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A Matt Christopher Adventure Classic


Author: Matt Christopher
2014 Reissue Edition
Retail: $9.95US
; 108pp
5"x 8" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-933523-50-7
ISBN 978-1-62268-085-6 ebook
LCCN 2014922279


Chapter 1

Excited and impatient, Stu Bancroft quickened his steps as he headed for the tall, red barn. He had been waiting a long, long time for this glorious moment!
    The barn, with the twin hex signs painted over its wide, sliding door, was only a short distance away from the house. Inside was Midnight, the Morgan pony Stu and Sally had flown almost three thousand miles to see and take back home with them.
    "Slow down, Stu." Uncle Harry's deep voice resounded behind him. "I don't want you to have an accident at the very last minute."
    Stu turned, smiling broadly as he waited for his uncle, his fourteen-year-old cousin Wilbur, and his sister Sally. Uncle Harry looked almost comic as he lumbered down the path, Sally on one side of him and Wilbur on the other. Stu remembered Aunt Trish writing in one of her letters to his mother that Uncle Harry was a big man. But she had never said how big! He must weigh two hundred and fifty pounds if he weighed an ounce!
    "Is Midnight tall, Uncle Harry?" Stu asked. "Is he still all black?"
    "As black as the ace of spades," replied Uncle Harry. "And he's about the standard size of a Morgan."
    "How tall is that?" asked Sally, her blond hair bouncing on her shoulders. At twelve, she was almost as tall as her brother, and as athletic.
    "Oh, about thirteen-nine hands. Just under fourteen, I'd say," Uncle Harry answered.
    They joined Stu and walked to the barn together, Wilbur breaking loose from them to slide open the wide door.
    As they stepped inside the barn, Stu was instantly aware of the smell of hay and manure. His heart hammered as he remembered that it was almost a year ago when he and his family had visited Aunt Trish, during his father's two weeks' vacation. Midnight had been just a foal then.
    The muffled sounds of horses blowing air through their thick nostrils filled the high-ceilinged barn at the same time that Stu saw the two horses closest to the doorway.
    "Black Eagle and Tiger Lil!" he cried, suppressing a burning desire to run toward them.
    At the sound of his voice, the horses, Midnight's sire and dam, reared back, stamping hard on the floors of their stalls, while their eyes widened in shock and alarm.
    "You scared them, Stu!" Wilbur cried fiercely. "I thought you understood horses!"
    "I'm sorry," mumbled Stu.
    "Stu's just excited, Wil," said his father. "No harm's done. Okay, you two," he addressed the horses. "Take it easy. It's just your old friends, Stu and Sally Bancroft. They came to say hello."
    Both horses looked at Uncle Harry with wide eyes, their ears stiffly alert. The big man sweet-talked them for another minute until they settled down.
    Deep inside Stu felt a pang. He had been dreaming of this moment for many months. He had ridden both the black stallion and the bay mare long before Midnight was born, and now he was disappointed that they didn't remember him.
    He heard a whinnying sound from the next stall, and could barely contain his excitement. That must be Midnight! He must be full-grown now! A black beauty!
    Unable to hold back any longer, Stu cat-footed to the next stall. Excitement rippled through him in waves as he saw a black velvet pony munching on a pile of hay. What a beauty he was! Not quite as tall as his sire, but strong-bodied all the same.
    "Midnight!" Stu whispered.
    The pony looked up at Stu and stared. But he showed no real sign of recognizing the boy, and a moment later returned to his meal.
    Disappointed, Stu glanced at his uncle, who came up alongside him with Sally and Wilbur.
    "Well, what do you think of him?" Uncle Harry asked.
    "He's everything I dreamed he'd be!" Stu answered breathlessly.
    "Not as tall as Black Eagle, but handsome just the same," said his uncle.
    "I think he's gorgeous!" Sally exclaimed delightedly. "I bet you ride him often, don't you, Wilbur?"
    "Well— yeah."
    Stu wondered whether "Well— yeah" meant once or twice a day, or once or twice a week. He didn't ask for specifics, though. He would rather not know; he was afraid he'd be jealous. He was just happy that from now on Midnight would be his, and hoped that his and Sally's two-week vacation would go by swiftly so that they could take Midnight back home with them.
    "We seldom keep them here in the barn," Uncle Harry explained. "They're only here now because you were coming. They're out in the pasture most of the time, loose and running."
    "Would you like to ride him?" Wilbur asked.
    "Would I!" said Stu, his eyes brightening.
    "Not so fast," cautioned Uncle Harry. "You ought to get reacquainted with him before you put a saddle on him."
    Not even waiting for the go-ahead signal from his uncle, Stu opened the stall door and stepped inside. Proceeding slowly, he started talking to the pony in a soft voice.
    "Hello, Midnight. Remember me? I'm Stu. The last time we saw each other was almost a year ago. You were just a foal then. A pretty little foal with long, skinny legs."
    Midnight looked up, chewing on the hay that stuck out of his mouth.
    When Stu reached out to touch him, he stepped back, muscles rippling in his velvety shoulders.
    "Just take your time," advised Uncle Harry. "He doesn't quite know what to make of you yet."
    Stu moved toward the pony again, continuing to talk in gentle tones. He knew that a pony only a year old could become quite jittery and nervous when confronted by a stranger. I've got to be as patient as I can, he thought. I want our friendship to last forever.
    At last patience won out, as the pony allowed Stu to stand beside him and stroke his muzzle and neck.
    "Well, I guess you've bridged the gap," observed Uncle Harry, smiling. "I didn't expect it to take very long. Midnight's real good-natured. He'll make you a nice pet."
    Stu laid his face against the pony's cheek. "Can I ride him now?"
    "Why not? Wilbur, put a bridle on him, then bring him out. I'll get the saddle."
    Stu saw his cousin take a bridle off a hook on the wall and slip it over Midnight's head. As he watched Wilbur leading Midnight out of the barn, Stu wondered just how much his cousin liked the pony. Surely, he thought, Wilbur must have become quite attached to Midnight. It would have been impossible not to, if he liked ponies at all.
    Outside the barn, Stu hung on to the reins as Wilbur lifted a saddle onto Midnight's back. He moved it gently into position and tightened the girth.
    "Okay, fella. He's all yours," Uncle Harry said, after tightening the stirrups.
    Placing a foot into the stirrup on the pony's left side, Stu mounted him. But, just as Stu settled himself on the saddle, Midnight whinnied shrilly, and bucked! Caught by surprise, Stu's feet slipped out of the stirrups and he was thrown out of the saddle. Landing on the soft turf, he rolled over a couple of times to keep from getting injured.
    "Stu!" cried Uncle Harry, rushing to his side. "Are you hurt, boy?"
    Stu rose dazedly to his feet, shocked by the fall but unhurt. "No. I'm all right," he said, breathing heavily.
    Both Sally and Wilbur had run forward too. Sally's face was white. "Stu! Are you sure you're all right?"
    "I'm sure," he said. "But I can't understand it! Why did he buck like that?"
    "You've got me," said his uncle. "He surprised me as much as he did you."
    Stu looked around and saw Wilbur mounting Midnight. He felt miserable as he saw his cousin prod the pony gently in the ribs and ride off with no problem whatever.
    "I don't understand it, Uncle Harry," said Stu. "Why should Midnight throw me like that? A minute ago we got along fine. What made him change all of a sudden?"
    "Stu. I'm just as puzzled as you are," said Uncle Harry, frowning.

copyright ©2014 Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

Author: Matt Christopher
2014 Reissue Edition
Retail: $9.95US
; 108pp
5"x 8" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-933523-50-7
ISBN 978-1-62268-085-6 ebook
LCCN 2014922279


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