Chapter IX. Chunky Wants to Go Home
 

Instead of a half hour, as had been prophesied, a full hour elapsed before they reached the bottom of the trail that was practically no trail at all. Tad was sure that the guide couldn't find his way back over the same ground, or rather rock, to save his life, for the boy could find nothing that looked as if the foot of man had ever trodden upon it before. He doubted if any one had been over that particular trail from the Garden on.

As a matter of fact, Dad had led them into new fields. But at last they stood upon the surer foundation of the bottom of the chasm.

"Anyone needs to be a mountain goat to take that journey," said Tad, with a laugh.

"No, a bird would be better," piped Stacy.

"I'd rather be a bug, then I wouldn't have to climb," spoke up Walter.

"Hurrah! Walt's said something," shouted Ned.

By this time Nance and the Professor had walked along, climbing over boulders, great blocks of stone that had tumbled from the walls above, making their way to the edge of the river.

The others followed, talking together at the tops of their voices, laughing and joking. They felt relieved that the terrible climb had come to an end. As they approached the river, their voices died away. It was a sublime but terrifying spectacle that the Pony Rider Boys gazed upon.

"This is more wonderful than Niagara," finally announced the Professor. "The rapids of the Niagara River would be lost in this turbid stream."

Great knife-like rocks projected from the flood. When the water struck these sharp edges it was cleanly cut, spurting up into the air like geysers, sending a rainbow spray for many yards on either side.

What puzzled the lads more than all else were the great leaping waves that rose without apparent cause from spaces of comparatively calm water. These upturning waves, the guide explained, were the terror of explorers who sought to get through the Canyon in boats.

"Has any one ever accomplished it?" asked Tad.

"Yes; that intrepid explorer, Major J.W. Powell, made the trip in the year 1869, one of the most thrilling voyages that man ever took. Several of his men were lost; two who managed to escape below here were killed by the Indians."

"I think I should like to try it," said Tad thoughtfully.

"You won't, if I have anything to say about the matter," replied Dad shortly.

"No one would imagine, to gaze down on this stream from the rim, that it was such a lively stretch of water," remarked the boy. "It doesn't seem possible."

"Yes, if they had some of this water up on the plateau it would be worth almost its weight in gold," declared Nance. "Water is what Arizona needs and what it has precious little of. Speaking of the danger of the river," continued Nance, "it isn't wholly the water, but the traveling boulders."

"Traveling boulders!" exclaimed the boys.

"Yes. Boulders weighing perhaps a score or more of tons are rolled over and over down the river by the tremendous power of the water, almost with the force and speed of projectiles. Now and again they will run against snags. The water dashing along behind them is suddenly checked under the surface. The result is a great up-wave, such as you have already observed. They are just as likely to go downward or sideways as upward. You never know."

"Then that is the explanation of the cause of those up-waves?" asked the Professor.

"That's the way we figure it out. But we may be wrong. Take an old man's advice and don't monkey with the river."

"I thought you said Dad's beloved Canyon would not hurt him," said Tad teasingly.

"Dad's Canyon won't. The river isn't Dad's The river is a demon. The river would scream with delight were it to get Dad in its cruel clutches," answered the old man thoughtfully, his bristling whiskers drooping to his chest. "Are you boys hungry?"

The boys were. So Dad sought out a comfortable place where they might sit down, a shelf some twenty feet above the edge of the river, whence they could see the turbulent stream for a short distance both ways. It was a wonder to them where all the water came from. The Professor called attention to his former statement that the river drained some three hundred thousand miles of territory. This explanation made the matter clearer to them.

Coffee was made, the ever-ready bacon quickly fried and there in the very heart of the Grand Canyon they ate their midday meal. Never before had they sat down to a meal amid such tremendous forces.

The meal having been finished and Dad having stretched himself out on a rock after his dinner, the boys strolled off along the river, exploring the various crevices.

"Isn't there gold down here?" asked Tad, returning to the shelf.

Dad sat up, stroking his whiskers thoughtfully.

"I reckon you would find tons of it in the pockets of the river if she were to run dry," was the amazing reply.

"But," protested Tad, "is there no way to get it?"

"Not that man knows of. The Almighty, who made the whole business here, is the only one who is engineer enough to get that gold. No, sir, don't have any dreams about getting that gold. It isn't for man, at least not yet. Maybe He to whom it belongs is saving it for some other age, for folks who need it more than we do."

"Nobody ever will need it more than we do," interposed Stacy. "Why, just think, I could buy a whole stable full of horses with what I could get out of one of those pockets."

"Maybe I'll show you where you can pan a little of the yellow out, before you finish your trip."

Later in the day the guide decided that it was time to start for the surface again. But the boys begged to be allowed to remain in the Canyon over night. It was an experience that they felt sure would be worth while. For a wonder, Professor Zepplin sided with them in this request.

"Well, I'll go up and water the stock, then if you want to stay here, why, all right," decided Dad.

"I will go with you," said Tad.

"Professor, I'll leave the rest of the boys in your charge. Don't let them monkey with the river. I don't want to lose anybody this trip. Fall in there, and you'll bring up in the Pacific Ocean---what's left of you will. Nothing ever'll stop you till you've hit the Sandwich Islands or some other heathen country."

The boys promised and so did the Professor, and both men knew the lads would keep their word, for by this time they held that stream in wholesome respect.

Chunky, after the guide and Tad had left, perched himself on the point of a rock where he lifted up his voice in "Where the Silvery Colorado Wends Its Way," Ned Rector occupying his time by shying rocks at the singer, but Chunky finished his song and had gotten half way through it a second time before one of Ned's missiles reached him. That put an end to the song and brought on a rough and tumble fight in which Ned and Stacy were the sole participants. Chunky, of course, got the worst of it. The two combatants locked arms and strolled away down the river bank after Chunky had been sufficiently punished for trying to sing.

Night in the canyon was an experience. The roaring of the river which no longer could be seen was almost terrifying. Then, too, a strange weird moaning sounded all about them. Dad, who had returned, explained that it was supposed to be the wind. He confided to Tad that it was the spirit of the Canyon uttering its warning.

"Warning of what?"

"I don't know. Maybe a storm. But you can believe something's going to come off, kid," answered Nance with emphasis.

Something did come off. Tad and Nance had fetched the blankets of the party back with them, together with two large bundles of wood for the camp fire, which materials they had let down from point to point at the end of their ropes. Tad had learned always to carry his lasso at his belt. It was the most useful part of his equipment. He had gotten the other boys into the habit of doing the same. Rifles had been left in the camp above, as they were a burden in climbing down the rocks. But all hands carried their heavy revolvers.

A very comfortable camping place was located Under an overhanging shelf of rock, the camp fire just outside lighting up the chamber in a most cheerful manner. There after supper the party sat listening to Dad's stories of the Canyon during some of his thirty years' experience with it.

The wind was plainly rising. It drew the flames of the fire first in one direction, then in another. Nance regarded the signs questioningly. After a little he got up and strolled out to the edge of the roaring river. Tad and Chunky followed him.

"We are going to have a storm," said Dad.

"A heavy one?" asked Tad.

"A regular hummer!"

"Rain?"

"Everything. The whole thing. I'm sorry now that we didn't go back up the trail, but maybe we'd never got up before we were caught. However, we're pretty safe down here, unless-----"

"Unless what?" piped Chunky.

"Unless we get wet," answered Nance, though Tad knew that was not what was in the guide's mind.

Just as they were turning back to the camp there came an explosion that seemed as if the walls of the Canyon had been rent in twain. Chunky uttered a yell and leaped straight up into the air. Tad took firm hold of the fat boy's arm.

"Don't be a fool. That was thunder and lightning. The lightning struck somewhere in the Canyon. Isn't that it, Dad?"

Nance nodded.

"It's always doing that. It's been plugging away at Dad's Canyon for millions of years, but the Canyon is doing business at the same old stand. I hope those pintos are all right up there," added the guide anxiously.

"Mebby they're struck," suggested Stacy.

"Mebby they are," replied Nance. "Come, we'll be getting back unless you want to get wet."

A dash of rain followed almost instantly upon the words. The three started at a trot for the camp. They found the Professor and his two companions anxiously awaiting their return.

"That was a severe bolt," said the Professor.

"Always sounds louder down here, you know," replied Dad. "Echoes."

"Yes, I understand."

"Is---is it going to rain?" questioned Walter.

"No, it's going to pour," returned Chunky. "You'll need your rubber boots before long."

"Move that camp fire in further," directed Nance. "It'll be drowned out in a minute."

This was attended with some difficulty, but in a few minutes they had the fire burning brightly under the ledge. Then the rain began. It seemed to be a cloudburst instead of a rain. Lightning was almost incessant, the reports like the bombardment of a thousand batteries of artillery, even the rocks trembling and quaking. Chunky's face grew pale.

"Say, I want to go home," he cried.

"Trot right along. There's nothing to stop ye," answered the guide sarcastically.

"Afraid?" questioned Ned jeeringly.

"No, I'm not afraid. Just scared stiff, that's all," retorted the fat boy.

The shelf of rock that sheltered them had now become the base of a miniature Niagara Falls. The water was pouring over it in tons, making a roaring sound that made that of the river seem faint and far away.

Jim Nance was plainly worried. Tad Butler saw this and so did the Professor, but neither mentioned the fact. Their location was no longer dry. The spray from the waterfall had drenched them to the skin. No one complained. They were too used to hardships.

All at once there came a report louder and different from the others, followed by a crashing, a thundering, a quaking of the rocks beneath their feet, that sent the blood from the face of every man in the party. Even Dad's face grayed ever so little.

The next second each one was thrown violently to the ground. A sound was in their ears as if the universe had blown up.

"We're killed!" howled Chunky.

"Help, help!" yelled Walter Perkins.

"What---what is it?" roared the Professor.

"We're struck!" shouted Tad.

"Lie still. Hug the wall!" bellowed the stentorian voice of Jim Nance, who himself had crept closer to the Canyon wall and lay hugging it tightly.

The deafening, terrifying reports continued. One corner of the ledge over their heads split off, sending a volley of stones showering over them, leaving the faces of some of the party flecked with blood where the jagged particles had cut into their flesh.

It was a terrible moment for the Pony Rider Boys.