reminded him of some of his boys, the ones who now had safe homes and people who loved them. This one also reminded him of Johnny with his dark hair, blue eyes, and his haunted look.
“What’s yer name boy?” Jelly asked as he dished out the food.
“Billy.” He answered as his stomach growled. Billy kept his head down as he tried to calm himself.
“Eat up young un.” Jelly smiled as he watched the boy shovel in the food. He kept smiling at the boy, he didn’t like to see the fear the boy was trying to hide.
When the boy came up for air Jelly asked him, “How old ya be boy?”
“Don’t know exactly, think ‘bout sixteen.” He looked up as he answered then took a long drink from the cup of the water Jelly gave him.
Jelly rubbed his chin, “Where ya headed Billy?”
“Nowhere in particular, just movin’ on.” Billy thought the old man asked a lot of questions, but like him just the same and lost some of the fear.
“Well how ‘bout ya come along to Lancer with me, I could be usin’ some help. Mr. Lancer is a good man to work fer.”
“He be willing to take me on, don’t know much about ranching.” Billy lowered his head to his chest and wrapped his arms around himself. “Been in a orphanage, just ran away.” He took a breath and confessed, “I been in trouble too for stealing food.”
The boy reminded Jelly of Johnny, they both bowed their heads and wrapped their arms around their chests for protection. It made him wonder what else this boy had suffered so far.
Jelly knew this boy needed saving just like another lost boy did a year ago.