The boy wore no air of complaint. He was merely stating facts.
Wesley Sinton looked intently at Billy. “Are you twisted up inside now?” he asked.
Billy laid a grimy hand on the region of his stomach and the filthy little waist sank close to the backbone. “Bet yer life, boss,” he said cheerfully.
“How long have you been twisted?” asked Sinton.
Billy appealed to the others. “When was it we had the stuff on the bridge?”
“Yesterday morning,” said the girl.
“Is that all gone?” asked Sinton.
“She went and told us to take it home,” said Billy ruefully, “and ’cos she said to, we took it. Pa had come back, he was drinking some more, and he ate a lot of it—almost the whole thing, and it made him sick as a dog, and he went and wasted all of it. Then he got drunk some more, and now he’s asleep again. We didn’t get hardly none.”
“You children sit on the steps until the man comes,” said Sinton. “I’ll send you some things to eat with him. What’s your name, sonny?”
“Billy,” said the boy.
“Well, Billy, I guess you better come with me. I’ll take care of him,” Sinton promised the others. He reached a hand to Billy.
“I ain’t no baby, I’m a boy!” said Billy, as he shuffled along beside Sinton, taking a kick at every movable object without regard to his battered toes.
Once they passed a Great Dane dog lolling after its master, and Billy ascended Sinton as if he were a tree, and clung to him with trembling hot hands.
“I ain’t afraid of that dog,” scoffed Billy, as he was again placed on the walk, “but onc’t he took me for a rat or somepin’ and his teeth cut into my back. If I’d a done right, I’d a took the law on him.”
Sinton looked down into the indignant little face. The child was bright enough, he had a good head, but oh, such a body!
“I ’bout got enough of dogs,” said Billy. “I used to like ’em, but I’m getting pretty tired. You ought to seen the lickin’ Jimmy and Belle and me give our dog when we caught him, for taking a little bird she gave us. We waited ’till he was asleep ’nen laid a board on him and all of us jumped on it to onc’t. You could a heard him yell a mile. Belle said mebbe we could squeeze the bird out of him. But, squeeze nothing! He was holler as us, and that bird was lost long ’fore it got to his stummick. It was ist a little one, anyway. Belle said it wouldn’t ‘a’ made a bite apiece for three of us nohow, and the dog got one good swaller. We didn’t get much of the meat, either. Pa took most of that. Seems like pas and dogs gets everything.”
Billy laughed dolefully. Involuntarily Wesley Sinton reached his hand. They were coming into the business part of Onabasha and the streets were crowded. Billy understood it to mean that he might lose his companion and took a grip. That little hot hand clinging tight to his, the sore feet recklessly scouring the walk, the hungry child panting for breath as he tried to keep even, the brave soul jesting in the face of hard luck, caught Sinton in a tender, empty spot.