Chapter XIII. A Battle Mightily Waged
 

The land end of the rope fell limp in the hands of Jim Nance and Ned Rector.

"It's gone---gone!" wailed Ned.

"That settles him," answered the guide in a hopeless tone.

"Oh, he's lost, he's lost!" cried Walter. "Can no one do anything?"

Chunky, with sudden determination, threw off his coat, and started on a run for the river. Dodging the Professor's outstretched hands, Chunky sprang into the water.

With a roar Dad hurled the rope toward the fat boy. The guide had no time in which to fashion a loop, but he had thrown the rope doubled. Fortunately the coil caught Chunky's right foot and the lad was hauled back feet first, choking, half drowned, his head being dragged under water despite his struggles to get free.

The instant they hauled him to the bank the Professor seized the lad and began shaking him.

"Leggo! Lemme go, I tell you. I'm going after Tad!"

Stacy Brown was terribly in earnest this time. He was fighting mad because they had pulled him back from what would have been sure death to him. They had never given Stacy credit for such pluck, and Ned and Walter gazed at him with new interest in their eyes. It was necessary to hold the fat boy. He was still struggling, determined to go to Tad's rescue.

In the meantime their attention had been drawn from Tad for the moment. When they looked again they failed to find him.

"There he is," shouted Ned, as the boy was seen to rise from the water and plunge head foremost into it again. Tad did not appear to be fighting now.

"He's helpless! He's hurt!" cried the Professor.

"I reckon that's about the end of the lad," answered Nance in a low tone. "There's nothing we can do but to wait."

"I see him again!" shouted Walter.

They could see the lad being tumbled this way and that, hurled first away from the shore, then on toward it. Nance was regarding the buffeted Pony Rider keenly. He saw that Tad was really nearing the shore, but that he was helpless.

"What has happened to him?" demanded the Professor hoarsely. "Is he drowned?"

"It's my opinion that he has been banged against a rock and knocked out. I can't tell what'll be the end of it, but it looks mighty bad. There he goes, high and dry!" fairly screamed Dad, while his whiskers tilted upwards at a sharp angle.

Tad had been hurled clear of the water, hurled to the dry rocks on which he had been flung as if the river wanted no more of him. The watchers began to shout. They danced about almost beside themselves with anxiety. No one could go to Tad's assistance, if, indeed, he were not beyond assistance.

A full twenty minutes of this nerve-racking anxiety had passed when Dad thought he saw a movement of Tad's form. A few moments later the boy was seen to struggle to a sitting posture, where he sat for a short time, both hands supporting his head.

Such a yell as the Pony Rider Boys uttered might have been heard clear up on the rim of the Grand Canyon had there been any one there to hear it. Dad danced a wild hornpipe, the Professor strode up and down, first thrusting his hands into his pockets, then withdrawing and waving them above his head. Stacy had settled down on the rocks with the tears streaming down his cheeks. Stacy wasn't joking now. This emotion was real.

They began to shout out Tad's name. It was plain that he heard them, for he waved a listless hand then returned to his former position.

"That boy is all iron," breathed the admiring guide.

The noise of the river was so great that they could not ask him if he were hurt seriously. But Tad answered the question himself a few minutes later by getting up. He stood for a moment swaying as if he would fall over again, then staggered to the wall, against which he leaned, still holding his head.

"He must have got an awful wallop," declared Dad.

Shortly after that Tad appeared to have recovered somewhat, for he was seen to be gazing up over the rocks, apparently trying to choose a route for himself.

"How can he ever make that dizzy climb in his condition?" groaned the Professor.

"We'll see. I think he can do anything," returned Nance.

Tad walked back and forth a few times, exercising his muscles, then turned toward the rocks which he began to climb. He proceeded slowly and with great caution, evidently realizing the peril of his undertaking, but taking no greater chances than he was obliged to do.

Little by little he worked his way upward, Now and then halting, clinging to the rocks for support while he rested. After a time he looked down at his companions. Nance waved a hand, signaling Tad to turn to the right. Tad saw and understood the signal and acted accordingly.

Once he stood up and gazed off over the rugged peaks, sharp knife-like edges and sheer wails before him. There seemed not sufficient foothold for a bird where he was standing, and though a thousand feet above the river, he seemed not to feel the height at all nor to be in the least dizzy.

It was dangerous work, exhausting work; but oh! what self-reliance, what pluck and levelheadedness was Tad Butler displaying. Had he never accomplished anything worth while in his life, those who saw him now could but admire the lad's wonderful courage.

They hung upon his movements, scarcely breathing at all, as little by little the lad crept along, now swinging by his hands from one ledge to another, now creeping around a sharp bend on hand and knees, now hanging with nothing more secure than thin air underneath him, with face flattened against a rock, resting. It was a sight to thrill and to make even strong men shiver.

For a long time Tad disappeared from view. The watchers did not know where he had gone, but Nance explained that he had crept around the opposite side of the butte where he had last been seen, hoping to discover better going there, which Jim was of the opinion he would find.

This proved to be the case when after what seemed an interminable time, the Pony Rider once more appeared, creeping steadily on toward the trail above the broken spot.

This went on for the greater part of two hours.

"He's safe. Thank God!" cried the guide.

The Pony Rider Boys whooped.

"You stay here!" directed the guide. Nance began clambering up the rocky trail to a point from which he would be able to talk to the boy. Arriving at this spot, Dad waited. At last Tad appeared, dragging himself along.

"Good boy! Fine boy! Dad's Canyon is proud of you, boy!"

Tad sank down, shaking his head, breathing hard, as the guide could see, even at that distance. After a time Tad recovered his wind sufficiently to be able to talk.

"What happened to you?" called Dad.

"I got a bump. I don't really know what did occur. The ropes are all washed away, Dad. I don't know how I'm going to help you up here now that I have got up. Aren't there any vines of which I could make a ladder?"

"Nary a vine that'll make a seventy-five-foot ladder."

"Then there is only one thing for me to do."

"What's that?"

"Hurry to the rim and get ropes."

"I reckon you'll have to do that, kid, if you think you're able. Are you much knocked out?"

"I'm all right. Tell them not to worry. I may be gone some time, but I shall be back."

"Good luck! I wish I could help you."

"I don't need help now. There is no further danger. Are my friends down there hungry?"

"Stacy Brown is thinking of nibbling rocks."

Tad laughed, then began climbing up the trail. Nance, watching him narrowly, saw that the boy was very weary, being scarcely able to drag himself along. After a time Tad passed out of sight up what was left of Bright Angel Trail. Nance, with a sigh, turned to begin retracing his steps down to the Pony Rider Boys' party.

"Well, he made it, didn't he?" cried Ned. "We have been watching him all the time."

"There's a real man," answered the guide, with an emphatic nod. "Pity there aren't more like him."

"There is one like him," spoke up Chunky.

"Who?"

"Little me," answered the fat boy, tapping his chest modestly.

"That's so; Chunky did jump into the raging flood," said Walter. "We mustn't forget that he acted the part of a brave man while we were standing there shivering and almost gasping for breath."

"Brave?" drawled Ned sarcastically.

"Ned Rector, you know you were scared stiff," retorted Walter.

"Well, I'll be honest with you, I was. Who wouldn't have been? Even the Professor's mustache changed color for the moment."

The afternoon passed. It was now growing dark, for the night came on early down there in the Canyon. On the tops of the peaks the lowering sun was lighting up the red sandstone, making it appear like a great flame on the polished walls.

"Isn't it time Tad were getting back?" asked the Professor anxiously.

"Well, it's a long, hard climb, you know. All of seven miles the way one has to go. That makes fourteen miles up and back, and they're real miles, as you know."

"I hope nothing has happened to the boy."

"Leave it to him. He knows how to take care of himself."

No one thought of lying down to sleep. In the first place, all were too hungry. Then, again, at any moment Tad might return. Midnight arrived. Suddenly Nance held up his hands for silence.

"Whoo-oo!"

It was a long-drawn, far-away call.

"That's Tad," said Nance. "We'd better gather up our belongings and get up to the break in the trail."

The guide answered the call by a similar "whoo-oo," after which all began climbing cautiously. In the darkness it was dangerous business, but a torch held in the hands of Jim Nance aided them materially. Far up on the side of the Canyon they could see three flickering points of light.

"It's the kid. He's got somebody with him. I thought he'd do that. He's a wise one," chuckled the guide.

The climb was made in safety. The party ar rived at the base at last, the boys shouting joyously as they saw Tad waving a torch at them. At least they supposed it was Tad.

"What do you think about waiting until daylight for the climb?" shouted Butler.

"I'll see what they say," answered Nance. "What about it, gentlemen?"

"I think it perhaps would be safer." This from the Professor.

"What, spend another night in this hole?" demanded Stacy. "No, sirree."

"Please let us go on up, Professor," begged Walter.

"Yes, we don't want to stay down here. We can climb at night as well as in daylight," urged Chunky.

"What have you got, ropes?" called Nance.

"I've brought down some rope ladders, which I have spliced-----"

"I hope you've done a better job on the splicing than you did on your own rope when you sailed across the horseshoe bend," shouted Stacy. "If you haven't, I refuse to trust my precious life to your old rope."

"Too bad about your precious life," laughed Ned. "Well, Professor, what do you say?"

"Is it safe, Nance?"

"As safe now as at any other time."

"All right."

"Let down your ladder," called the guide. "Be sure that it is well secured. How many have you with you?"

"Three men, if that is what you mean."

"Very good."

The rope ladder was let down. Those below were just able to reach it with their hands. It came within less than a foot of being too short.

"Who is going up first?" asked the guide.

"The Professor, of course," replied Chunky magnanimously.

"That is very thoughtful of you, Stacy," smiled Professor Zepplin.

"Yes, you are the heaviest. If the rope doesn't break with you, it's safe for the rest of us," answered Chunky, whereat there was a general laugh.

"Very good, young man. I will accommodate you," announced the Professor grimly, grasping the rope and pulling himself up with the assistance of Nance and the boys.

The rope swayed dizzily.

"Hold it there!" shouted the Professor.

Nance had already grasped the end of the ladder and was holding to it with his full weight. After a long time a shout from above told them that Professor Zepplin had arrived safely at the top. Walter went up next, then Chunky and Ned, followed finally by Jim Nance himself after their belongings had been hauled to the top.

Professor Zepplin embraced Tad immediately upon reaching the trail above. The boys joked Butler about being such a poor swimmer. About that time they discovered that Tad had a gash nearly four inches long on his head where he had come in contact with the sharp edge of a rock in the river. Tad had lost much blood and was still weak and pale from his terrific experiences. Nance wrung Tad Butler's hand until Tad winced.

"Ain't a man in the whole Grand who could have done what you did, youngster," declared Dad enthusiastically.

"The question is, did you fetch down anything to eat?" demanded Chunky.

"Yes, of course I did."

"Where is it? Lead me to it," shouted the fat boy.

"I left the stuff up at the Garden, where the mustangs are. We will go up there, the Professor and Mr. Nance approving."

The Professor and Mr. Nance most certainly did approve of the suggestion, for both were very hungry. The men who had come down with Tad led the way with their torches. It was a long, hard climb, the use of the ropes being found necessary here and there for convenience and to save time. Tad had had none of these conveniences when he went up. How he had made the trip so easily as he appeared to make it set the boys to wondering.

Baskets of food were found at the Garden. The party did full justice to the edibles, then, acting on the suggestion of Nance, they rolled up in their blankets and went to sleep. First, however, Professor Zepplin had examined the wound in Tad's head. He found it a scalp wound. The Professor washed and dressed the wound, after which Tad went to bed.

On the following morning they mounted their mustangs and started slowly for the rim, where they arrived some time after noon. The Pony Rider Boys instantly went into camp near the hotel, for it had been decided to take a full day's rest before starting out on the long trip. This time they were to take their pack train with them and cut off from civilization for the coming few weeks, they would live in the Canyon, foraging for what food they were unable to carry with them.

The guests at the hotel, after hearing of Tad Butler's bravery, tried to make a hero of the lad, but Tad would have none of it. He grew red in the face every time anyone suggested that he had done anything out of the ordinary. And deep down in his heart the lad did not believe that he had. Professor Zepplin, however, called a surgeon, who took five stitches in the scalp wound.

On the following morning camp was struck and the party started out for Bright Angel Gulch and Cataract Canyon, in both of which places some interesting as well as exciting experiences awaited them. Nance had brought three of his hunting dogs with him in case any game were started.

The boys were looking forward to shooting a lion, though, there being no snow on the ground, it would be difficult for the dogs to strike and follow a trail. How well they succeeded we shall see.