Chapter XI. A Trying Time
 

For a moment following the announcement no one spoke.

The Professor gazed straight into the stern face of the guide, whose whiskers were still drooping.

"We are prisoners here? Is that it, Nance?" stammered Professor Zepplin.

"That's about it, I reckon. The trail's busted. There ain't no other way to get out that I know of and I reckon I know these canyons pretty well."

"Then what shall we do?"

"Well, I reckon we'll wait till somebody misses us and comes down after us."

"Oh, well, they will do that this morning. Of course they will miss us," declared the Professor, as if the matter were entirely settled.

The expression on Dad's face plainly showed that he was not quite so confident as was the Professor. There was one factor that Professor Zepplin had not taken into consideration. Food! There was barely enough left for a meal for one person. Dad surmised this, so he asked Tad just how much food they had left.

"Our supply," said Tad, "consists of three biscuit, one orange and two lemons."

The boys groaned.

"I'll take the biscuit. You can have the rest," was Chunky's liberal offer. "How about it?"

"You will get a lemon handed to you at twelve o'clock noon to-day," jeered Ned Rector.

"Then I'll pass it along to the one who needs it the most," retorted Stacy quickly.

"The question is," said the Professor, "is there nothing that we can do to attract the attention of others?"

"I have been thinking of that," answered Nance. "I wish now that we had brought our rifles."

"Why?"

"To shoot and attract attention of whoever may be on the rim."

"We might shoot our revolvers," suggested Tad.

"We will do that. It is doubtful if the reports can be heard above, and even then I am doubtful about any of the tenderfeet understanding what the shots mean. About our only hope is that some one who knows will come down the trail. They won't go further than the Gardens, but finding our mustangs there a mountaineer would understand."

"Shall I take a shot?" asked Walter.

"Yes."

Walter fired five shots into the river. After an interval Chunky let go five more. This continued until each had fired a round of five shots. After each round they listened for an answering shot from above, but none came. Thus matters continued until noon, when the remaining food was distributed among the party.

"This is worse than nothing," cried Chunky. "This excites my appetite. If you see me frothing at the mouth don't think I've got a dog bite. That's my appetite fighting with my stomach. I'll bet my gun that the appetite wins too."

The day wore away slowly. Tad made frequent trips down the river as far as he could get before being stopped by a great wall of rock that rose abruptly for nearly a thousand feet above him. He gazed up this glittering expanse of rock until his neck ached, then he went back to camp. An idea was working in Tad's mind, but it was as yet undeveloped.

At intervals the shots were tried again, though no reply followed. Night came on. Before dark Dad had gathered some driftwood that he found in crevices of the rocks. The wood was almost bone dry and a crackling, cheerful fire was soon burning.

"If we only had something to eat now, we'd be all right," said Walter mournfully.

"You want something to eat?" questioned Chunky.

"I should say I do."

"Oh, well, that's easily fixed."

Stacy stepped over to a rock, made a motion as if ringing a telephone bell, then listened.

"Hello! hello! Is that the hotel, El Tovar Hotel? Very well; this is Brown. Brown! Yes. Well, we want you to send out dinner for six. Six! Can't you understand plain English? Yes, six. Oh, well, I think we'll have some porter house steak smothered in onions. Smothered! We'll have some corn cakes and honey, some--some---um---some baked potatoes, about four quarts of strawberries. And by the way, got any apple pie? Yes? Well, you might send down a half dozen pies and-----"

Chunky got no further. With a howl, Ned Rector, Tad Butler and Walter Perkins made a concerted rush for him.

Ned fell upon the unfortunate fat boy first. Stacy went down in a heap with Ned jamming his head into the dirt that had been washed up by the river at flood time. A moment more and Ned was at the bottom of the heap with Stacy, the other two boys having piled on top.

"Here, here!" shouted the Professor.

"Let 'em scrap," grinned Dad. "They'll forget they're hungry."

They did. After the heap had been unpiled, the boys got up, their clothes considerably the worse for the conflict, their faces red, but smiling and their spirits considerably higher.

"You'll get worse than that if you tantalize us in that way again," warned Tad. "We can stand for your harmless jokes, but this is cruel-----"

"---ty to animals," finished Chunky.

"What you'll get will make you sure of that."

"Come over here and get warm, Brown," called the guide.

"Oh, he's warmed sufficiently," laughed Tad. "We have attended to that. He won't get chills to-night, I promise you."

Breathing hard, their eyes glowing, the boys squatted down around the camp fire. No sooner had they done so than a thrilling roar sounded off somewhere in a canyon to their right, the roar echoing from rock to rock, from canyon to canyon, dying away in the far distance.

"For goodness' sake, what is that?" gasped Stacy.

"Mountain lion," answered the guide shortly.

"Can---can he get here?" stammered Walter.

"He can if he wants to."

"I---I hope he changes his mind if he does want to," breathed Stacy.

"I wish we had our rifles," muttered Ned.

"What for?" demanded Dad.

"To shoot lions, of course."

"Humph!"

"Couldn't we have a lion hunt while we are out here?" asked Tad enthusiastically.

"You could if the lion didn't hunt you."

"Wouldn't that be great, fellows?" cried Tad. "The Pony Rider Boys as lion hunters."

"Great," chorused the boys. "When shall it be?" added Ned.

"It won't be till after we get out of this hole," declared Dad. "And from present indications, that won't be to-night."

"Tell us something about the lions," urged Walter. "Are they ugly?"

"Well, they ain't exactly household pets," answered the guide, with a faint smile.

"Is it permitted to hunt them?" interjected the Professor.

"Yes, there's no law against it. The lions kill the deer and the government is glad to be rid of the lions. But you won't get enough of them to cause a flurry in the lion market."

"No, there's more probability of there being a panic in the Pony Rider market," chuckled Tad.

"I'm not afraid," cried Stacy.

"No, Chunky isn't afraid," jeered Ned. "He doesn't want to go home when the marbles roll down from the mountain! Oh, no, he isn't afraid! He's just looking for dangerous sport."

Their repartee was interrupted by another roar, louder than the first. But though they listened for a long time there was no repetition of the disturbing roar of the king of the canyons.

Soon after that the lads went to bed. Tonight they slept soundly, for they had had little sleep the previous night, as the reader knows. When they awakened on the following morning the conditions had not changed. They were still prisoners in the Grand Canyon not far from the foot of Bright Angel Trail. All hands awoke to the consciousness that unless something were done, and at once, they would find themselves face to face with starvation. It was not a cheerful prospect.

There was no breakfast that morning, though Chunky, who had picked up a cast-away piece of orange peel, was munching it with great satisfaction, rolling his eyes from one to the other of his companions.

"Don't. You might excite your appetite again," warned Ned.

Tad, who had been out for another exploring tour along the river, had returned, walking briskly.

"Well, did you find a trail?" demanded Chunky.

"No, but I have found a way out of this hole," answered Tad, with emphasis.

"What?" exclaimed Dad, whirling on him almost savagely.

"Yes, I have found a way. I'm going to carry out a plan and I promise that with good luck I'll get you all out of here safely. I shall need some help, but the thing can be done, I know."

"What is your plan?" asked the Professor.

"I'll tell you," said Tad. "But don't interrupt me, please, until I have finished."