Written by Richard Barnum
Dapple Gray had just finished telling the story of his being caught under the trolley car, the time he was drawing the fire engine.
“And so,” went on the old horse, “men came and pushed the car off my legs. The firemen loosened my harness and then I could get up.”
“Weren’t you hurt?” asked Mrs. Chestnut, who was called that because she was colored brown.
“Well, my legs were a bit scratched, and I had some bruises on my side, but I could still run and pull the engine. You see we horses couldn’t stop whenever we wanted to. We had to pull the funny chimney-wagon to where the fire was blazing so the men could squirt water on it.
“Men are strange,” went on Dapple Gray. “They’ll build a big fire in a house so the house almost burns up, and then they’ll make us horses run like mad to draw water to put it out. I never could understand it.”
Of course Dapple Gray did not know that the house caught fire by accident and that it had to be put out for fear other houses near it might burn.
“And so you ran on, even if your legs were cut?” asked Tinkle’s father.
“Oh, yes, of course,” replied Dapple Gray. “The cuts hurt me, but when I got back to the stable the firemen put some cooling salve on the wounds and bound my legs up with white rags so they felt better.”
“Well, I don’t believe I’d like that,” said Tinkle’s mother. “Life is too exciting in the city. I like it best in this quiet country meadow, where you can eat grass whenever you like, or rest in the shade when you are tired.”
“Look at those ponies having fun down there,” said another horse, pointing with his nose toward the group that was playing tag. “I remember when I was young I liked to play that way.”
“Is Tinkle there?” asked the pony’s father. “He is one of the best taggers I’ve ever seen. When he grows a little bigger he’ll be a fine racer, I think.”
Tinkle’s mother looked toward where the ponies were running about, touching one another with their hoofs or noses, or switching at one another with their frisky tails.
“I don’t see Tinkle,” she said.
“Oh, he must be there,” said Tinkle’s father. “I’ll go and look.”
Off he trotted to where the other colts were playing. He looked at them for a little while, but he did not see Tinkle among them.
“That’s strange,” thought the father pony. “Tinkle likes tag so much, I wonder why he isn’t here?”
He stood still, looking more closely, to make sure he had not missed the little pony; but no, Tinkle was not there.
“I’ll ask some of them,” said the father pony to himself. So, giving a loud whinny, to make himself heard above the noise the tag-playing ponies were making, the father pony asked:
“Have any of you seen our Tinkle?”
“No, I haven’t,” said a little brown pony.
“Nor I,” added one who was speckled brown and white.
“I saw him a while ago, eating grass,” answered a third.
“He hasn’t been playing tag with us this morning,” added a fourth pony, who had a very long tail.
“I wonder where Tinkle can be,” murmured his father.
Then up spoke a little pony with a white spot on his back.
“I saw Tinkle going over that way,” he said, and he raised his hoof and pointed toward a fence on the far side of the field.
“Did you really see him going that way?” asked the father pony.
“I really did,” answered the little pony.
“Oh my! That’s too bad!” thought Tinkle’s father to himself, but he did not say this to the ponies, for he did not want to frighten them. Well did the older pony know of the dangerous swamp that was on the other side of the fence.
“If he is in the sticky bog-mud we’ll have trouble getting him out,” said the father pony to himself. “I must go back and tell some of the others. But I don’t want Tinkle’s mother to know. What shall I do?”
The father pony trotted back to where Dapple Gray and the others stood.
“Well, was he there?” asked Tinkle’s mother.
Tinkle’s father shook his head.
“Where is he then?”
“Oh, he probably went off for a little walk by himself. I’ll go and find him,” and he tried to speak easily.
“But I don’t see him anywhere!” and the mother pony looked anxiously about the big green meadow. She could see every corner of it, and Tinkle was not in sight.
“Now you just stay here, and I’ll bring him back,” said Tinkle’s father quietly. At the same time he nodded his head at Dapple Gray and one or two of the other men-horses, and two or three of his closest friends among the men-ponies. They moved away together. Tinkle’s mother looked at them as if to say:
“I wonder if anything could have happened?”
“What’s the matter?” asked Dapple Gray in a low voice of Tinkle’s father, speaking in horse-talk, of course.
“I’m not sure, but I’m afraid Tinkle has jumped the fence and has gone over to the big swampy bog,” was the answer. “If he has, and is stuck fast, we’ll have to go and get him out. But I don’t want his mother to know it.”
The men-animals walked over toward the fence. Tinkle’s father looked down at the ground. He saw little hoof marks.
“Yes, Tinkle has been here,” he said. “I can see where he ran to get a good start so he could jump over the fence.”
“He is a good jumper to do that,” remarked one of the horses.
“Yes, Tinkle is a good jumper, for a colt,” said his father. “I think he will be very smart when he grows up. But he should not jump fences into the swamp. That is not right.”
“How are we going to get over the fence to help him if he is stuck?” asked Dapple Gray.
“Can’t we jump?” another horse inquired.
“Maybe you can, but I can’t,” returned Dapple Gray. “One of my legs is stiff, where I was hurt by the trolley car. Once I could easily have jumped over that fence, but I’m afraid I can’t do it now.”
“I don’t know whether I can either,” observed Tinkle’s father. “I’m not as young as I once was. But if we all push together I think we can knock the fence down. Then we can get through to see what has happened to my pony boy. We want you to come along, Dapple, because you have been in the big city where all sorts of things happen to horses. You’ll know what is best to do.”
“Thank you,” whinnied Dapple Gray. “I’ll do my best.”
Together the big horses and the ponies pushed at the fence. Tinkle’s mother watched them, and when she saw what was being done she became frightened.
“Something dreadful must have happened to Tinkle,” she said. “I can’t stay here. I’m going to see what it is.”
So she began to run toward the men-animals. By this time they were giving a second push to the fence, and, as they were very strong, they knocked off some boards so they could get through.
“Now we’ll see what has happened to Tinkle,” said his father. “Tinkle! Tinkle! Where are you?” he called.
But Tinkle did not answer, for he was far away in the swamp, and just then he was splashing around in the mud and water trying to pull loose his feet from the sticky place.
“We’ll have to go farther on into the swamp,” said Dapple Gray, when they had waited a minute to see if Tinkle would answer.
“But we must be careful,” said one horse, slowly picking his steps. “This is soft ground here. See how deep my hoofs sink.”
“Indeed it is a bad place,” agreed Tinkle’s father. “I hope nothing happens to us. Be careful, every one.”
Slowly the horses and the ponies walked along, picking out the hardest and firmest ground they could find on which to step, especially the horses, for they were, of course, heavier than the most grown-up pony. Now and then all stopped to listen, and Tinkle’s father would call the pony’s name. At last one of the horses said:
“Hark! I think I heard something.”
They all listened. Through the trees of the swamp came a call:
“Help me! Help me!”
“That’s Tinkle!” cried his father. “We’re coming, Tinkle. Where are you?” he asked.
I’m over here, and I’m stuck in the swamp. I can’t get my feet out of the mud!”
“I thought so!” exclaimed Dapple Gray. “Just like a foolish little pony! Now we must get him out.”
So anxious was he to help his little pony that Tinkle’s father galloped on ahead. Some of the others did the same. They did not listen to Dapple calling:
“Wait! Be careful! Look out or you’ll be caught in the swamp yourselves!”
On and on ran Tinkle’s father and the others. They could tell which way to go by hearing Tinkle’s voice calling to them, just as your dog can tell where you are, even though he can not see you, when he hears you whistling to him.
“There he is! I see him!” cried Tinkle’s father as he came in sight of the pool of water, on the edge of which the pony was stuck in the mud.
“We’re coming! We’re coming, Tinkle!” he cried.
Then something dreadful happened. Tinkle’s father, and four or five of his friends, became stuck in the swamp mud also. Their feet sank away down, for they were heavier than Tinkle, and, try as they did, they could not lift themselves out.
“Oh!” cried Tinkle’s father. “We are caught too!”
Only Dapple Gray had not been caught. He had run slowly, fearing something like this might happen.
Just see what trouble Tinkle made by running away! For it was really his fault that the other ponies and the horses became mired, though of course Tinkle had not meant to do wrong. He had not thought; but often not thinking makes as much trouble as doing something on purpose.
“Help! Help!” cried Tinkle’s father. “We are caught in the mud too.”
“Oh, dear!” whinnied Tinkle.
Dapple Gray saw what the matter was.
“Keep quiet, all of you!” he said. “The more you flop about, the deeper you will sink in the mud. I’ll go and get The Man to come with ropes and pull you out. He and his helpers are the only ones who can save you now. This is no work for us horses alone. I’ll go for help.”
And, leaving Tinkle and the others stuck in the swamp, back to the green meadow ran Dapple Gray.