Author: Robertson, Keith, 1914-
Boys — Juvenile fiction
Horses — Juvenile fiction
Ticktock and Jim
By Keith Robertson
With Illustrations by Wesley Dennis
THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY
Philadelphia · Toronto
Copyright, 1948, by The John C. Winston Company
Copyright in Great Britain and in The British Dominions and Possessions
Copyright in the Republic of the Philippines
First Printing December, 1947
Second Printing June, 1948
Third Printing December, 1949
Made in the United States of America
Who at two is somewhat confused about horses and thinks they say “Moo.”
- Chapter One The Trade 1
- Chapter Two The Reception 24
- Chapter Three The First Victory 38
- Chapter Four New Allies 49
- Chapter Five The Pony Express 69
- Chapter Six The Saddle 82
- Chapter Seven Horace 100
- Chapter Eight Exile 115
- Chapter Nine The Lost Horse 135
- Chapter Ten Ticktock Disappears 147
- Chapter Eleven The Conspirators 165
- Chapter Twelve Jean’s Ride 182
- Chapter Thirteen The Mystery Is Solved 196
- Chapter Fourteen The Fire 208
- Chapter Fifteen A Long Night 222
- Chapter Sixteen The Convalescence 233
Ticktock and Jim
“Someone has to stay home to give Colonel Flesher that Jersey calf,” said Mr. Meadows. “Since we are the only men around the place, it looks as if you’re elected.”
“O.K. I’ll stay. I don’t mind,” Jim answered cheerfully, if not too accurately. He did mind very much.
“I’m sure everything will be safe with you,” continued Mr. Meadows as he climbed in the car.
“Oh, I’ll take care of things,” said Jim nonchalantly.
He watched the car drive off. His father, mother and sister Jean were all going into town for the afternoon while he stayed at home alone. He felt rather proud that his father had called him a man, but that didn’t make up for the disappointment of not going with them. He went over to sit on the edge of the front porch, where he forlornly kicked his heels against the lattice work. It was a beautiful spring day with a warm sun shining, but Jim was in no mood to appreciate the wonders of nature. His small brown face looked very mournful as he sat there feeling sorry for himself. Something exciting was certain to happen in town, and he would miss it. He wondered how long the family had been gone now. Jumping up, he ran inside the house and returned with a large gold watch.
“Quarter past one,” he said aloud. Doubtfully, he held the watch to his ear.
“Ticktock, ticktock,” came the answer.
It seemed impossible that it was only a quarter past one; it would be almost four hours before the family returned. Although it was a form of treason to doubt that watch, Jim peered through the kitchen door to compare it with the kitchen clock. The watch was right. It promised to be a long dismal afternoon.
To pass away the time he polished the gold case with his big red bandanna. The watch was his most prized possession; his father had given it to him on his twelfth birthday, almost eight months before. He wore it only on special occasions or when he was feeling sad, like today. Carefully he unscrewed the back and looked at the shiny works. The balance wheel was going back and forth quietly and faithfully. Jim polished the inside of the back cover and reread the inscription for the hundredth time. “To James Meadows from Elizabeth, June 7, 1884.” Over sixty years ago his grandmother had given that watch to his grandfather and it was still bright and shiny, and kept perfect time.
“I wish it would run a little faster this afternoon though,” said Jim, as he placed the watch in his overall watch pocket.
Feeling a tiny bit more cheerful, he walked toward the orchard fence. A gentle breeze was blowing toward him, bringing the delicate scent of apple blossoms. He leaned on the fence, inhaling deeply and gazing at the riot of blossoms in the orchard. When it is spring in southern Missouri, one must have a very deep sorrow to remain downhearted long. Jim, being young and normally very healthy, was recovering his spirits rapidly. He wrinkled his short nose and after inhaling the odor of apple blossoms again, decided that he would go closer to the trees. Now that no one was about he might even break off a sprig of blossoms. Having a healthy fear of appearing a sissy, he would never think of doing such a thing if his sister Jean were present. Flowers were for girls as far as he was concerned.
He was halfway across the orchard when he remembered the bull. The big red bull was Mr. Meadows’ pride and joy but Jim’s pet abomination. He was afraid of it and very reasonably so, as it was a mean-tempered animal. Feeling rather panicky, Jim turned to hurry back toward the gate. It was too late. Unnoticed, the bull had slipped behind him and was now blocking the way. The big animal was standing very quietly, looking straight at Jim. There was a wicked look in the bloodshot eyes that indicated plainly that he had no intention of remaining quiet long.
With a sinking sensation in his stomach, Jim looked around frantically, trying to figure which fence was the closest. It was rather a tossup as to distance. Choosing the fence bordering the road as being the easiest to climb, he began backing cautiously toward it, keeping his eyes on the hostile bull.
As Jim made up his mind which way to move, so did the bull. He snorted several times, pawed the ground ferociously, lowered his head and charged toward the boy. The powerful feet dug into the soft ground as the big body gathered speed in a ponderous rush. Jim knew he would never make the fence in time. He was frightened, but not too frightened to think. Once the huge bull was up to top speed he couldn’t change direction quickly. As the thundering feet drew dangerously close, the boy darted quickly to the right and ducked behind the nearest apple tree. The bull swerved and roared by like an avalanche.
Jim was safe for a moment, but he knew he would not have long to wait until the bull charged again. The animal had turned around and was pawing and snorting. Reluctantly Jim gave up all ideas of reaching the fence. He grabbed the lowest branch of the apple tree and swung his stocky body upward. He was just in time, for the bull rushed underneath him like an express train.
Giving a whistle of relief, the boy climbed higher. Finding what appeared to be a comfortable perch, he settled down to consider the situation. Apparently he would simply just have to sit there and hope the bull would forget him. The bull decided to play a waiting game too. He pawed and snorted for a time and then calmed down. Although he grazed quietly, he showed no signs of leaving the vicinity. Just as Jim would begin to grow hopeful, the animal would lift his head and gaze balefully up into the tree. This began to appear very one-sided to Jim after a few minutes. While the bull could amble around at his ease, the most Jim could move was a few inches. What had appeared a comfortable seat began to grow very irksome.
He shifted around trying to find a soft spot. It was impossible. One spot was as bad as another. There was a limit as to how long one could sit comfortably in an apple tree. Now Jim grew really sorry for himself. How he wished he could have gone into town with his family. That was the most exciting event of the week. First they took the cream to the Springdale Creamery, where he could walk around inhaling the clean smell of steam and butter. It was fascinating to watch the huge revolving churns. He supposed today would be one of those times when Mr. Slemak would offer everyone a drink of cold buttermilk.
The grocery store was fun too. Probably Jean was sampling the cookies now. When his father paid the grocery bill there was always a bag of candy for both him and Jean. He hoped Mr. Higgins wouldn’t forget him just because he wasn’t along. Jim sighed miserably. Instead of smelling the odor of newly ground coffee, here he was up in a tree smelling apple blossoms. The scent which was so wonderful before was getting rather tiresome now.
“What a mess!” he said to himself. He looked down at the bull, his anger mounting. “Go away, you big dope!”
That did no good either. Jim remained uncomfortably in the tree. To make matters worse, bees began to buzz around entirely too close to his head. Holding on to the tree with one hand and swatting at bees with the other was not pleasant exercise. Suddenly he remembered he hadn’t closed the orchard gate behind him. If the bull did wander away, he would be perverse enough to head straight for the gate. The yard gate was open too, so the way onto the road was clear. Once he was out on the road there was no telling where the animal might stray. Now Jim was torn between hoping the bull would go away and wanting him to stay. Either way, he decided he was in a pickle. His parents would either come home to find him trapped in the apple tree or else would find the bull loose and strayed to parts unknown.
The thought of Colonel Flesher came like a ray of light. The stock buyer was supposed to arrive about three o’clock. If the bull were still standing guard beneath the tree, the colonel could come to the rescue and all would be well. Jim shifted his perch slightly and hoped the stock buyer would arrive soon. It seemed as if he had been in the tree for hours. He reached in his pocket but his hand found nothing. With a horrible sinking feeling he realized his precious watch was gone. It must have bounced out of his pocket while he was racing for the tree. With an effort he kept back the tears. He looked back along his recent path, hoping to catch the glint of gold. There was nothing in sight but the new green grass. If the bull had trampled on it during his mad rush, the watch was probably broken and buried in the soft earth. Completely dejected now, Jim sat in the tree and mourned. It was certainly a heartbreaking day.
He was so deep in his misery that he did not notice a strange cavalcade coming over the hill until the creaking of wagon wheels and the neighing of a horse caused him to look up in surprise. The procession, which was nearing the yard gate, was so unusual and interesting that Jim forgot his woes and stared in excited curiosity. First there was the oddest wagon he had ever seen. It was a large wagon with a sort of house built on the chassis. The house had a flat roof which stuck out in front and overhung the driver’s seat, and the board sides contained two small windows. Initially Jim thought it was a ranch chuck wagon, for he had been reading Western stories; but then he changed his mind and decided it was more like a circus wagon or like the wagons he had seen in the movies used by traveling road troupes in the old days.
Seated on the high driver’s seat was an old man in a sombrero, whistling cheerfully and clucking to a team of huge black horses. The team was ambling along slowly, drawing the wagon with effortless ease. But what attracted Jim’s gaze most was the procession following the wagon. Strung out behind were at least twenty horses of all sizes and colors—big gray Percherons, medium-sized brown horses, sorrels, some dark bays, light grays and a few whites. Jim looked at each horse in turn until finally he came to the last in the string—a lean little mouse-colored horse whose small body contrasted oddly with the other broad-rumped work horses.
The fascinating cavalcade drew still nearer until it reached the gate. The driver gave a slight tug on one rein and the wagon started turning. Jim was so interested and delighted that he almost lost his seat in the tree. The strange wagon and all those horses were coming in their yard! Almost doubting his eyes, he saw the vehicle progress down the lane and come to a halt, the long string of horses bunching up behind the wagon until they too finally stopped. The old man climbed down from his high perch and looked around inquisitively. Seeing no one in the yard he started toward the house.
“There’s nobody home but me,” shouted Jim loudly.
The stranger turned around to look toward the orchard, and Jim got his first good view of the visitor. He was a tall stringy individual with a long gray handle-bar mustache that drooped from his upper lip and hid much of the lower part of his face. He was obviously a very old man, but there was nothing old about his movements nor the way his bright eyes searched in the direction from which the voice had come. He looked puzzled, for all he could see was apple blossoms.
“And where are you?” he asked.
“I’m up here in a tree,” said Jim, poking his black thatched head as far through its frame of apple blossoms as he dared. “The bull won’t let me climb down.”
“Treed are you?” asked the man, laughing at what Jim didn’t think was a funny situation. “Just how mean is that bull?”
“Dad handles him without any trouble,” replied Jim. “Once in a while he has to hit him on the nose with a stick.”
“Be with you in a minute.” The stranger hunted around until he found a big piece of wood for a club.
The bull decided he wasn’t quite so ferocious when he saw a determined man approaching with a sizable club. He gave a few disgruntled snorts and then ambled off to the far end of the orchard. Thankfully Jim climbed down from his uncomfortable haven.
“Thanks, Mister,” he said with feeling. “Now I’ve got to find my watch.”
He hurried back along the path of his recent flight from the bull, searching the ground anxiously. About thirty feet from the tree he found his watch, lying bright and shining in the sun. He picked it up and held it to his ear. It was ticking away merrily. With a huge sigh of relief, Jim put the watch in his pocket.
“You really got me out of a mess,” he said, as they walked toward the gate. “I was trapped in that tree, the orchard gate was open, and my watch was lying on the ground.”
“That looks like a pretty good watch to be carrying around in your overalls.”
“It’s about the best watch in the world I guess,” said Jim proudly. “I don’t usually carry it every day.”
“Now you can do me a good turn,” said the stranger as they went out of the gate, fastening it this time. “I’d like to water my horses.”
“Sure, bring them over to the tank.”
Jim pumped more water into the big cement tank while the man led his horses over to drink. First he watered the team he was driving and then started with the string of horses behind the wagon.
“How come you’ve got so many horses?” asked Jim, his curiosity getting the better of his manners.
“I’m a horse trader. Not many traveling horse traders left any more. I usually have a lot more horses than these, but I sold fourteen yesterday.”
“Gee,” said Jim, “it must be a lot of fun to have so many horses.”
“It is if you like horses. It’s a lot of work too. Most people find two or three too much to take care of the way they should.”
“Do you live in that wagon?” asked Jim.
“All but about three months of the year,” replied the horse trader. “Now let me ask a question. When’s your pa going to be home?”
“About five o’clock, I ’spect,” Jim informed him. He looked at his watch. It was not quite three. He hadn’t been in that tree nearly so long as he had thought.
“Think your pa will want to trade or buy any horses?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Jim. “We’ve got two teams that are pretty good.”
The old man led the last horse to the trough for a drink. It was the small brown horse that Jim had noticed at the end of the string. It wasn’t an impressive horse at all. It was very thin, the hip bones making big bumps as if they were trying to push their way through the poor horse’s hide. There was an ugly, partially healed sore on his back, and he limped slightly on his right foreleg. His coat was a shaggy lusterless gray-brown. It was hard to tell what either the tail or mane was like as both were so matted with cockleburs and bits of weed. Lastly, the little horse didn’t hold his head as he should, but kept it cocked to one side as if he were looking at something very odd and interesting. To most horse fanciers this odd position of the head would have been the crowning defect of the long list, but it was just this feature that attracted Jim. The pony seemed to be looking at him quizzically. As Jim looked closer he was certain he saw a twinkle in the horse’s eye as if the animal were trying to share some sort of joke with him.
Jim stopped pumping water and moved closer to the little horse. He was so painfully thin and that sore looked so tender that Jim felt a surge of sympathy. He wished the horse could stay there and rest. The object of Jim’s compassion lifted his muzzle from the trough, shook his head, and snorted until he had blown the water from his nostrils. Then he looked squarely at the boy and winked. This time Jim was certain the horse grinned too. It was very plain what the pony meant. He seemed to say: “Thanks for the water and your kindness. I’m rather deceiving in appearance and am in much better shape than most people would think.”
Walking around to look at the horse from the other side, Jim spied a mark on the pony’s left shoulder. It was an H lying on its side like this:
“That’s a brand, isn’t it?” asked the boy excitedly.
“Yep. I reckon that is the lazy-H brand.”
“Where did he get it?”
“Well, this is a Western mustang. The man I bought him from said a carload of cow ponies was shipped in from Texas a couple of years ago. He picked up this feller at the sale.”
“A real Texas mustang,” said Jim, reverently.
“He’s a bit small even for a Western cow pony,” said the trader, sitting down on the edge of the water tank. “In fact there’s a lot of things about this horse that are different from most mustangs.”
“Well,” drawled the old man, filling his pipe, “I’m in no hurry to get up on that jolting seat again. Just set here awhile and I’ll tell you a little about Western horses, specially this one.”
“Swell,” said Jim enthusiastically. “Can I hold the horse?”
The old man passed over the halter rope and Jim sat happily on the well platform holding on to the end of the tether. The horse looked at both of them for a moment and then calmly started to crop the grass.
“Western horses usually run pretty wild for three years or so,” began the old man. “Then they’re broken for riding. They break Western horses quick and rough and most of them buck every time they’re saddled. A ranch horse is worked only four or five months a year and then only three or four days a week. Most of them, except the favorites, never get to know a man real well and so usually they don’t show much affection.” He paused to relight his corn-cob pipe. Reflectively he gazed on the glowing coal and drew on the pipe stem noisily while Jim waited impatiently.
“This little feller is different. Plenty of spirit, but about as gentle a horse as I’ve ever seen. Gentle, that is, if he likes you. In the five days I’ve had him I can tell he’d develop a real likin’ for anybody that treated him at all reasonable.”
“I’ll bet he would,” agreed Jim, looking at the horse.
“He’s a good horse, but I don’t know just what I’ll do with him. He’s not a work horse—too small for heavy w