Chapter XII. Braving the Roaring Colorado
 

The Pony Riders drew closer, Dad leaned against the rocky wall of the Canyon, while the Professor peered anxiously into the lad's face.

"I'll bet it's a crazy plan," muttered Stacy.

"We will hear what you have to say and decide upon its feasibility afterwards," announced the Professor.

"Mr. Nance, if a man were below the horseshoe down the Canyon there, he would be able to make his way over to the Bright Angel Trail, would he not?"

"Yes. A fellow who knew how to climb among the rocks could make it."

"He could get right over on our own trail, could he not?"

"Sure! But what good would that do us?"

"Couldn't he let down ropes and get us out?"

"I reckon he could at that."

"You don't think we are going to be discovered here until perhaps it is too late, do you, Mr. Nance?"

"We always have hopes. There being nothing we can do, the only thing for us is to sit down and hope."

"And starve? No, thank you. Not for mine!"

"Nor mine. It's time we men did something," declared Stacy pompously.

"As I have had occasion to remark before, children should be seen and not heard," asserted Ned Rector.

"Kindly be quiet. We are listening to Master Tad," rebuked the Professor. "Go ahead, Tad."

"There isn't much to say, except that I propose to get on the other side of the horseshoe and climb back over the rocks to our trail. If I am fortunate enough to get there the rest will be easy and I'll have you up in a short time. How about it, Dad?" asked the boy lightly, as if his proposal were nothing out of the ordinary.

Dad took a few steps forward.

"How do ye propose to get across that stretch of water there to reach the other side of the horseshoe?"

"Swim it, of course."

The guide laughed harshly.

"Swim it? Why, kid a boat wouldn't live in that boiling pot for two minutes. What could a mere man hope to do against that demon?"

"It is my opinion that a man would do better for a few moments against the water than a boat would. I think I can do it."

"No, if anybody does that kind of a trick it will be Jim Nance."

"Do you swim?"

"Like a chunk of marble. Living on the plains all a fellow's life doesn't usually make a swimmer of him."

"I thought so. That makes me all the more determined to do this thing."

"Somebody hold me or I'll be doing it myself," cried Chunky.

No one paid any attention to the fat boy's remark.

"I can't permit it, Tad," said the Professor, with an emphatic shake of the head. "No, you could never make it. It would be suicide."

"I'm going to try it," insisted the Pony Rider.

"You most certainly are not."

"But there is little danger. Don't you see I should be floating down with the current. Almost before I knew it I should be on the other side of the horseshoe there. Besides you would have hold of the rope."

"Rope?" demanded Dad.

"Yes, of course."

"Where are you going to get ropes? They're all up there on the mountainside."

"We still have our lassoes."

"Explain. I don't understand," urged Professor Zepplin.

"It is my plan to tie the lassoes together. We have six of them. That will make nearly two hundred feet. One or two of you can take hold of the free end of the rope, the other end being about my waist. In case I should be carried away from the shore, why all you have to do will be to haul me back. Isn't that a simple proposition?"

"It's a crazy one," nodded the Professor.

"Come to think it over, I believe it could be done," reflected Nance. "If I could swim at all I'd do it myself, but I'd drown inside of thirty seconds after I stepped a foot in the water. Why, I nearly drown every time I wash for breakfast."

Stacy was about to make a remark, but checked himself. It was evidently not a seemly remark. It must have been more than ordinarily flippant to have caused Chunky to restrain himself.

"I move we let Tad try it, Professor," proposed Ned.

"I don't approve of it at all. No, sir, I most emphatically do not."

"But surely, Professor, there can be no danger in it at all. It is very simple," urged young Butler.

Tad knew better. It was not a simple thing to do. It was distinctly a perilous, if not a foolhardy feat. Nance knew this, too, but he had grown to feel a great confidence in Tad Butler. He believed that if anyone could brave those swirling waters and come out alive, that one was Tad Butler. But it was a desperate chance. Still, with the rope tied around the lad's waist, it was as the boy had said, they could haul him back quickly.

"Professor, I am in favor of letting him try it if he is a good swimmer," announced the guide.

"Pshaw, you couldn't drown Tad," declared Ned.

"No, you couldn't drown Tad," echoed Chunky. "Not any more than you could drown me."

"Perhaps you would like to try it yourself?" grinned Nance.

"Yes, I can hardly hold myself. I am afraid every minute that I'll jump right into that raging flood there and strike out for the other side of the horseshoe," returned Stacy, striking a diving attitude.

They laughed, but as quickly sobered. Tad was already at work making firm splices in the two ropes that he held in his hand.

"Pass over your ropes, boys. We have no time to lose. The river is getting higher every minute now, and there's no telling what condition it will be in an hour from now."

The others passed over their ropes, some willingly enough, others with reluctance. Tad spliced them together, tested each knot with all his strength and nodded his approval.

"I guess they will hold now," he said, stripping off his coat after having thrown his hat aside and tossed off his cartridge belt and revolver.

"Walt, you take care of those things for me, please, and in case I get you folks out, fetch them up with you."

Walter Perkins nodded as he picked up the belongings of his chum.

"Mr. Nance," said Tad, "I think you and Ned are the strongest, so I'll ask you two to take hold of the rope when I get started. If you need help the Professor will lend a hand."

Professor Zepplin shook his head. He did not approve of this at all. However, it seemed their only hope. Tad started for the lower end of the walled-in enclosure, the others following him. The lad made the rope fast around his waist, twisting it about so that the knot was on the small of his back. Thus the rope would not interfere with his swimming. He then uncoiled the rope, stretching it along the ground to make sure that there were no kinks in it.

"There, everything appears to be in working order. Don't you envy me my fine swim, boys?" Tad laughed cheerfully.

"Yes, we do," chorused the boys.

It must not be thought that Tad Butler did not fully realize the peril into which he was so willingly going. He knew there was a big chance against his ever making his goal, but he was willing to take the slender remaining chance that he might make it.

"All ready," he said coolly.

Dad and Ned took hold of the rope.

"Don't hold on to it at all unless I shout to you to do so. I must be left free. Let me be the judge if I am to be hauled back or not."

With a final glance behind, to see that all was in readiness, Tad stepped to the edge of the water. Chunky pressed up close to him.

"Is there any last request that you want me to make to relatives or friends, Tad?" asked the fat boy solemnly.

"Tell them to be good to my Chunky, for he's such a tender plant that he will perish unless he has the most loving care. Here I go!"

With a wave of his hand, Tad plunged into the swirling waters. Though his plunge was seen, the sound of it was borne down by the thunderous roar of the river. As Butler vanished it was as though he had gone to his instant doom.

Instinctively the two men holding the rope tightened their grip, beginning to haul in. But Tad's head showed and they eased off again.

Just a few moments more, and Tad was seized by the waters and hurled up into the air.

"He jumps like a bass," chuckled Chunky.

"Quit that talk!" ordered Ned sharply. "Poor Tad, we've let him go to a hopeless death!"

All watched Tad breathlessly---whenever they could see him. More often the boy was invisible to those on land.

A strong swimmer, and an intelligent one, Tad had more than found his match in these angry, cruel waters. Though the current was in the direction that he wanted to go, the eddies seemed bent on dragging him out to the middle of the stream, where he must be most helpless of all.

Tad was fighting with all the strength that remained to him when an up-wave met him, caught him and hurled him back fully ten feet. Butler now found his feet entangled in the rope.

"He's having a fearful battle!" gasped Walter, whose face had gone deathly pale.

Professor Zepplin nodded, unable to speak. By a triumph of strength, backed by his cool head and keen judgment, Tad brought himself out of this dangerous pocket of water, only to meet others. His strength seemed to be failing now.

"Haul him back!" ordered the Professor hoarsely. "Haul him back!"

They tried, but at that moment the rope parted---sawed in two over a sharp edge of rock!