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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies - 6/35 -
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:
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