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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies - 4/35 -
"You didn't? Why not?" asked Ned, his face reflecting his surprise.
"Because Tad made me promise I wouldn't. He's such a modest chap that he didn't want father to thank him, even. So I never did----"
"He is a queer lad----"
"That is, I did not until last night," corrected Walter thoughtfully.
"Oh! Then you told him? What did he say?" questioned Ned, now keenly interested in the narration.
"He said Tad was a brave boy, and that he wanted to do something for him. I told him there was one thing he could do that would please me, at the same time making Tad the happiest boy in Chillicothe--yes, happier than any other boy in the state of Missouri."
"Father laughed and asked me what it was that Tad desired so much." Walter glanced up at his companion, a queer smile playing about his lips.
"Well, what did you tell him!"
"That Tad wanted a pony."
The boys gazed into each other's eyes.
"Good for you," breathed Ned. "You are the right sort, even if you are weak. I always said you were. But did your father say he would get Tad a pony?"
"Well, not exactly. He wanted to know how I thought Tad could take care of a pony when he got it--said the boy would have no place to keep it, nothing to feed it on----"
"Yes, that's so."
"But, I told him Tad might stable his pony with Jo-Jo in our barn."
"Sure thing. That's fine. Did he agree?"
"He said for me to bring Tad in to see him."
"But you did not?"
"No; I haven't had a chance. I'm going to try to get him to stop on the way back, if he will. All three of us will stop off at the bank Father usually stays late on Saturdays to go over the books all by himself----"
Further conversation was interrupted by the return of Tad. Acting upon a knowing look from Walter, Ned maintained a discreet silence on the subject. And, if Tad's keen glance, which searched their faces, as he clambered aboard the grocery wagon, gave him the slightest inkling as to what they had been discussing, he made no effort further to gratify his curiosity.
"What are you going to do when you get back, Tad?" asked Walter by way of directing the conversation to the subject of which he was at that moment so full.
"Going back to the store. Why?"
"Oh, nothing much. Father wanted you to step in some time this afternoon," answered Walter as carelessly as he could.
"He wishes to talk with you about something. You can stop off as we go by. It will take only a few minutes of your time."
Tad shook his head emphatically. Nothing could deter him from doing what he considered was his full duty to his employer.
"Then I shall go over to the store with you myself and see Mr. Langdon," announced Walter firmly. After that, the conversation drifted into a discussion of the respective merits of the two ponies that Ned and Walter were riding.
Arriving at the store, Walter dismounted, and, tossing the reins to Ned, ran up the steps into the store, while Tad began methodically to haul the market baskets from the wagon, piling them together on the sidewalk.
In a moment Walter came hurrying out.
"It's all right," he called from the top step. "Mr. Langdon says hitch your horse here, while you go over with me to see father."
"Very well," replied Tad, as, with evident reluctance, he followed his friend to the hank, half a block up the street.
Mr. Perkins greeted his young guest with marked courtesy.
"Walter delayed telling me of your heroic conduct in saving his life until last night, Thaddeus. I am sorry. But, according to the old saying, 'it is never too late to mend.' Therefore, I want to thank you now."
Mr. Perkins grasped the lad's hands in a firm grip, while Tad, hiding his embarrassment as best he could, gazed with steady eyes into the face of the banker.
"I'm sorry he told you, sir. I just pulled him out -- that was all."
The banker laughed.
"Yes, fortunately that was all. But there surely would have been more if you had not, Walter would have drowned. How you managed to get him out, without both of you going down, is more than I can understand."
"He dived in and swam out with me," Walter informed him.
"Quite so. And you wished my son to say nothing about it?" added the banker with a twinkle in his eyes, not wholly lost on the boy who was standing so rigidly before him, steeling himself to the most trying ordeal he ever had experienced.
"I did, sir."
"Walter respected your wishes in the matter. But something came up last evening that induced him to make a clean breast of the whole affair. And I am very glad he did so."
"Walter tells me you are a great lover of animals, especially horses."
"I am more fond of them, sir, than of anything else in the world, save my mother," answered the boy, his eyes growing bright.
"And he also has told me about this new club of which I most heartily approve. It will be an excellent thing for Walter. But of course you will not he able to go out with the boys, not having a pony of your own."
"No, sir," answered Tad in a firm voice.
"I take it you would be very happy to be able to join them on their outings?"
"Indeed I should, Mr. Perkins."
"Well," glowed the banker, "at Walter's suggestion I have arranged it so that in the future you shall not be denied this pleasure. Do you happen to know where there are any ponies for sale at this moment?"
"Yes, sir. They have several at the McCormick farm about three miles from town. They are very fine ponies, too, sir. One of them, I think, would make an excellent mate for Jo-Jo, if you are considering getting another one for Walter to drive or ride."
"No, I was not thinking of doing that at present. I will tell you what I propose to do, however."
"I propose to send you out to the McCormicks' this afternoon, if you can spare the time. When you reach there you will pick out what you consider is the best pony in the lot, and bring him back to town. They will let you have him upon presentation of the letter I shall give you before you leave," smiled the banker.
"I--I don't quite understand, sir. I--I-- what is it you wish me to do with the pony?" stammered Tad.
Banker Perkins rose, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Take him home with you--he is yours, Tad."
A sudden rush of color flashed into the face of Tad Butler and crept up to the roots of his hair, his eyes holding those of the hanker in an unflinching gaze.
"I--am sorry, sir; but I cannot accept it."
"What?" exclaimed Mr. Perkins.
"I thank you very much. Believe me, I do. But I could not accept a gift like that from you. You will understand me, won't you? I couldn't--I couldn't do it; that's all."
"I do, my lad. I understand you perfectly," answered the hanker slowly, grasping the lad's hand and gripping it until Tad winced.
"Thank you," murmured Tad, backing from the room, with as much composure as he was able to muster.
Reaching the street, the boy clenched his fingers until the nails dug into the palms of his hands. Then, with shoulders erect, he strode rapidly off down the street to continue his duties at the grocery store.
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