Dad says it’s OK to use the barn for our riding club meetings. How about another one of those apples, McGraw? Well, guys, what do you say?” asked Jason Farwell, flipping the hair out of his eyes with a jerk of his head.
“Boy, Jason, that’s great!” said Eddie Fowler. “Say, McGraw, where’d you get these good apples?”
“Mom gave me a whole sackful. Do you suppose we could have trail rides and rodeos and cookouts and stuff, Jase?”
“Sure. You in?” Jason asked Dexter McGraw, who liked anything that involved food or horses. “How about you, Eddie, you in?
“You bet,” mumbled Eddie with a mouthful of apple.
“Hey, Jase,” he said, swallowing, “let’s ask Barney Lightner to join too. He rides.”
Eddie always wanted to include Barney in their plans. Jason said it was because Barney was the only one in school who had redder hair and more freckles than Eddie.
“Now. Who wants him? He’s weird.”
“Not really, Jase. He’s pretty neat when you get to know him. OK? Here he comes now. Hey, Lightner!”
“Hi, Eddie, guys. Hey, can I have your apple cores when you’ve finished eating your apples?”
“See what I mean? A real winner,” grumbled Jason sarcastically under his breath. “Nuts, there’s the bell. Boy, they never make recesses long enough. Come on, we’ll finish talking after school. Oh, Lightner, here’s your apple core.”
After school Jason and Dexter met to finish making plans.
“Oh, no,” muttered Jason. “Here comes Eddie and Lightner. Hey, Lightner, eaten any apple cores lately?”
“Aw, knock it off, Jase,” said Eddie. “You know he takes them home to Thunder.”
“Lightner, what do you think of the idea of us starting a riding club?” asked Dexter. “We want to have trail rides and rodeos and stuff like that.”
“Yeah,” grumbled Jason. “You might as well join, too, Lightner.”
“Thanks, guys, but I wouldn’t have time for it. Oh, here comes the bus. I have to get home and ride old Thunder. See ya.”
“Well, how do you like that?” said Jason. “For a poor kid, he’s pretty snooty if you ask me.”
Saturday turned out to be one of those beautiful spring days when the sun feels extra warm and the breezes feel extra cool. The riding club had planned a trail ride and camp-out in a canyon called Webster’s Gulch. Since it was on their way, the boys decided to stop at the Lightners’ house to give Barney a chance to change his mind. Mrs. Lightner said they’d find him in the barnyard riding old Thunder.
As the boys rounded the corner of the house, they saw Barney astride—a mule! He took turns pleading and hollering at the animal, but it wouldn’t budge an inch. When Barney saw the boys, his face became even redder than his hair, and he stammered, “He’s not usually this stubborn. Honest.”
Not being able to afford the horse Barney had always dreamed of owning, his mother allowed him to ride their old work mule, which Barney had named Thunder.
After what seemed to Barney like an eternity of laughter and cowboy jokes, the boys finally left. One thing was sure—he was going to have a miserable day at school on Monday. They’d see to that!
Later the boys camped half-way up the canyon, and set up a tether line to tie their horses to. A wide ledge about four feet up the canyon wall made a perfect place to pitch their tent.
Late that night it started to thunder violently, and the lightning flashed almost without interruption. Eventually the thunder subsided to a distant rumble, but the rain remained a steady torrent. After a few ghost stories the boys dropped off to sleep.
Just before dawn, the boys were suddenly awakened by Jason’s shout of alarm. The horses had broken loose from their tether line, and the canyon was now a raging river, with water inching up toward their tent.
The boys made a desperate scramble up the sheer wall of the canyon only to fall down again to their ledge, which was rapidly disappearing under the water. And Jason, in his try for safety, twisted his ankle.
The boys saw their tent being swept away, and they knew that they would be next.
“Listen!” yelled Jason above the sound of the rushing water. “I hear something!”
Above the rumble of the distant thunder, the roar of the water, and the steady drumming of the rain, they heard someone hollering!
There, on the rim of the canyon above them, was Barney, and he was lowering a rope to them. His friends quickly tied the rope under Jason’s arms while Barney tied the other end to Thunder. Then Barney and Thunder pulled Jason and then the other two boys to safety.
“Boy! I never thought I’d be so glad to see your old mule!” exclaimed Eddie. “How’d you know we were in trouble, Barney?”
“I woke up when your horses went galloping through Mom’s garden. I figured you might have been flooded out after that heavy rain. So I rounded up old Thunder, grabbed a rope, and got here as fast as I could.”
Everyone at school on Monday was buzzing about how Barney Lightner and old Thunder had saved the boys from a flash flood.
“Well, Barney,” said Miss Wilkins, their teacher, “I hear that you’re some kind of a hero. And that Thunder of yours must really be some kind of horse!”
Barney sank down in his seat, fearing what would surely come next, when a shuffling sound in the doorway diverted everyone’s attention. There, on crutches, stood Jason.
“That’s right, Miss Wilkins,” Jason said with a wink toward Barney. “Old Thunder is some kind of horse!”