Chapter IV. A Surprise, Indeed
 

That makes fifteen dollars, mother. Tad Butler, with flashing eyes and heightened color, laid two crisp new one dollar bills in his mother's hand, and nervously brushed a shock of hair from his forehead.

"My, that car was a big one," he continued." Jinny couldn't quite pull it, so I had to get behind and push. But we made it."

Mrs. Butler patted the disorderd hair affectionately.

"Need a comb, don't I?" he grinned. "Now, I am going to tell you about the surprise I promised you, Mother. I've pieced together that old broken down buggy out in the barn, and, when I can afford to buy some paint for it, you will have a carriage to ride in. You needn't be ashamed of it, for it's a dandy. Nobody will know it from a new one. Then, when I am at school, you and Jinny can go out for a drive every day. Come out and look at it, Mother, please."

Proudly escorting his mother to the stable, Tad exhibited the vehicle that he had spent many nights putting together. It was truly a creditable piece of work, and Mrs. Butler made her son happy by telling him so.

Tad's business venture had proved more profitable than even he had dreamed, and the owners of cars breaking down on the rough road made frequent use of the invitation extended on the sign. Soon, however, there were so many calls during the day, when the young man was at school, that he was considering the advisability of taking in a partner who would attend to the towing when he was not available. The only reason Tad hesitated was because he feared his assistant would not be considerate of Jinny. Yet this, he told himself, should not deter him from making the move the moment he found the right sort of a boy to go in with him.

During the past week there had been frequent conferences between Mrs. Butler and Banker Perkins, and on several occasions Tad's mother had called at the hank in person. Of all this the young man knew nothing. But one afternoon something did occur to stir him more profoundly than he ever had been stirred before.

Ned Rector had called a meeting of the Pony Rider Boys, and the word was passed that important business was coining up for discussion.

Tad said he could not spare the time from his business down the road.

"I wish you would take the afternoon off," advised his mother. "You have been working hard of late, and I imagine the boys will have something to discuss that will be of great interest to you," added Mrs. Butler with a knowing smile.

"W-e-l-l," answered Tad. "If you think I ought to, of course I will. "What are you going to do?"

"I am going out to take tea with Mrs. Secor. I will leave your supper in the oven and you can help yourself. Besides, it will do Jinny fully as much good as it will you to have a rest. Have you seen Mr. Perkins to-day?"

"No. Why?"

"He said something about wanting you to drop in soon, when I saw him downtown this morning," answered Mrs. Butler softly. "Now, run along and attend your important meeting, my boy."

"All right," answered Tad cheerily, after a second's hesitation. He ran lightly from the house, whistling a merry tune as he went.

Arriving at the headquarters of the club, he found all the members there awaiting him.

"Hello! How's the skate!" they cried in chorus.

"Howdy, fellows," greeted the freckle-faced lad with a pleased smile. "Jinny goes when the automobile doesn't. Give me a horse every time. How's the new pony, Chunky? Been too busy to drop in to look him over."

"I fell off yesterday," replied Stacy Brown with a sheepish grin.

"That's no news," jeered Ned Rector. "I guess we'll have to get a net for Chunky to perform over. However, fellows, as the notice stated, we have some very, very important matters to talk over to-day. President Brown will please take his chair and call the meeting to order. That is, if he is able to sit down. If not, I think there will be no objection to his standing up," announced Ned, amid a general laugh.

The president rapped sharply on the floor with his foot, and the members of the club settled down to the keenest attention. Anticipation was reflected on each smiling face. Tad instinctively felt that there was something behind all of this that he knew nothing about. But he bided his time.

"What is the pleasure of the meeting?" asked the president.

"I move," said Ned Rector, "that our friend and fellow member, Walter Perkins, now take the floor and outline the plans which I understand he has in mind. I think none of us know what they are, beyoud the fact that some sort of a trip has been planned for us. We are all ears, Mr. Perkins."

Walter rose with great deliberation, a smile playing over his thin, pale features, as he looked quietly from one to the other of his young friends.

"Fellow members," he began.

"Hear, hear!" muttered Ned.

Stacy Brown dug his heel into the floor for order.

"As brother Rector already has said, we are soon to take a trip. The matter has all been arranged. In the first place, our doctor says that I must spend the summer in the open air -- that I must rough it, you understand. The rougher the life, the better it will be for me. He didn't say so to me, but I overheard him telling father that I was liable to have consumption, if I did not ----"

"You don't mean it?" interrupted Ned with serious face.

"Yes. That's what he said. So they have planned a trip for me and all of you boys are to go along."

"Hooray!" shouted Chunky.

Ned fixed him with a stern eye.

"A president never should forget his dignity," he warned. "Mr. Perkins will now proceed."

"We all now have our ponies, except Tad Butler, and when we get ready to start we shall have nothing to do but go. Professor Zepplin is to accompany us. Father has bought him a big new cob horse. The professor was once an officer in the German army, and he knows how to ride--that is, the way they ride over there. He reminds me of a statue on horseback, when he's up. Anyhow, he will go along to see that we are taken care of."

"When do we go?" asked the president.

"As soon after your school closes as is possible."

"I am afraid our fathers and uncles will have something to say about that," said Chunky with a wry face. "Uncle never would let me go off like that. It's all very well for you, but with the rest of us it's different."

Walter smiled knowingly.

"That has all been taken care of, fellows. Tour fathers, as well as mine, know all about it."

"You don't mean it?" marveled Ned.

"Yes."

"Is Tad Butler going on that old skate of his?" bristled Chunky.

"I can't say as to that," answered Walter.

"Well, if he does, it's me for home. Why, we never would get beyoud the water works station, he would he so slow. Does my uncle know about Tad's old mare?"

"Never mind about the mare," growled Ned Rector. "We have other and more important matters to attend to just now."

"Yes, and we shall have to settle among ourselves what we are to take along, though father said he had a man who would look out for all that. We are going to rough it, you understand, so we shall have to leave behind all our fine clothes. And sometimes we may go without meals, even. But we all will sleep out-of-doors, most likely, every night after we get started. In the meantime, I would suggest that we practice riding--that is, form ourselves into a sort of company with a regular captain. I move that Tad Butler be made captain, and he can drill us."

"You don't need to make that motion," announced Ned, springing to his feet, full of excitement. "He will be our captain without being elected. He already is master of horse. It's now up to Tad to get busy and drill us. We will begin to-morrow afternoon."

Tad, who had taken no part in the conversation, now shook his head slowly, which caused the others to shout in chorus:

"You won't!"

"Of course I will drill you, if you boys wish it. But, you know I can't go with you. Therefore, you had tetter make some one of you three fellows the captain."

"Why can't you go?" demanded Ned Rector. "Of course you are going."

"In the first place, I am too busy," answered Tad with a wan smile. "Then there are other reasons. I can't afford it. I must stay at home and earn money this summer. Then, again, I have no pony."

"Oh pshaw!" growled Ned. "That's too bad. I would rather stay at home myself."

Tad flashed an appreciative glance at him.

"Thank you. But I would rather you went, Ned. I'll drill you willingly if you boys want me to."

"That's right," approved Walter. "Perhaps something may turn up in the meantime, so you can go with us. It really will spoil our trip if you don't go along."

"Nothing will turn up. Nothing can turn up. I tell you, I must stay at home with my mother. But I don't even know where you are going. I can drill you to better purpose if I know what sort of riding you expect to do."

"Yes! Where are we going?" demanded Chunky, with quickened interest.

"That's so. I hadn't thought of that. Where did your father say we were to ride to? We must be going quite a distance away, judging by all the preparations," besought Ned Rector. "And, by the way, are you sure you are right about this business, Walt?"

"There is no doubt," smiled Walter Perkins good-naturedly. "That is what this meeting was called for--to tell you about it. It was left to me to announce it to you boys, because it is my party, if you want to call it that. And you want to know where you are going?"

"Yes, of course we do," they shouted.

"Boys, we are going to the Rocky Mountains! We are going over the roughest and wildest part of them. Perhaps we shall go where no white man's foot ever has trod. We shall be explorers. What do you think of it?"

For a full moment no one spoke.

Each was too full of the wonderful news to do more than gape at the speaker. Only the sound of their labored breathings broke the stillness.

"Will--will there be bears and things there?" asked Stacy, hesitatingly.

"I presume so," smiled Walter.

"Ugh! And snakes?"

"Maybe."

"Rattlers. I've read about them out there," added Ned.

"I--I guess I'll stay home," stammered the president.

"Don't be a baby," jeered Ned. "I rather think you'll be able to stand it if the rest of us can. And, besides, Walt's professor will be along. He'll fix the animals and reptiles with, his cold, scientific eye till they'll be glad to run away and leave us to ourselves."

"You boys are to come over to my house tomorrow night, when father is going to tell you more about it. He has not told me everything yet. But he directed me to give you the main points of the plan, which I have done."

"I propose three cheers for Walter Perkins and his father," cried Ned, springing to his feet. The boys joined in the cheers with a will, Tad no less loudly than the rest, though there was no joy in his face now. The boy's disappointment was keen, yet he determined that his friends should not see it. And, as quickly as he could do so, Tad slipped away and went home to fight out his boyish sorrow all alone.

Tad's mother found him out in the barn half an hour later, vigorously grooming the old mare. Mrs. Butler smiled to herself as she observed that he studiously managed to keep the mare between himself and her as he worked.

"Do you want to sell Jinny?" she asked after a little.

"What?"

Tad was all attention now.

"I said, do you want to sell your horse?"

"No. That is, I might if I got enough for her. But I can't say that I am anxious to. Why, I am making plenty of money with her," answered Tad coining out from behind the mare. "What made you ask that question, Mother?"

"I didn't know but you might be willing to part with her. And then, with the money you might be able to purchase a better one--a horse that you would be able to earn more money with."

Tad studied his mother's face a moment inquiringly.

"Not with any money that I could get for Jinny."

"How much do you think you could get for her?"

"Not more than ten dollars. I doubt if any one would be willing to pay that, even. Who wants to buy her?"

"Yes; Mr. Secor, the butcher, spoke to me about it while I was at his house this afternoon. His delivery horse broke a leg yesterday and they had to shoot the animal to-day."

"Too bad," muttered Tad.

"He thought Jinny was just the horse he wanted, because she is so gentle and will stand without hitching. It takes too much time to hitch a delivery horse at every stop, you know!"

Tad nodded his understanding.

"Did you tell him what ailed Jinny?" asked Tad.

"Yes, as well as I could. But he said he knew all about her, and was willing to take all chances. Mr. Secor said he believed Jinny was good for ten years yet, with the kind of work he would require of her."

"Make an offer?" asked Tad, with an eye to business.

"Yes."

"How much?"

"Twenty-five dollars."

"W-h-e-w! He must be crazy. All right, he can have her so far as I am concerned. I'll go over to see him this evening."

That night Tad Butler came home with twenty-five dollars in his pocket, which, added to what he already had earned, made the tidy sum of forty dollars--a little fortune for him.

He dropped the handful of bills into his mother's lap, and, going out to the porch, sat down with his head in his hands, to think. Mrs. Butler followed him after a few moments.

"Do you think you would like to go with the boys on their jaunt this summer?" she asked, innocently enough, it seemed.

"Yes, but I can't."

"Why not, my boy?"

"First place, I've got no pony."

"Don't be too sure about that"

"What do you mean, Mother!"

"Run out to the stable and see," smiled Mrs. Butler.

Wonderingly, Tad did as she had directed. And there in a stall stood a sleek Indian Texas pony, quite the finest little animal he had ever seen.

"Wh--whe--where did he come from!" gasped the astonished boy.

"You earned him, Tad, and the money you brought home this evening will complete the purchase price. You shall accompany the Pony Riders on their trip to the Rockies----"

"But----"

"Mr. Perkins has arranged to have you go with Walter to look after him. You will be his companion, and for this service Mr. Perkins agrees to pay you the sum of five dollars a week and all expenses. Understand, you are not going as a servant--he wished that made very clear--but as the young man's companion. You can easily get someone to do your work at the store for another month, when your agreement will be worked out."

"Yes--but--but you, Mother?"

"I am invited to spend the summer with Aunt Jane, so you need have no concern whatever about me."

Tad's eyes grew large as the full significance of it all was home in upon him.

"Mother, you're a brick," he cried, impulsively throwing his arms about Mrs. Butler.

But Tad had no thought of the thrilling experiences through which he was destined to pass during the coming eventful journey.