The young girl ran out from the dilapidated cabin to see who was calling her name.
A uniformed man on horseback with a small boy lying behind him, across the horse, pulled up. “Whoa there. Easy.”
“Sherriff? What’s all the hollering?”
“Take him from me, girl,” the man answered, jerking his head in the direction of the boy.
“Who… who is he?”
“Not sure. Found him on my way here.”
“Is he… dead?”
“Reckon there’s a bit of life left in him but not for much longer if you don’t…”
“Yes. Here… He’s so light. Skin and bones is all he is. Has he no family?”
“Hurry girl. Stop yapping. Look after him until your pa returns, you hear?”
“Yes sir. I’ll take great care. Sure I will.”
“You’re a good girl. Your ma would be proud of you.”
Bess smiled slightly and took the boy into the cabin. She laid him down gently on to the smaller of two beds in the single-roomed building, before returning outside.
The sheriff had already turned his horse and was about to kick his ankle to spur the animal on when Bess called after him. He turned back to face her.
“Sheriff. You said you were on your way here. Was it something I could help you with, sir?”
“No,” the sheriff smiled at how much like an adult she was already, “just coming here to check on you. I’d promised your pa.”
Bess blushed. “I’m fine. Really I am. And now I have company.”
The sheriff laughed. “I reckon it’ll be a while before he’s decent company for you Bessie but yes, you’re right, he’ll be good for you.”
She watched the sheriff ride into the wild blue yonder then hurried back into the cabin. Pulling a blanket from the other bed, she laid it carefully over the boy then went to the hearth, removed a hanging pot which she took to the kitchen area to fill then returned, lit the fire and boiled up some broth.
While she was stirring it, she looked over at the boy who was beginning to come round.
“Mama!” he called out, making Bess whimper at the thought of missing hers.
She spooned out some of the broth into a small wooden bowl and took it over to the bed, blowing on it as she walked. Sitting next to him, she smiled. “Can you sit up a little? Don’t want to make you choke now.”
The boy nodded cautiously and pulled himself upright, wincing as he did so.
“It’s OK,” Bess said, “we’ll take good care of you, make you all better.”
Until the sheriff found out who the boy was, and reunited him with his family, if he had one, Bess decided she’d be his mother and reckoned that the sheriff was right, hers would have been very proud indeed.
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