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The Pony Rider Boys, as a club, met for the purpose of organization, with headquarters under a tent in Banker Perkins's orchard. It was the tent in which Walter, under orders from the family physician, had been sleeping during the spring. Over the entrance the boys pinned a strip of canvas on which they had printed in red letters, "Headquarters Pony Rider Boys' Club."
"Now they will know who we are," explained Walter, standing off to view their handiwork. "You see, people can read that from the street. Everybody who passes will see it."
"Yes," replied Ned Rector, who already had been enrolled as a charter member. "But I hope they won't think it's a blacksmith shop over here, and drive in to get their horses shod."
The boys laughed heartily.
"The next question is, whom shall we have for president of the club?" asked Walter. "I suppose we ought to elect one to-day so we can be regularly organized."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Chunky. "What's the matter with having Tad Butler for president? He knows all about horses, even if he has none himself."
"But he's not a member of the club," objected Ned.
"No," agreed Walter, "but I had thought we might make him an honorary member. We ought to take him in, someway, for I know he's anxious to join us."
"Then, I would suggest that we organize first," advised Ned, who possessed some slight knowledge of parliamentary law. "You can choose one of us for temporary chairman, and then we will go ahead and form our organization just like a regular club."
"That's a good plan. Will you be the chairman, Ned?"
"No, Walt. I think I should prefer to be on the floor, where I can talk. Neither the chairman nor president has the right to argue, you know. I'm afraid I shouldn't be of much use to the club if I couldn't talk," laughed Ned. "I propose Mr. Stacy Brown, otherwise known as 'Chunky, ' for temporary chairman. Chunky is fat, and can appear very dignified when he wants to, even if he doesn't feel that way."
"That's the idea," agreed Walter.
"Now, all in favor of Mr. Chunky Brown for presiding officer of the first meeting of the Pony Rider Boys manifest it by saying 'Aye.'"
Ned and Walter voted in the affirmative.
"All opposed, say 'Nay.'"
"Nay!" voted Chunky in a loud voice.
"The Ayes have it. Mr. Stacy Chunky Brown has been duly chosen temporary chairman of the Pony Rider Boys. Mr. Chairman, will you please take the chair and call this meeting to order?" invited Ned Rector, escorting Stacy to a chair which had been placed at one end of the tent for the purpose of receiving him.
Chunky sank into the seat, gazing helplessly about him.
"Well?" urged Ned.
"Do something," laughed Walter.
"Yes, but what shall I do?"
"Call the meeting to order, of course. What do you think we elected you for? Not to sit up there and look pretty. Call it to order."
"Help!" pleaded Ned Rector, weakly. "See here, that's not the way to do it. Is this the first time you have presided at a meeting?"
Chunky, by a nod, informed them that it was.
"Humph!" grunted Ned witheringly. "Then say after me, 'I now call the meeting of the Pony Rider Boys to order. What is your pleasure, gentlemen?'"
The chairman haltingly repeated the words.
"Now, that's the way to do it," approved Ned. "I shouldn't be surprised to see you President of the United States some day. I now move, Mr. Chairman, that Tad Butler be made an honorary member of the club, as well as riding master and manager of the live stock."
"Second the motion," added Walter quickly.
The motion was carried with much enthusiasm. Then the club voted to make Chunky Brown its permanent presiding officer, and this in spite of the winner's vigorous objections. Walter was made treasurer because, as Ned expressed it, Walter's father was a bank president. Ned Rector was chosen secretary.
"I now move," proposed Ned Rector, "that this club direct its secretary to write to the uncle of its president, pointing out to him the advisability of providing a pony for said president to ride; said president being so heavy as to make walking to the meetings of this club a burden to himself and to the club members who have to wait for him."
This motion was adopted with a shout of laughter.
After having directed the secretary, at his own suggestion, to notify Tad Butler of his election, the club adjourned to meet on the following morning for field practice. In other words, the club's two ponies, with Walter Perkins and Ned Rector upon them, were to be taken out for exercise about the village and in nearby roads.
The next day being Saturday, Tad Butler found himself too busy to devote much time to brooding over his troubles. As a matter of fact, the boy was little given to this sort of thing; he was too much a man. His was a wholesome, confident nature, and the same indomitable courage and determination that had enabled him to stand next to the head of his class in the high school filled him with a resolution to possess a pony of his own. Nor did he permit the receipt of a letter that morning, informing him of his honorary election to the Pony Riders Club, to cast him down, even though, for want of a pony, he could not enter into full membership.
Instead, with flashing eyes, his clean-cut jaw set more firmly than usual, Tad went about his duties of the day cheerfully, his active mind running over this and that plan through which he might possibly gratify his longings.
Late that same afternoon, on his way driving out to deliver a package of goods to a summer residence just outside the town, he came upon Walter and Ned, returning on their ponies from a short jaunt into the country.
The two boys hailed him joyously.
Tad grinned and waved his hand.
"Hello! Aren't you going to stop to tali with a fellow?" called Ned, as the riders came abreast of the grocery horse and pulled up.
Tad shook his head.
"Oh, come on; hold up a minute."
"Can't. I'm on business, you know," answered the boy, smiling pleasantly. "I am working all day to-day for Mr. Langdon, and I mustn't stop. I have a lot of goods to deliver before night."
"Then what do you say to our riding out and back with him, Walt?" suggested Ned.
"All right. I guess we shall have plenty of time to do that and get back for supper. Tad won't stay long. He's in too big a hurry," answered the banker's son, bringing his pony about, and galloping up beside the wagon, which had continued on its way during the conversation.
This gave Tad an opportunity to gaze admiringly at the sleek ponies on which the boys were mounted, as well as at the nickel trimmings of bridles and saddles, which glistened brightly in the sunlight.
"Wish you had him, don't you?" laughed Ned, noting Tad's gaze fixed on his own well-groomed mount.
To Ned's surprise, Tad shook his head negatively.
"Mean to tell me you don't want a pony like this?"
"I didn't say so, Ned. No, I wouldn't say that, because it isn't true. You asked me if I didn't wish I had him. Of course, I want a pony more than anything else in the world. But I want my own, not yours. That is different, you see. Much as I want one, I don't covet either yours or Walt's."
"Well, you are a funny fellow. I never did understand you," marveled Ned. "But, I guess he's about right, eh, Walter? Don't you think so!"
"Yes. And I have been thinking, since our meeting yesterday, that perhaps it might be fixed. I wasn't going to say anything about it," answered Walter, meditatively.
"Thinking about what?" demanded Ned.
"About Tad's not having a horse, and no way to get one. I tell you, it's mighty tough----"
"Well, he is a member of the club, and as fellow members of the Pony Riders, we are bound to stand by one another."
"That's right," agreed Ned. "That's what we're going to do, too. But what are you getting at, Walt?"
Tad's blue eyes were fixed inquiringly on Walter's face. He, too, was at a loss to understand what it was that his delicate young friend was planning. Still, he would not ask, knowing full well that it was of him they were thinking.
"Simply this. Tad has got to have a pony."
Ned uttered a long-drawn whistle, while the boy on the grocery wagon suddenly straightened up.
"I agree with you there, Walt," Ned remarked. "Yet, how is he going to get one? That's what I should like to know--and it's a question that the Pony Riders will have a hard time in answering. Now, it is different with Chunky. Chunky's uncle has money. He can well afford to buy his nephew a pony. When I went to ask him to-day he said he would see about it. That means Chunky will have one."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because my father is a lawyer, and he says when a fellow doesn't know his own mind, you can make him agree to 'most any old thing," answered Ned with a laugh.
By this time they had reached their destination. Though keenly interested in the conversation of his companions Tad leaped to the ground, tying his horse without an instant's delay, and proceeded to the house to deliver his merchandise.
The boys watched him disappear around the corner of the house before resuming their conversation.
"I'll tell you, now," began Walter. "I didn't want to explain before him. Tad is the best rider in town, you know, Ned----"
"Next to me," added Ned humorously.
"Yes, next ahead. And he is the second best scholar in the high school. Nothing could stop him from heading the class if he had the time to devote to his studies, so Professor Zepplin tells me. I like him, Ned----"
"Since he fished you out of the mill pond, when you fell through the ice there last winter, eh!"
"Yes, partly. But, I liked him just as well before that. Do you know," continued Walter after a moment of silence, "I never told my father that Tad did that for me?"
"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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