Chapter V. Rescued by a Human Chain
 

Too much stupefied to speak, even to move, the other two boys stood pale and trembling. There was no doubt in their minds that both Tad and Stacy had been killed.

"Do something! Do something!" shouted the Professor, recovering his voice in a sudden rush of words.

"I--I am afraid there is nothing we can do now," stammered Walter.

But Ned Rector had bounded to the edge and was gazing over half fearfully.

"There's Chunky! There he is!" he shouted.

"Where? Where?" cried the Professor, running up. "Where is he, I say?"

"Right down there, not more than ten feet below us. He has lodged between two rocks--no, I see now, he's caught on one."

Now that they looked closer, they observed that he was hanging head down, doubled over like a sack of meal, a sharp rock having caught in his left trousers pocket, thus stopping his downward flight.

It was not a very secure position at best.

"Are you hurt, Chunky?" called Walter.

"I--I don't know. I think I'm killed."

"Can you see Tad? Do you know what happened to him?" asked Ned, in an excited tone.

"No, I can't. I've got troubles of my own. Get me out of here quick. I can't hold on much longer."

"If the trousers only hold out, we'll save you," cried Walter. "Get a rope, Eagle-eye."

"Move! Move, idiot!" snorted the Professor. "What are you standing there for?"

Eagle-eye shrugged his shoulders, if anything more indifferently than before.

"No rope," he answered, as if it were a matter of no moment.

"I'll get a lariat. That surely ought to be long enough," said Walter, darting away to the ponies.

"Come back. There's no lariats there. They're all in the pack down at the bottom of the canyon," shouted Ned.

"Then we're helpless," groaned the Professor.

"No, we're not. I'll find a way to get the boy out," announced Ned, in a voice of stern determination. There was no laughter in his face now. Purpose was written in every line of it.

"Come here, you lazy redskin, you," he commanded, which summons Eagle-eye obeyed reluctantly.

"What are you going to do?" demanded the Professor.

"Help!" came a wail from the unhappy Chunky.

"We're coming. Keep quiet. Don't you move," admonished Walter.

"I'll get a nosebleed if I have to hang here this way."

"You'll get worse than that if you don't get a grip on yourself and keep quiet. I'm going to form a human chain, the way we used to do to get pond lilies at home. Professor, lie down there, while I tie your feet to the tree. We will use you for an anchor."

In a trice the Professor's feet were made fast to the tree with the remaining piece of rope that had broken off short.

"Down on your stomach, Eagle-eye!" commanded the resourceful Ned, giving the redskin a jerk that sent him sprawling. "Take hold of his ankles and hang on, Professor. You next, Walter. Good. Now grab me by the ankles, while I go over head first."

But Ned's carefully laid plans failed. The human chain was not long enough to reach.

"Pull back, quick!" he ordered.

The return, however, was less easily executed, and perspiring, weak and trembling, Ned finally succeeded in scrambling to the cliff, with the aid of those behind him.

"What can we do now?" begged the Professor, greatly agitated.

"Try it another way, that's all. We've simply got to do it. Sit down and brace your feet against that boulder near the edge, there, Professor."

This Professor Zepplin did quickly. Walter dropped down in front of him, and next came the Shawnee and Ned Rector, each, save the Professor, sitting on his knees, facing the edge of the cliff.

"Now each one grab the ankles of the one ahead of him," directed Ned.

As they did so, the sitting men and boys, still doubled up, let themselves fall forward on their faces.

Slowly the line lengthened out like the unwinding of the coils of a serpent, Ned Rector slipping slowly over the brink, the red man squirming after him, until both were clear of the edge, hanging head down.

"I've got him," came up the muffled voice of Ned. "But I've got a rush of blood to the head. Pull now! Pull for all you're worth, all of you. If you slip we're all gone. Be careful."

His words of caution were not needed. Each realized the responsibility that rested upon his shoulders, and each was bending every nerve and muscle in his body to the task.

Eagle-eye himself was urged to renewed efforts by the certain knowledge that if he failed he would go to join the "evil spirits" in the rapid waters below.

"Wait a minute. I want to turn him around. He's a dead weight this way and I'm afraid we won't get him over," cautioned Ned.

After much effort he succeeded finally in turning Stacy around so that they could clasp hands.

"Now brace your feet, Chunky, and help all you can."

This Stacy did gladly enough.

"Don't drop me," he warned.

"If somebody doesn't let go you'll be all right," was the comforting answer.

Walter, being weaker than the others, was by this time well-nigh exhausted, but he held on with a determination that did him credit. At last they succeeded in pulling Ned and Chunky to the surface. Both boys were thoroughly exhausted by the time they were hauled up, and for a moment they lay breathing hard.

"Lucky my pants didn't rip, wasn't it?" grinned Chunky. "Did you see me fall in? But where's Tad?" he exclaimed, suddenly sitting up.

The Professor had already hurried to the edge as soon as he was able to get his breath, calling loudly into the depths.

There was no answer. Then the boys added their voices to his, but without result.

Tad could hear them call, but as yet he did not possess the strength to answer. When the rope parted he realized instantly that he was falling, and sought desperately to check his fall. He was powerless to do so. However, the rope did this for him to a certain extent, catching here and there in crevices in the rocks, jolting Tad almost into unconsciousness as he bounded up and down. Finally the springing rope bounced him clear of the last jagged points, dropping him neatly into the bushes.

Tad landed squarely on the pack that he had gone in search of, but the shock was so severe that for a time he lay stunned and motionless.

When finally he became conscious he heard his companions far above calling.

The lad tried and tried to answer them, to assure them that he was safe, but the roar of the stream beside him seemed to drown his weakened voice.

"I've got to make them hear. I simply must make them hear," he said to himself. "They will be beside themselves with worry, believing that I am killed."

Finding that he could not raise his voice sufficiently to carry to the top of the cliff, the lad struggled to his feet and began waving his handkerchief.

At first those above were so busy using their voices that they did not observe the tiny piece of cloth.

They had about given up hope of finding the boy alive, when Ned Rector, who had been anxiously peering into the gorge, suddenly raised himself to his knees.

"I see something moving," he shouted.

The others crowded around him as close to the edge as they dared. They were able to make nothing of what he saw.

"It's Tad! It's Tad!" He's signaling us," cried Ned eagerly.

"Are you sure?" asked the Professor doubtfully.

"Come and see for yourself," answered Ned, grasping the Professor by the arm and rushing him to the edge.

"Be careful! Be careful! You'll have both of us over there, next thing you know."

"Judging from the experiences of our friends, it wouldn't do us much harm," laughed Ned. "There's Tad Butler down there. Goodness knows how far he fell, and Chunky got a bump that would have knocked the breath out of almost anyone. Hooray, T-a-d!" roared Ned in answer to his companion's signal. "Are you all right?"

The tiny piece of cloth waved more emphatically.

"What's the matter, can't you talk?"

The handkerchief fluttered more rapidly.

Ned interpreted this as meaning that the boy could not make himself heard.

"I am afraid he is hurt."

"Can't be very seriously or he would be unable to stand up and swing that rag," suggested Walter.

"Looks to me as if he were trying to climb up the rocks," announced Chunky.

As they gazed down intently they discovered Tad emerging from the bushes, slowly making his way upward.

"He never can make it," breathed the Professor, anxiously. "He will be killed if he tries it."

"Trust Tad. He knows what he is about. He won't try to climb up here," returned Ned.

"You'll see what he's up to in a minute."

The lad's object in scaling the steep wall as far as he could was to get away from the roar of the water that was hurling itself furiously through the gorge, so he could talk with his companions.

After ascending as far as the formation of the rocks would allow, Tad perched himself behind a point of limestone and swung his hand gayly to those above.

"You can't kill a Pony Rider," glowed Ned.

"Yes, judging from what we have been through, you young gentlemen seem to be immune to almost everything. Of course there is liable to be a first time. We don't want that to happen. But we have a serious difficulty on hand at the present moment. Call to Master Tad. See if he is all right."

Ned did so.

"I got a pretty fair shaking up," answered Tad, in a voice that they could catch only by the most careful attention.

"How far did you fall?" shouted Walter.

"I didn't have time to measure the distance," answered the voice from below.

The boys uttered a shout of laughter.

"Neither did Chunky."

"What happened to him?"

"He fell over in trying to catch the rope and save you."

"Good boy! Hurt him any?"

"No. It hurt us more in getting him out."

"Ask him if he found the provisions ruined?" suggested the Professor.

Tad informed them that nothing save some of the cooking utensils had been damaged.

All had been too securely packed and wrapped with canvas to insure them against exactly the kind of an accident that had happened.

"Think you can get the stuff up here?" asked Ned.

"I'd like to know how? The rope is all down here. I can't very well throw the things up to the top of the mountain," replied Tad.

"That's so. We had forgotten that," muttered the Professor. "And young gentlemen, will you tell me how Master Tad himself is going to get back? Don't you see my judgment was right when I said it was a dangerous undertaking?"

"It seems so," answered Ned ruefully. "But there must be some way to get the provisions out."

"Bother the provisions," interrupted the Professor, impatiently. "We've something more important than food to consider just now. Master Tad is down in the canyon and from the present outlook he is liable to remain there for some time. Any of you think of a plan that will help us? Here, Eagle-eye, perhaps you can tell us how to get that young gentlemen out of there."

The Indian shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"Him stay. Spirits git um bymeby."

"You stop that kind of talk," commanded Ned.

"Tad is calling," interrupted Walter.

"What is it?" asked Ned.

"Get a rope and let down here."

"There is not ten feet of rope in the outfit."

"Send for help then. I've got to get out of here somehow."

"Tell him there is no help that we could depend upon, within twenty or thirty miles of here," said the Professor.