The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies by Frank Gee Patchin
Chapter III. Tad Goes Into Business
After supper, that night, Banker Perkins strolled leisurely across town to the cottage occupied by Tad Butler and his mother. The house lay on the outskirts of the village, surrounded by half an acre of ground, part of which the boy tilled, keeping the little family in vegetables a great part of the year. The rest of the plot had been seeded down, and was now covered with a bright green carpet of new clover.
Tad, being busy at the grocery store that night, did not return home for his supper, so that the banker's visit was all unknown to the boy who was going stoically about his duties over in the village. Yet, in his clear eyes there was nothing of regret at his own refusal to permit the desire of his life to be gratified.
Mr. Perkins remained at the cottage for nearly an hour and a half, and a quiet smile might have been observed hovering about his lips as he bade good-night to Mrs. Butler, whose countenance reflected something of his own satisfaction.
"I will attend to the matter on Monday morning," were his parting words, at which Mrs. Butler bowed and withdrew into the cottage.
All unmindful of the important conference, Tad returned home at ten o'clock. His mother was awaiting him. She greeted him with a hearty embrace and a kiss, which the boy returned with no less fervor.
"I have a nice, warm supper ready for you, Tad," she informed him. "You must have a man's appetite by this time, for you have had hardly anything to eat since your breakfast."
"It does put an appetite into a fellow, riding behind a horse, even if it is an old lame one," laughed Tad.
"I really believe you would find pleasure in driving a wooden horse, such as I have seen in harness shops," smiled Mrs. Butler. "You are so like your grandfather. He would miss a meal at any time for the sake of driving a horse or talking horse with a friend."
"Father didn't care so much about them, did he?"
"No, your father was not particularly interested in horses. He was in too poor health to be able to handle them after he reached a position where he might have afforded such a luxury."
Tad nodded reflectively.
"And you still want a pony, do you, my son?" asked Mrs. Butler, leaning forward with a twinkle in her eyes. But the boy's gaze was fixed steadily on his plate and he failed to note the expression.
"Yes, I do, mother. However, I don't allow myself to think much about it. I have got to take care of you, first. After I have made enough so that you can get along, then I shall have a horse. But not until then."
"Perhaps you may have one sooner than you know," breathed the mother, veiling her eyes with her hands, that he might not read what was plainly written there.
Tad shot a keen glance at her, then resumed his supper in silence.
The subject was not again referred to between them, and on Monday afternoon Tad Butler was again at the grocery store, prepared for work should there be any for him.
Mr. Langdon, the proprietor, was talking with one of the men from his farm just outside the village.
"You say the old mare is unfit for further service, Jim?"
"What do you advise doing with her?"
"Very well, take the old mare out in the swamp and put her out of her misery," directed Mr. Langdon after he had thought a moment.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Langdon," interrupted Tad Butler, who had been an interested listener to the interview.
"Yes, Tad; what is it?"
"Is it old Jinny that you are speaking of, if I may ask?"
"It is," smiled the grocer, good-naturedly.
"What's the trouble with her?"
"Trouble?" sniffed the farm-hand." Jinny's got the heaves that bad she blows like a blacksmith's bellows. Why, sometimes she even coughs the oats out of her manger before she's had the chance to eat them. And that ain't all that ails her, either. I----"
"Why do you ask, Tad?" said Grocer Langdon.
"What will you take for Jinny?" inquired the boy, the color flaming to his face as a bold plan suddenly occurred to him.
"Why, what could you do with an old, broken-down animal like that?"
"I don't know. But I should like to make a bargain with you----"
"Of course if you want her you may have her, provided you get her off the premises at once," answered the grocer." She'll die on our hands presently, anyhow."
"No; I don't want the mare that way. But, I'll tell you what I will do, Mr. Langdon."
"I will clean out your store every morning for a month in payment for the mare. Yes, I will make it two months. If two months is not long enough, I will work for you longer."
"Oh, very well. The mare's not worth it. However, if you wish to have it that way I am sure I ought to be satisfied," laughed the grocer.
"Then, will you write on a piece of paper that the mare is sold to me, and that I am to clean out the store every morning in payment for her?" asked Tad.
"Certainly, if you wish it. I wish you luck," smiled Mr. Langdon, handing the agreement over the counter after he had prepared it.
With the precious document in his pocket, Tad Butler sped homeward as fast as his legs could carry him. Mrs. Butler saw him coming and wondered what the boy's haste might mean.
"I've got a horse! I've got a horse!" shouted Tad, vaulting the fence lightly and bounding up the steps. "I surely have a horse at last, mother."
Grasping his mother about the waist with both arms, Tad whirled her dizzily, the full length of the porch and back, finally dropping her into a rocking chair with a merry laugh.
"Mercy!" gasped Mrs. Butler. "You have shaken all the breath out of me. What does this whirlwind arrival mean?"
"It means that I have a horse at last, mother. To be sure, it is not much of a horse; but it's a horse just the same. And it's all mine, too."
Mrs. Butler gazed up at him in perplexity. Tad sank down at her feet and explained the terms on which he had procured Jinny from Mr. Langdon.
"Well, now that you have her, what do you mean to do with her?" asked Mrs. Butler, a quizzical smile on her face.
"With your leave, I shall bring her home. Will you let me turn Jinny in the clover patch there, mother? There'll be enough grass there to keep her all summer, and as soon as she is able to work I can get odd jobs enough with her to pay for the oats that I shall need to keep her up on," went on the boy speaking rapidly.
"Very well, Tad; the place is as much yours as it is mine," agreed Mrs. Butler, indulgently.
"And I have been thinking of something else, too--something for you. But I shall not tell you about that now. I am going to keep it as a surprise for you when I get it ready," announced the boy mysteriously. "If you have nothing for me to do just now, I think I'll go out to Mr. Langdon's farm and bring the mare in. I shall want to spend the evening making her comfortable."
Mrs. Butler gave a ready permission, and Tad hounded away, running every foot of the mile and a half to the Langdon farm, where old Jinny was turned over to him, together with a brand new halter and an old harness which the grocer had directed his man to furnish with the mare.
Tad petted and fondled the wheezy old creature, who nosed him appreciatively.
"How old is Jinny?" he asked.
"Going on twelve," answered the farm-hand laconically.
Tad opened the mare's mouth, which he studied critically.
"Humph!" he grunted, flashing a glance of disapproval at the farm-hand.
"What's that, younker? I said as she was going on twelve."
"I guess you have dropped five years out of your reckoning somewhere," answered the boy. "Jinny is past seventeen. But it's all right. It is all the same to me. I don't care if she's a hundred," decided Tad, picking up the halter and leading the mare from the yard.
"Hope she don't run away with ye," jeered the farm-hand, as boy and horse passed out into the highway. But to this Tad made no reply. He was too fully occupied with his new happiness to allow so little a thing as the farm-hand's opinion to disturb him.
Once out of sight of the farm buildings, the lad pulled the mare to one side of the road, where he examined her carefully.
"Huh!" he exclaimed. "Heaves, ringbone and spavin. I don't know how much more is the matter with her, but that's enough. Still, I think she will wiggle along for some time and be of real service if I can fix up the heaves a little. They must have filled her up on dusty hay," he decided, examining the mare's throat and nostrils. "I'll get her home and look her over more carefully."
Tad's course led him through the principal residential street of the town. But he thought nothing of this, even though his new purchase was a mere bundle of bones and scarcely able to drag its weary body along.
"She's mine," he whispered, as the sense of possession took full hold of him. "Mine, all mine!"
Just ahead of him stood the home of Stacy Brown's uncle.
Chunky was standing in front of the gate, both hands thrust into his trousers pockets. He had observed the strange outfit coming down the street, but at first the full meaning of it did not impress him. Now he discovered that the procession consisted of Tad Butler and an emaciated, hesitating old horse.
Stacy's eyes gradually closed until they were mere slits, through which he peered inquiringly.
"Hullo, Tad," he greeted.
"Hello, Chunky," returned the freckle-faced boy with a grin.
"What you got there, a skeleton?"
"No; this is a mare. Her name is Jinny and she's mine."
"Huh! Skate, I call her. Where did you get her?"
"Bought her," answered Tad proudly.
Chunky emitted a long-drawn whistle.
"What are you going to do with her?" he demanded, a sudden suspicion entering his mind.
"First, I am going to doctor her up and make a real live horse of her. Then, perhaps, she will join the Pony Riders' Club."
"I said she might join the club," reiterated Tad.
"Then I resign," declared Chunky.
"All right," retorted Tad. "Jinny's better than no horse at all. And you haven't any."
"Yes, but my uncle is going to get me one next week. He's going to buy the handsomest one he can find out at the McCormick ranch," chortled the fat boy.
"Gid-ap!" commanded Tad, his face sobering. "I don't care. I'll show them yet," he gritted, urging old Jinny along with sundry coaxes and promises of a real meal upon their arrival home.
Though the boy tried to keep his purchase a secret until he should have conditioned the mare a little, Stacy Brown lost no time in informing the other members of the club, and through them the news soon became the property of the village. As a result, Tad was the butt of many jokes and jibes, to all of which he returned a quiet smile, registering a mental promise to "show them."
In two weeks time he had worked a marvelous change in Jinny. One who had seen her on the day the boy brought her home, would scarcely have recognized in her the old, wind-broken skeleton that she had appeared two weeks previously.
By this time, Tad was beginning to use her to haul up wood which he had gathered in a patch of forest below the village. He would first gather and pile the poles; then, wrapping a rope about all he thought the mare could draw, would make her haul them home. Here he sawed the poles to stove lengths in preparation for the winter. This work Mrs. Butler had always been obliged to hire done, and the saving now was of no small moment to her.
One hot afternoon, however, Tad had left Jinny in the shade of the trees to rest, while he wandered out to the highway and sat down to think.
He had been there not more than fifteen minutes when the faint chug, chug of a motor car was borne to his ears. It was still some distance away, but from the sound he knew the car was approaching rapidly.
"If they keep on at that gait, something surely will happen," decided Tad, being fully aware of the dangers that lay in the stretch of road between himself and the oncoming car.
A few moments later he saw the car round the bend in the road just beyoud him. It came tearing along, swerved unsteadily from one side of the road to the other, then was brought to a sudden, grinding stop, narrowly missing a plunge into the roadside ditch.
"The steering gear has gone wrong. I think the ball has been wrenched from the socket," announced the driver of the car, disgustedly. "I wish I could see a horse."
"What are you grinning at, you young ape?" snapped the driver, voicing his increasing irritation. "You seem to think this is some kind of a joke."
"I am not laughing at you, sir," answered Tad respectfully.
"You'd better not," growled the driver. "How far is it to Chillicothe, kid?"
"About a mile and a half," replied the boy.
"Can I get a horse anywhere around here?"
"I reckon you can. I've got a horse."
"You? Where is it?" demanded the autoist doubtfully.
"In the bushes, back here a piece. What'll you give me to pull you in?"
"I'll give you five dollars," announced the driver eagerly. "But be quick about it."
Tad rose slowly and stretched himself.
"I'll do it for two," he announced, to the surprise and amusement of the occupants of the car.
In a few moments Jinny had been led out, Tad taking along the rope that he used in hauling the wood. One end he fastened securely to the front axle of the car, attaching the other to the whiffletree that he had made to use in the woods.
"Now, if you will start your engine and give me just a little lift, I think I can draw you in. Can you steer the car enough to keep it in the road, do you think?"
"I will try," answered the driver. "But if I find I can't, I'll toot my horn, which will be the signal for you to stop."
It was all the old mare could do to draw the heavy car over the slight rise of ground that lay just beyoud where the automobile had been stalled; yet, with the aid of the power of the car itself, they managed to make the hill all right. At last the boy pulled the car and its occupants up in front of the blacksmith shop in the village, collecting his fee with the air of one used to transacting similar business every day.
Tad, however, did not return to the woods that day. Instead, he turned old Jinny toward home, which he made all haste to reach.
Arriving there he placed the money he had earned in his mother's hands.
"Just earned it with Jinny," he explained proudly, in answer to her surprised look. "I'll get the wood to-morrow, and maybe I'll catch another automobile."
However, Tad's luck deserted him next day, though three days later he earned a dollar and a half towing in a disabled car.
This led the lad to ponder deeply, the result being a hurried trip to the store, followed by sundry mysterious preparations in the stable at the rear of the house.
Tad's early mornings were devoted to cleaning up the store, so that he had no time then to give to his own affairs. Late one afternoon in the middle of the following week, Tad Butler, driving Jinny and with a parcel under his arm, moved down the street toward the woods.
Arriving at the woods he tied Jinny to a tree and walked on around a bend in the highway, where he unrolled his parcel. A coil of clothes line dropped from it.
The bundle, which proved to be a long strip of canvas, Tad stretched out, tying an end of the clothes line on either side.
The boy's next move was to climb a tree at one side of the road, and make fast one of the lines. Descending, he did the same on the opposite side of the highway.
By this time, Tad's clothes were in a sad state of disorder. But to this he gave no heed. He was bent on accomplishing a certain purpose, and all else must give way before it.
Hauling down on the rope which he had made fast to the second tree, be caused a banner to flutter to the breeze directly over the highway. On it in big red letters had been painted:
AUTOS TOWED IN. IF YOU DON'T SEE ANY ONE, YELL FOR TAD OR CALL AT LANGDON'S STORE. TOW YOU IN FOR TWO DOLLARS.
"I guess that's high enough to clear a load of hay," decided Tad, standing off and critically, surveying his work.