THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE GRAND CANYON or The Mystery of Bright Angel Gulch
by Frank Gee Patchin
CHAPTERS I. Westward Ho! II. A View of the Promised Land III. Tenderfeet Show Their Skill IV. A Night in the Crater V. Tad Lend a Helping Hand VI. A Sight that Thrilled VII. On the Rim of Eternity VIII. The City in the Skies IX. Chunky Wants to go Home X. Escape is Wholly Cut Off XI. A Trying time XII. Braving the Roaring Colorado XIII. A Battle Mightily Waged XIV. The Dogs Pick up a Trail XV. The Mystery of the Rifle XVI. A New Way to Hunt Lions XVII. The Whirlwind Ball of Yellow XVIII. The Unwilling Guest Departs XIX. The Fat Boy Does a Ghost Dance XX. In the Home of the Havasupais XXI. Chunky Gets a Turkish Bath XXII. A Magical Cure XXIII. Stacy as an Indian Fighter XXIV. Conclusion
"Ow, Wow, Wow, Wow! Y-E-O-W!"
Tad Butler, who was industriously chopping wood at the rear of the woodshed of his home, finished the tough, knotted stick before looking up.
The almost unearthly chorus of yells behind him had not even startled the boy or caused him to cease his efforts until he had completed what he had set out to do. This finished, Tad turned a smiling face to the three brown-faced young men who were regarding him solemnly.
"Haven't you fellows anything to do?" demanded Tad.
"Yes, but we have graduated from the woodpile," replied Ned Rector.
"I got my diploma the first time I ever tried it," added Chunky Brown, otherwise and more properly known as Stacy Brown. "Cut a slice of my big toe off. They gave me my diploma right away. You fellows are too slow."
"Come in the house, won't you? Mother'll be glad to see you," urged Tad.
"Surely we will," agreed Walter Perkins. "That's what we came over to do."
"Oh, it is, eh?"
"Didn't think we came over to help you chop wood, did you?" demanded Chunky indignantly.
"Knowing you as I do, I hadn't any such idea," laughed Tad. "But come in."
The boys filed in through the wood house, reaching the sitting room by way of the kitchen. Tad's mother gave them a smiling welcome, rising to extend a warm, friendly hand to each.
"Sit down, Mrs. Butler," urged Walter.
"Yes, we will come to you," added Ned.
"We haven't lost the use of our legs yet, Mrs. Butler," declared the fat Chunky, growing very red in the face as he noted the disapproving glances directed at him by his companions.
"I hope you won't mind Chunky, Mrs. Butler," said Ned apologetically. "You know he has lived among savages lately, and——-"
"Yes, ma'am, Ned and I have been constant companions for—-how long has it been, boys?"
"Shut up!" hissed Ned Rector in the fat boy's ear. "I'll whale you when we get outside, if you make any more such breaks."
"Never mind, boys; Stacy and myself are very old, old friends," laughed Mrs. Butler.
"Yes, ma'am, about a hundred years old, more or less. Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn't mean it just that way," stammered Chunky, coloring again and fumbling his cap awkwardly.
"Now you have said it," groaned Walter.
"Go way back in the corner out of sight and sit down before I start something," commanded Ned. "You must excuse us, Mrs. Butler. It is as Chunky has said. We are all savages—-some of us more so than others, some less."
"It is unnecessary to make apologies. You are just a lot of healthy young men, full of life and spirits." Mrs. Butler patted Tad affectionately on the head. "Tad knows what I think of you all and how appreciative we both are over what Mr. Perkins has done for us. Now that I have had a little money left me, I am glad that Tad is able to spend more time with you in the open. I presume you will soon be thinking of another trip."
"We're always thinking of that, Mrs. Butler," interrupted Ned. "And we couldn't think of a trip without thinking of Tad. A trip without Tad would be like—-like——-"
"A dog's tail wagging down the street without the dog," interjected the solemn voice of Chunky Brown from his new headquarters.
"I move we throw Chunky out in the wood house," exploded Ned. "Will you excuse us while we get rid of the encumbrance, Mrs. Butler?"
"Sit down and make your peace. I know you boys have some things to talk over. I can see it in your faces. Go on with your conference. I'll bring you some lemonade in a few moments," said Mrs. Butler, as she left the room.
"Well, fellows, is this just a friendly call or have you really something in mind?" asked Tad after all had seated themselves.
"I'm the only one with a mind that will hold anything. And I've got plenty in it, too," piped Chunky.
Ned Rector sighed helplessly. The other boys grinned, passing hands across their faces that Stacy might not observe their amusement.
"We want to pow-wow with you," said Walter.
"That means you've something ahead—-another trip?"
"Yes, we're going to the——-" began young Brown.
"Silence! Children should be seen, but not heard," commanded Ned.
Chunky promptly hitched his chair out, joining the circle.
"I'm seen," he nodded, with a grimace.
"Then see that you're not heard. Some things not even a Pony Rider boy can stand. You're one of them."
"Yes, I'm a Pony Rider," answered Chunky, misapplying Ned Rector's withering remark.
"Another trip, eh?"
"That's it, Tad. Walt's father has planned it out for us. And what do you think?"
"Yes, what d'ye think? He's going——-"
"Look here, Chunky, are you telling this or am I?" demanded Ned angrily.
"You're trying to, but you're making an awful mess of the whole business. Better let me tell it. I know how and you don't."
"Give Ned a chance, can't you, Chunky?" rebuked Tad, frowning.
"All right, I'll give him a chance, of course, if you say so. I always have to take a back seat for everybody. I'm nothing but just a roly-poly fat boy, handy to draw water, pitch and strike camp, gather firewood, wash the dishes, cook the meals, save the lives of my companions when they get into scrapes, and——-"
This was too much for the gravity of the Pony Rider Boys. They burst out into a hearty laugh, which served to put all in good humor again. Chunky, having relieved his mind, now settled down in his chair to listen.
"Now, Ned, proceed," said Tad.
"Well, Mr. Perkins thinks it would be fine for us to visit the Grand Canyon."
"Of the Colorado?"
"Tad knows more'n the rest of you. You didn't know where the place was. Walt thought it was some kind of a gun that they shot off at sunrise, or——-"
No one gave any heed to Chunky's further interruption this time.
"The Grand Canyon of the Colorado?" repeated Tad, his eyes sparkling. "Isn't that fine? Do you know, I have always wanted to go there, but I hardly thought we should get that far away from home again. But what plans has Mr. Perkins made?"
"Well, he has been writing to arrange for guides and so forth. He knows a good man at Flagstaff with whom Mr. Perkins hunted a few years ago. What did he say the name was, Walt?"
"Nance. Jim Nance, one of the best men in that part of the country. Everybody knows Jim Nance."
"I don't," declared Chunky, suddenly coming to life again.
"There are a lot of other things you don't know," retorted Ned Rector witheringly.
"If there are you can't teach them to me," returned Stacy promptly.
"As I was saying when that interrupted me, Mr. Perkins wrote to this man, Nance, and engaged him for June first, to remain with us as long as we require his services."
"Does Mr. Perkins think we had better take our ponies with us?"
"Then we shall have to buy others. I hardly think I can afford that outlay," said Tad, with a shake of the head.
"That is all arranged, Tad," interrupted Walter. "Father has directed Mr. Nance to get five good horses or ponies."
"Then Professor Zepplin is to accompany us?"
"Poor Professor! His troubles certainly are not over yet," laughed Tad. "We must try not to annoy him so much this trip. We are older now and ought to use better judgment."
"That's what I've been telling Ned," spoke up Stacy. "He's old enough to——-"
"To—-what?" demanded Ned.
Chunky quailed under the threatening gaze of Ned Rector. He mumbled some unintelligible words, settled back in his chair and made himself as inconspicuous as possible.
"Pooh! Professor Zepplin enjoys our pranks as much as do we ourselves. He just makes believe that he doesn't. He's a boy himself."
"But an overgrown one," muttered Stacy under his breath.
"Where do we meet the Professor?" asked Tad.
"How about it, Walt?" asked Ned, turning to young Perkins.
"I don't think father mentioned that."
"We shall probably pick him up on the way out," nodded Tad.
"Well, what do you think of it?" demanded Ned.
"You don't seem very enthusiastic about it."
"Don't I? Well, I am. Has Mr. Perkins decided when we are to start?"
"Yes, in about two weeks."
"I don't know. I am afraid that is too soon for me. I don't even know that I shall be able to go," said Tad Butler.
"Well, we may not be able to afford it."
"Pshaw! Your mother just said you might go, or words to that effect. Of course you'll go. If you didn't, I wouldn't go, and my father would be disappointed. He knows what these trips have done for me. Remember what a tender plant I was when we went out in the Rockies that time?"
"Ye—-yes," piped Stacy. "He was a pale lily of the valley. Now Walt's a regular daisy."
Young Perkins laughed good-naturedly. He was not easily irritated now, whereas, before beginning to live in the open, the least little annoyance would set his nerves on edge.
Mrs. Butler came in at this juncture, carrying a pitcher of lemonade and four glasses on a tray. The Pony Riders rose instinctively, standing while Mrs. Butler poured the lemonade.
"Oh, I forgot the cookies, didn't I?" she cried.
"Yes, we couldn't get along without the cookies," nodded Chunky.
"Now don't let your eyes get bigger'n your stomach," warned Ned. "Remember, we are in polite society now."
"I hope you won't forget yourself either," retorted Stacy. "I'll stand beside you. If you start to make a break I'll tread on your toes and——-"
"Try it!" hissed Ned Rector in the fat boy's ear. The entrance of Mrs. Butler with a plate heaped with ginger cookies drove all other thoughts from the minds of the boys. "Mrs. Butler," began Ned, clearing his throat, "we—-we thank you; from the bottom of our hearts we thank you—-don't we, Stacy?"
"Well, I—-I guess so. I can tell better after I've tried the cookies. I know the lemonade's all right."
"How do you know?" demanded three voices at once.
"Why, I tasted of it," admitted Chunky.
"As I was saying, Mrs. Butler, we——-"
"Never mind thanking me, Ned. I will take your appreciation for granted."
"Thank you," answered Stacy, looking longingly at the plate of cookies.
"Now help yourselves. Don't wait, boys," urged Tad's mother, giving the boys a friendly smile before turning to leave the room.
"Ah, Mrs. Butler. One moment, please," said Ned.
"Yes. What is it?"
"Oh, let me say it. You don't know how to talk in public," exclaimed Chunky. "Mrs. Butler, we, the Pony Rider Boys, rough riders, Indian fighters and general, all-around stars of both plain and mountain, are thinking——-"
Ned thrust Chunky gently aside. Had it not been for Mrs. Butler's presence Ned undoubtedly would have used more force.
Tad sat down grinning broadly. He knew that his mother enjoyed this good-natured badinage fully as much as the boys did.
Ned rapped on the table with his knuckles.
"Order, please, gentlemen!"
"That's I," chuckled Stacy, slipping into a chair.
"Laying all trimmings aside, Mrs. Butler, we have come to speak with you first, after which we'll have something to say to your son."
Mrs. Butler sat down in the chair that Tad had placed for her.
"Very good. I shall be glad to hear what you have to say, Ned."
"The fact is—-as I was about to say when interrupted by the irresponsible person at my left——-"
"I beg pardon. I'm at your left," remarked Walter.
"He doesn't know which is his left and which is his right," jeered Chunky. "He's usually left, though."
"I refer to the person who was sitting at my left at the time I began speaking. I had no intention of casting any aspersion on Mr. Walter Perkins. As I was about to say, we are planning another trip, Mrs. Butler."
"Where away this time, Ned?"
"To the Grand Canyon——-"
"With the accent on the yon," added Stacy.
"The Grand Canyon of the Colorado?"
"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Perkins has arranged it for us. Everything is fixed. Professor Zepplin is going along and——-"
"That will be fine, indeed," glowed Tad's mother.
"Yes, we think so, and we're glad to know that you do. Tad didn't know whether you would approve of the proposed trip or not. We are—-ahem—-delighted to learn that you do approve of it and that you are willing that Tad should go."
"Oh, but I haven't said so," laughed Mrs. Butler.
"Of course she hasn't. You see how little one can depend upon what Ned Rector says," interjected Stacy.
Ned gave him a warning look.
"I should say that you approve of his going. Of course we couldn't think of taking this trip without Tad. I don't believe Mr. Perkins would let Walt go if Tad weren't along. You see, Tad's a handy man to have around. I know Chunky's people never would trust him to go without Tad to look after him. You see, Chunky's such an irresponsible mortal——-"
"Oh, I don't know," interrupted the fat boy.
"One never knows what he's going to do next. He needs some one to watch him constantly. We think it is the fault of his bringing up."
"Or the company I've been keeping," finished Chunky.
"At any rate, we need Tad with us."
"Then I shall have to say 'yes,'" replied Mrs. Butler, nodding and smiling. "Of course Tad may go. I am glad, indeed, that he has such splendid opportunities."
"But, mother, I ought to be at work," protested Tad. "It is time I were doing something. Besides, I think you need me at home."
"Never mind, Tad. When you have finished with these trips you will be all the better for them. You will have erected a foundation of health that will last you all your life. Furthermore, you will have gained many things by the experience, When you get at the real serious purpose of your life, you will accomplish what you set yourself to do, with better results."
"That—-that's what I say," began Chunky. "Haven't I always told you——-"
"Stacy is wise beyond his years," smiled Mrs. Butler. "When he is grown up I look for him to be a very clever young man."
The eyes of the boys still twinkled merrily, for Chunky, unable to guess whether he were being teased, was still scowling somewhat. However, he kept still for the time being.
"Yes, Tad may go with you," continued Mrs. Butler. "You start—-when?"
"In about two weeks," Walter replied. "Father said he would call to discuss the matter with you."
"I shall be glad of that," nodded Mrs. Butler. "I shall want to talk over the business part of the trip."
Then the youngsters fell to discussing the articles of outfit they would need. On this head their past experience stood them in good stead.
"Now, I presume, I have said all that I can say," added Mrs. Butler, rising. "I will leave you, for I would be of very little use to you in choosing clothing and equipment."
Before she could escape from the room, however, Tad had risen and reached her. Without exhibiting a twinge of embarrassment before the other young men, Tad held and kissed her, then escorted her to the door. Walter and Ned smiled their approval. Chunky said nothing, but sat blinking solemnly—-the best possible proof of his approbation.
All of the readers of this series know these young men well. They were first introduced to Tad and his chums in the opening volume, "The Pony Rider Boys In The Rockies." Then were told all the details of how the boys became Pony Riders, and of the way they put their plans through successfully. Readers of that volume well recall the exciting experiences and hair-breadth escapes of the youngsters, their hunts for big game and all the joys of living close to Nature. Their battle with the claim jumpers is still fresh in the minds of all readers.
We next met our young friends in the second volume, "The Pony Rider Boys In Texas." It was on these south-western grazing plains that the lads took part in a big cattle drive across the state. This new taste of cowboy life furnished the boys with more excitement than they had ever dreamed could be crowded into so few weeks. It proved to be one long round of joyous life in the saddle, yet it was the sort of joy that is bound up in hard work. Tad's great work in saving a large part of the herd will still be fresh in the mind of the reader. How the lads won the liking of even the roughest cowboys was also stirringly told.
From Texas, as our readers know, the Pony Riders went north, and their next doings are interestingly chronicled in "The Pony Rider Boys In Montana." Here the boys had the great experience of going over the old Custer trail, and here it was that Tad and his companions became involved in a "war" between the sheep and the cattle men. How Tad and his chums soon found themselves almost in the position of the grist between the millstones will be instantly recalled. Tad's adventures with the Blackfeet Indians formed not the least interesting portion of the story. It was a rare picture of ranch and Indian life of the present day that our readers found in the third volume of this series.
Perhaps the strangest experiences, as most of our readers will agree, were those described in "The Pony Rider Boys In The Ozarks." In this wild part of the country the Pony Rider Boys had a medley of adventures—-they met with robbers, were lost in the great mountain forests, and unexpectedly became involved in an accident in a great mine. The final discovery of the strange secret of the mountains was the climax of that wonderful saddle journey.
From the wooded Ozarks to the stifling alkali deserts of Nevada was a long jump, but the lads made it. All of our readers remember the rousing description of adventures that were set forth in "The Pony Rider Boys In The Alkali." This trip through the grim desert with its scanty vegetation and scarcity of water proved to be a journey that fully demonstrated the enduring qualities of these sturdy young men. The life, far away from all connection with civilization, was one of constant privation and well-nigh innumerable perils. The meeting with the crazed hermit of this wild waste formed one of the most thrilling incidents. The whole vast alkali plain presented a maze the solving of which taxed to the utmost the ingenuity of the young men. However, they bore themselves with credit, and came out with a greater reputation than ever for judgment, courage and endurance.
Our next meeting with these lads, who were fast becoming veterans of the saddle, was in the sixth volume, "The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico." Here, again, the lads ran upon Indian "signs" and experiences, not the least of which was their chance to be present at the weird fire dance of the Apaches. The race with the prairie fire, the wonderful discoveries made in the former homes of the cave-dwellers, and the defence of the lost treasure in the home of the ancient Pueblo Indians are all matters well remembered by our readers.
Now another journey, to the scene of one of Nature's greatest wonders, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, was absorbing the thought of Tad Butler and his young friends.
"The question is, what'll we take with us?" asked Ned Rector.
"Yes, that's one of the things about which we wanted to talk with you," spoke up Walter Perkins. "You always think of things that none of the rest of us remembers."
"Oh, I don't know. You're all pretty good planners. In the first place, you know you want to travel light."
"We aren't likely to travel any other way," scoffed Chunky. "Whatever we do, though, let's not travel light on food. I can stand almost anything but food—-I mean without food—-I mean——-"
"I don't believe you know what you do mean," jeered Ned. "Well, what about it, Tad?"
"As I was saying, we should travel light. Of course, we must take our own equipment—-saddles, quirts, spurs, chaps, lasso, guns, canteen, slicker and all that sort of thing. I suppose the guide will arrange for the pack train equipment."
"I'll speak to father about that," said Walter. "I don't know just what arrangements he has made with the guide."
"We can no doubt get what ammunition we need after we get to Flagstaff, if that is to be our railway destination. Folks usually have ammunition in that country," added Tad, with a faint smile. "Our uniforms or clothes we know about. We shall no doubt need some good tough boots for mountain climbing——-"
"Do we have to climb mountains?" demanded Stacy.
"Climb up and fall down," answered Walt.
"Oh, dear me, dear me! It'll be the death of me, I know," wailed the fat boy. "I'd rather ride—-up. I can get down all right, but——-"
"Yes, you certainly can get down," laughed Ned.
"Then we shall want quite a lot of soft, strong rope, about quarter-inch Manila. I don't think of anything else. We ought to be able to pick up whatever else we need after we get out there———"
"I guess that's all, fellows, isn't it?" asked Ned.
"All but the shouting," answered Stacy.
"You are well able to do that. You'd better practise up on those favorite exclamations of yours—-"
"What are they?"
"Y-e-o-w and W-o-w!"
"Who-o-o-p-e-e!" answered Chunky in a shrill, high-pitched voice.
Ned Rector clapped a hand over the fat boy's mouth with a resounding smack. Chunky was jerked backward, his head striking the chair with a bump that was audible all over the room.
"You stop that business. Do you forget where you are? That's all right out in the wilds, but not in civilized society," declared Ned.
"Whe—-where's the civilized society? Don't you do that to me again, or I'll——-"
"Chunky's all right. Let him alone, Ned. Mother doesn't care how much noise we make in here. In fact, she'd think something was wrong with us if we didn't make a big racket. Chunky, if you are so full of steam you might go out and finish the woodpile for me. I've got to cut that wood this afternoon."
"No, thank you. I'm willing to hunt for the colored man in the woodpile, but I'm a goat if I'll chop the wood. Why, I'd lose my reputation in Chillicothe if I were seen doing such a common thing as that."
"No, that would be impossible," answered Ned sarcastically.
"Eh? Impossible?" questioned Stacy.
"Oh, yes, yes, yes. I'll write it down for you so you'll understand it and——-"
"He means that you can't lose what you don't possess," explained Walter.
Chunky grunted his disgust, but made no reply. The boys then fell to discussing the proposed trip. Tad got out his atlas and together they pored over the map of Arizona. After some time at this task, Chunky pulled a much soiled railway map from his pocket. This gave them a more detailed plan of the Grand Canyon.
"You see, I have to show you. When it comes to doing things Stacy Brown's the one on whom you all have to fall back."
"You are almost human at times, Stacy. I'm free to admit that," laughed Tad. "Yes, this is just what we want."
Chunky inflated his chest, and, with hands clasped behind his back, walked to the window and gazed out into the street, nodding patronizingly now and then to persons passing who had bowed to him. In his own estimation, Stacy was the most important person in Chillcothe. So confident was he of this that several persons in the community had come almost to believe it themselves. Chunky, by his dignified and important bearing, had hopes of converting others to this same belief. As for his three companions—-well, a journey without Stacy Brown would be a tame and uneventful journey at best.
The greater part of the afternoon was devoted to making plans for the coming trip, each having his suggestions to make or his criticism to offer of the suggestions of others. Though the arguments of the Pony Riders at times became quite heated, the friendship they held for each other was never really strained. They were bound together by ties that would endure for many years to come.
Each day thereafter, during their stay at home, they met for consultation, and when two weeks later they had assembled at the railroad station in Chillicothe, clad in their khaki suits, sombreros, each with a red bandanna handkerchief tied carelessly about his neck, they presented an imposing appearance and were the centre of a great crowd of admiring boys and smiling grown-ups. There were many exciting experiences ahead of the Pony Rider Boys as well as a series of journeys that would linger in memory the rest of their lives.
A VIEW OF THE PROMISED LAND
For nearly three days the Pony Rider Boys had been taking their ease in a Pullman sleeping car, making great inroads on the food served in the dining car.
It had been a happy journey. The boys were full of anticipation of what was before them. At intervals during the day they would study their maps and enter into long discussions with Professor Zepplin, the grizzled, stern-looking man who in so many other journeys had been their guardian and faithful companion. The Professor had joined them at St. Louis, where the real journey had commenced.
All that day they had been racing over baked deserts, a cloud of dust sifting into the car and making life miserable for the more tender passengers, though the hardy Pony Riders gave no heed to such trivial discomforts as heat and dust. They were used to that sort of thing. Furthermore, they expected, ere many more days had passed, to be treated to discomforts that were real.
Suddenly the train dashed from the baked desert into a green forest. The temperature seemed to drop several degrees in an instant. Everyone drew a long breath, faces were pressed against windows and expressions of delight were heard in many parts of the sleeper.
They had entered a forest of tall pines, so tall that the lads were obliged to crane their necks to see the tops.
"This is the beginning of the beginning," announced Professor Zepplin somewhat enigmatically. "This is the forest primeval."
"I don't know," replied Chunky, peering through a car window. "It strikes me that we've left the evil behind and got into the real thing."
"What is it, Professor?" asked Tad Butler.
"As I have said, it is a primeval forest. This great woodland stretches away from the very base of the San Francisco mountains southward for a distance of nearly two hundred miles. We are taking a short cut through it and should reach Flagstaff in about an hour from now."
"Hurrah! We're going to see the Flagstaff in an hour," cried Stacy, his face wreathed in smiles.
"A further fact, which is no doubt unknown to you, is that this enormous forest covers an area of over ten thousand square miles, and contains six million, four hundred thousand acres."
The boys uttered exclamations of amazement and wonder.
"If you'd said ten acres, I'd understand you better," replied Stacy. "I never could think in such big figures. I'm like a rich fellow in our town, who doesn't know what money is above a certain sum."
"Well, what about it?" demanded Tad.
"Up to fifty dollars, he knows how much it is, but for anything above that it's a check," finished Chunky, looking about him expectantly.
No one laughed.
"Speaking of checks," said Ned Rector after an interval of silence, "did you bring along that snaffle bit, Tad?"
"What snaffle bit?"
"The one we were going to put on Stacy Brown to hold him in check?"
A series of groans greeted Ned's words. Chunky grumbled something about making a checker board of Ned's face if he didn't watch out, after which the Professor turned the rising tide into other and safer channels by continuing his lecture on the great Arizona forest.
As the train dashed on the Pony Riders were greeted with occasional views of a mountain differing from anything they ever had seen. One peak especially attracted their attention. Its blackened sides, and its summit bathed in a warm glow of yellow sunshine, gave it a most striking appearance.
"What is it, Professor?" asked Tad, with an inquiring gaze and nod toward the mountain.
"Sunset Mountain," answered Professor Zepplin. "You should have discovered that."
"But it isn't sunset," objected Walter.
"It is always sunset there. The effect is always a sunset effect."
"In the night, too!" questioned Chunky.
"No, it's moonset then," scoffed Rector.
"In the same direction you will observe the others of the San Francisco mountains. However, we shall have more of this later on. For the present you would do well to gather up Your belongings, for we shall be at our journey's end in a few minutes."
This announcement caused the boys to spring up, reaching to the racks above for such of their luggage as had been stowed there. All was bustle for the next twenty minutes. Then the train drew into the station, the cars covered with the dust of the desert, changing the dark brown of their paint to a dirty gray.
The boys found that they had arrived at a typical western town, a tree-surrounded, mountain-shadowed, breeze-blown place set like a gem in a frame of green and gold, nestling, it seemed, at the very base of the towering peaks of the San Francisco mountains, whose three rough volcanic peaks stood silent sentinel over the little community clustered at their base.
The railroad track lined one side of the main street, while business blocks and public houses were ranged on the opposite side. Here the garb of the Pony Riders failed to attract the same attention that it had done further east. There were many others on the station platform whose clothes and general get-up were similar to those of the boys.
But as they descended from the sleeping car, their arms full of their belongings, each carrying a rifle in a case, they caught sight of a man who instantly claimed their attention. He was fully sixty years old, standing straight as a tree and wearing a soft black felt hat, a white shirt and a wing collar. From his chin, extend almost back to the ears, there stood a growth of white bristling whiskers. As he tilted his head backward in an apparent effort to stand still more erect, the whiskers stood out almost at right angles, giving him a most ferocious appearance.
Tad felt a tug at his sleeve. He turned to find the big eyes of Chunky Brown gazing up into his face.
"Is that the Wild Man of the Canyon?" whispered Stacy.
"I don't know. He looks as if he might be a Senator, or——-"
"Any of you boys know where we can find Jim Nance?" interrupted the Professor.
"I reckon we do," drawled a cowboy.
"Well?" urged the Professor somewhat irritably.
"Wal?" answered the cowboy.
"Will you please tell us where we may find him, pardner?" spoke up Tad, observing how the land lay and wishing to head off friction.
"I reckon that's him," answered the cowboy, pointing to the straight, athletic figure of the old man.
Tad grinned at Chunky.
"That's our guide, Bub."
"He looks fierce enough to be a man eater."
"I'm afraid of him," whispered Stacy. "He's mysterious looking, too; like the Canyon."
Professor Zepplin strode up to the old man.
"Mr. Nance, I believe."
"Y-a-a-s," drawled the old man.
The Professor introduced himself, then one by one called the boys up and presented them, the old man gazing keenly with twinkling, searching eyes into the face of each one presented to him. Chunky said "ouch" when Nance squeezed his hand, then backed off.
"This is Mr. Nance, the gentleman who is to be our guide," announced Professor Zepplin.
"We're all glad to see you, Mr. Nance," chorused the Pony Riders.
"Ain't all tenderfeet, eh?" quizzed the guide.
"No, not exactly. They have been out for some time. They are pretty well used to roughing it," declared the Professor.
"Good idea. They'll think they haven't before they get through with the old Grand."
"How about our ponies?" asked Tad. "Have you engaged them?"
"You pick 'em out. I'll take yon to corral after you've had your dinner."
All hands walked across the street to a hotel, where they sat down to the first satisfying meal they had eaten since leaving home.
"This beats the spirit meals we've been having on board the train," announced Stacy, his eyes roving longingly over the heaped up dishes.
"Don't lick your chops," cautioned Ned. "There are some polite folks here, as you can see.
"What's that you said about spirit meals?" quizzed the guide after they had gotten started with their dinner.
"The kind a fellow I knew used to make for his men on the farm," answered Stacy promptly.
"Tell us about it. I never heard you mention it," urged Tad.
"He fed his men mostly on spirit soup. Ever hear of spirit soup?"
"I never did. Any of you boys ever hear of spirit soup?"
The Pony Riders shook their heads. They were not particularly interested in Chunky's narration. Ned frowned and went on with his dinner.
"Well, this fellow used to make it. He had barrels of the stuff, and——-"
"How is the chuck made?" demanded Jim Nance.
"I'll tell you. To make spirit soup you catch a snipe. Then you starve him to death. Understand?"
"After you've starved him to death you hang him up on the sunny side of the house till he becomes a shadow. A shadow, you understand? Well, after he's become a shadow you let the shadow drop into a barrel of rainwater. The result is spirit soup. Serve a teaspoonful a day as directed," added Stacy, coming to a sudden stop as Ned trod on his toes with a savage heel.
Jim Nance's whiskers stood out, the ends trembling as if from the agitation of their owner, causing Chunky to shrink within himself.
"Very unseemly, young man," rebuked the Professor.
"It seems so," muttered Walter under his breath; then all hands laughed heartily.
The meal being finished, Nance ordered a three-seated buckboard brought around. Into this the whole outfit piled until the bottom of the vehicle bent almost to the ground.
"Will it hold?" questioned the Professor apprehensively.
"I reckon it will if it doesn't break. We'll let the fat boy walk if we've got too big a load," Nance added, with a twinkle.
"No, I'll ride, sir," spoke up Stacy promptly. "I'm very delicate and I'm not allowed to walk, because——-"
"How far is it out to the corral, Mr. Nance?" questioned Tad.
"'Bout a mile as the hawk flies. We'll be there in a jiffy."
It appeared that all arrangements had been made by Mr. Perkins for the stock, through a bank in Flagstaff, where he had deposited funds to cover the purchase of stock and stores for the trip through the Canyon. This the Professor understood. There remained little for the boys to do except for each to pick out the pony be fancied.
They looked over the mustangs in the corral, asking the owner about this and that one.
"I'll take that one," said Chunky, indicating a mild-eyed pinto that stood apparently half asleep.
The owner of the herd of mustangs smiled.
"Kind and sound, isn't he?" questioned the fat boy.
"Oh, he's sound all right."
"Do you know how to handle a pinto, boy?" questioned Nance.
"Do I? Of course I do. Haven't I been riding the toughest critters on the ranges of the Rockies for years and years? Don't I know how to rope anything that ambles on four legs? Well, I guess! Gimme that rope. I'll show you how to fetch a sleepy pinto out of his dreams."
The black that Chunky coveted seemed, at that moment, to have opened his eyes ever so little, then permitted the eyelids to droop. It was not a good sign as Tad viewed it, and the Pony Rider was an excellent horseman.
"Better be careful, Chunky," he warned. "Shan't I rope him for you?"
"I guess not. If I can't rope him I'd like to see you do it."
"Sail in. You know best," answered Tad, with a grin, winking at Ned and the Professor. Jim Nance appeared to take only a passive interest in the matter. He might have his say later provided his advice were needed.
Chunky ran his rope through his hands, then grasping the hondo, strode boldly into the corral.
"I reckon it's time we were climbing the fence," announced Tad.
"I reckon it is," agreed the guide, vaulting to the top rail, which action was followed by the other two boys, only the owner of the herd and Professor Zepplin remaining inside the corral with Stacy.
Suddenly Stacy let go the loop of his lariat. It dropped over the head of the sleepy pinto. The pinto, at the touch of the rope, sprang into sudden life. Then things began to happen in that corral. Stacy Brown was the center of the happenings.
TENDERFEET SHOW THEIR SKILL
"Woof!" exclaimed Ned Rector.
"Oh!" cried Walter Perkins.
"Good boy! Hang on!" shouted Tad encouragingly.
It is doubtful whether Stacy heard either the words of warning or those of encouragement from Tad, for at that moment Stacy's feet were up in the air. The pinto had leaped forward like a shot the instant it felt the touch of the rope. Of course Chunky, who had clung to the rope, went along at the same rate of speed.
A great cloud of dust rose from the corral. The mustang was darting here and there, bucking, squealing and kicking. In a moment most of the other mustangs were doing likewise. The owner of the herd, calling to the Professor, darted out, leaving one bar of the fence down. Professor Zepplin, becoming confused, missed his way and found himself penned into one corner at the far side, almost the center of a circle of kicking mustangs.
Tad saw the danger of their companion almost at once. The lad leaped down, and darting among the kicking animals, made his way toward the Professor just as Stacy's mustang leaped the bars. Stacy's toes caught the top rail, retarding his progress for the briefest part of a second, then he shot out into the air after the racing mustang.
"Leggo!" roared the boys.
"Let go!" shouted the guide. "The little fool! Doesn't he know enough to come in out of the wet?"
"You'll find he doesn't, sir. Your troubles have only just begun. You'll be demanding an increase of wages before you have followed Stacy Brown for a full twenty-four hours," prophesied Ned.
In the meantime Tad had reached the Professor, regardless of the flying hoofs about him. With his rope the boy drove the animals off just in time. Somehow they seemed to have taken it into their heads that the Professor was responsible for their having been disturbed and they were opening their hoof batteries upon him. They gave way before the resolute young Pony Rider almost at once. They recognized that this slender young plainsman and mountaineer was unafraid.
The Professor was weak in the knees by the time he had been led out.
"I didn't know you were in there," apologized Nance.
"Where's Stacy?" was the Professor's first question.
"He's gone by the air line," answered Walter.
While all this had been taking place Chunky had continued in his mad flight for a short distance. He had a long hold on the rope by which the mustang was hauling him. The wary beast, espying a tree whose limbs hung low, changed his course and darted under the lowest of the limbs. Its intention was plain to those who knew the habits of these gentle beasts. The mustang intended to "wipe" the Pony Rider boy free of the line.
Just before reaching the low-hanging limb the pinto darted to one side, then to the other after an almost imperceptible halt. The result was the rope was drawn under the low limb. A quick leap on the part of the mustang, that exhibited almost human intelligence by this manoeuvre, caused Chunky to do a picturesque flop over the limb, falling flat on his back on the other side. This brought the mustang to a quick stop, for the rope had taken a firm hitch around the limb.
The sudden jolt and stoppage of his progress threw the mustang on his nose, where he poised for a few seconds, then he too toppled over on his back.
The owner of the herd was screaming with, merriment, Jim Nance was slapping his sides as he ran, while the Professor was making for the fat boy with long strides.
Tad reached Stacy first. The fat boy lay blinking, looking up at him. Stacy's clothes were pretty well torn, though his body did not seem to be harmed beyond the loss of considerable skin.
"Let me have that rope," commanded Tad.
"N-n-no you don't."
"Let me have that rope, I tell you. I'll attend to the pinto for you."
"Here, give it to me," ordered Jim Nance, reaching for the rope which Tad Butler had taken.
"I can handle him, Mr. Nance."
The "handling" was not easy. Tad was hauled over the best part of an acre of ground ere he succeeded finally in getting an opportunity to cast his own rope. When, however, he did make the cast, the rope caught the pinto by a hind foot, sending the stubborn little beast to the ground. Then Tad was jerked this way and that as the animal sought to kick the foot free.
"Grab the neck rope some of you," he cried.
Nance was the first to obey the command. It was the work of but a moment temporarily to subdue the pinto.
"Take him back. We don't want the critter," ordered the guide.
"I—-I want him," declared Stacy, limping up to the former sleepy beast.
"I'll break him so I guess Stacy can ride him," said Tad. "Ned, will you fetch my saddle and bridle? I can't let go here just yet. Has this fellow ever been ridden?" demanded the boy, looking up at the owner.
"I reckon he has, but not much."
"Why did you let Brown rope the pinto, then?"
"He said he wanted him."
"Let him up," directed Tad. The mustang had another spell, but ere he had finished his bucking Tad had skillfully thrown the saddle on and made fast the saddle girth at the risk of his own life. Next came the bridle, which was not so easily put in place. It was secured at last, after which the lad stepped back to wipe the perspiration from his face and forehead. Dark spots on his khaki blouse showed where the sweat had come through the tough cloth.
"Now I'll ride him," Butler announced.
For the next quarter of an hour there followed an exhibition that won the admiration of all who saw it. All the bucking and kicking that the pinto could do failed to unseat Tad Butler. When finally he rode back to the group, Mr. Mustang's head was held straight out. Once more the sleepy look had come into his eyes, but it was not the same crafty look that had been there before. He was conquered, at least for the time being.
"Now, Chunky, you may try him."
"What do you think of that for riding?" demanded Stacy, turning to the guide.
"Oh, he'll ride one of these days," answered the guide.
"I believe you're a grouch," snorted the fat boy, as he swung into the saddle, quickly thrusting his toes into the stirrups, expecting to be bucked up into the air.
But nothing of the sort followed. The mustang was as meek as could be. Stacy rode the animal up and down the field until satisfied that the pinto was thoroughly broken. Stacy was an object of interest to all. He was a very much banged-up gentleman, nor was Tad so very far behind him in that respect.
Young Butler chose for his mount a mustang with a white face. Already Tad had decided to call him Silver Face. The two very quickly came to an understanding, after a lively but brief rustle about the enclosure. After this Tad roped out the pintos for the others of his party. This done, the boys took their mustangs out into the field, where they tried them out. The spectators were then treated to an exhibition of real riding, though the Pony Riders were not doing this for the sake of showing off. They wanted to try their mounts out thoroughly before deciding to keep those they had chosen.
At last they decided that the stock could stand as picked out, with the exception of Walter Perkins's mustang, which went lame shortly after the boy had started off with him.
"I guess we are all right now," announced Tad, riding up to where the Professor and Jim Nance were standing. "Has either of you any suggestions to offer?"
"Hain't got no suggestions to offer to the likes of you," grumbled the guide. "Where'd you learn to ride like that?"
"Oh, I don't know. It came natural, I guess," replied Tad simply. "The others ride as well as I do."
"Then we'll be moving. I reckon you are figgering on gitting started to-day?"
"Yes, we might as well be on our way as soon as you are ready, Mr. Nance," agreed the Professor.
"How about the pack train?" asked Tad.
"The mules are all ready," answered the guide.
The lads rode their new horses back to Flagstaff. None cared to ride in the buckboard long as there was a horse to ride. Even the Professor thought he would feel at home in the saddle once more. Nance observed that though Professor Zepplin was not the equal of the Pony Riders on horseback, yet he was a good man in the saddle. Nance was observing them all. He knew they would be together for some weeks and it was well to understand the peculiarities of each one of the party at the earliest possible moment.
Reaching town the party found that the entire equipment for the pack train had been gotten in readiness. There remained but to pack the mules and they would be ready for their start. This was done with a will, and about two o'clock in the afternoon the outfit set off over the stage road, headed for the Grand Canyon.
It was a happy party, full of song and jest and joy for that which was before them. The way led through the Coconino Park. Some three miles out they halted at the edge of a dry lake basin, in the centre of which was a great gaping hole. The Professor pointed to it inquiringly.
"There was a lake here up to a few years ago," explained Jim. "Bottom fell out and the water fell in. Ain't no bottom to it now at all"
"Then—-then the water must have leaked out on the other side of the world," stammered Chunky, his eyes big with wonder.
"I reckon it must have soused a heathen Chinee," answered Nance, with a grin.
"Pity it didn't fall out the other way and souse a few guides, eh?" questioned the fat boy, with a good-natured grimace at which Nance laughed inwardly, his shaking whiskers being the only evidence of any emotion whatever.
"Up there is Walnut Canyon," explained Jim. "Cliff dwellers lived up there some time ago."
"Yes, we met some of them down south," nodded Chunky.
"You mean we saw where they once lived long, long ago," corrected Professor Zepplin.
"Yes, we saw where they lived," agreed Stacy.
The way led on through a forest of pines, the trail underfoot being of lava, as hard and smooth as a road could be. They were gradually drawing nearer to Sunset Mountain. After a time they turned off to the right, heading straight for the mountain.
Tad rode back to the Professor to find out where they were going.
"I thought you boys might like to explore the mountain. You will find some things there well worth scientific consideration."
"Yes, sir; that will be fine."
"You know the mountain was once a great volcano."
"How long ago?" interrupted Stacy.
"A few million years or so."
"Mr. Nance must have been a boy in short trousers then," returned Stacy quizzically. The guide's whiskers bristled and stood out straight.
The road by this time had lost its hardness. The ponies' hoofs sank deep into the cinders, making progress slow for the party. They managed to get to the base of the mountain, but the mustangs were pretty well fagged. The animals were turned out for the night after having been hobbled so that they could not stray far away.
"Now each of you will have to carry a pack," announced the guide. "I will tell you what to take."
"Why, where are we going?" asked Tad.
"We are going to spend the night in the crater of the extinct volcano," said the Professor. "Will not that be a strange experience?"
"Hurrah for the crater!" shouted the boys.
"Speaking of volcanoes, I wish you wouldn't open your mouth so wide, Ned. It makes me dizzy. I'm afraid I'll fall in," growled Chunky.
A NIGHT IN THE CRATER
"What, climb that mountain?" demanded Stacy.
"Surely. You are not afraid of a mountain, are you?" demanded Tad.
"I'm not afraid of—-of anything, but I'm delicate, I tell yau."
"Just the same, you'll pack about fifty pounds up the side of that hill," jeered Ned Rector.
The pack mules had not yet come up with their driver. The party foreseeing this, had brought such articles as would be needed for the night. Taking their blankets and their rifles, together with food and wood for a fire, they began the slow, and what proved to be painful, ascent of Sunset Mountain.
A lava field stretched directly in front of them, barring the way. Its forbidding surface had been riven by the elements until it was a perfect chaos of black tumult. By the time the Pony Rider Boys had gotten over this rough stretch, they were ready to sit down and rest. Nance would not permit them to do so. He said they would have barely time to reach the crater before dark, as it was, and that they must make the best speed possible. No one grumbled except Stacy, but it was observed that he plodded along with the others, a few paces to the rear.
The Professor now and then would point to holes in the lava to show where explosions had taken place, bulging the lava around the edge and hurling huge rocks to a considerable distance. As they climbed the mountain proper they found that Sunset, too, had engaged in some gunnery in those far-away ages, as was shown by many lava bombs lying about the base.
The route up the mountain side was over a cider-buried lava flow, the fine cinders under foot soon making progress almost a torture. Tad was the first to stand on his head as his feet went out from under him. Stacy, in a fit of uproarious laughter, did the next stunt, that of literally standing on his right ear. Chunky tried to shout and got his mouth full of cinders.
"I'm going back," howled the fat boy. "I didn't come up here to climb slumbering volcanoes."
"I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll carry you, Stacy," said Tad, smiling and nodding toward the cinder-blackened face of his companion.
"You mean it?"
"Of course I mean it."
"I guess I can walk. I'm not quite so big a baby as that."
"I thought so. Have your fun. If you get into trouble you know your friend, Tad Butler, is always on the job."
"You bet I do. But this is an awful climb."
It was all of that. One step upward often meant a slide of several short steps backward. The Professor's face was red, and unuttered words were upon his lips. Jim Nance was grinning broadly, his whiskers bobbing up and down as he stumbled up the side of Old Sunset.
"I reckon the tenderfeet will get enough of it before they get to the Canyon," chuckled the guide.
"Say, Mr. Nance, we don't want to Mister you all the time. What shall we call you for short?" asked Tad Butler.
"Anything you want."
"What d'ye say if we call you Whiskers?" called Stacy.
"Stacy!" rebuked the Professor sternly.
"Oh, let the little tenderfoot rant. He's harmless. Call me Whiskers, if it does ye any good."
"I'm no tenderfoot," protested Chunky.
"Nor be I all whiskers," returned the guide, whereat Chunky's face turned red.
"I guess we'll call you Dad, for you'll have to be our dad for some time to come," decided Tad.
"That'll be all right, providing it suits the fat little tenderfoot."
Stacy did not reply to this. He was having too much trouble to keep right side up just then to give heed to anything else.
"Go zig-zag. You'll never get to the top this way," called Tad. "You know how a switchback railroad works? Well, go as nearly like a switch-back as possible."
"That's a good idea," agreed Dad. "You'll get there quicker, as the young gentleman says."
Tad looked at his companions, grinning broadly. As they got nearer to the top the color of the cinders changed from black to a brick red. They began to understand why the peak of Sunset always presented such a rosy appearance. It was due to the tint of the cinders that had been thrown from the mouth of the volcano ages ago.
"We have now entered the region of perpetual sunset," announced the Professor.
Chunky took advantage of the brief halt to sit down. He slid back several feet on the treacherous footing.
Still further up the mountain took on a rich yellow color, but near the rim it was almost white. It was a wonderful effect and caused the Pony Riders to gaze in awe. But darkness was approaching rapidly. The guide ordered them to be on the way, because he desired to reach the rim of the crater while they still were able to see. What his reasons were the boys did not know. They took for granted that Dad knew his business, which Dad did. He had spent many years in this rough country and knew it well. The Grand Canyon was his home. He lived in it the greater part of the year. When winter came, Dad, with his mustang, his cattle and equipment would descend into the Grand Canyon far from snow and bitter cold into a land of perpetual summer, where, beside the roaring Colorado, he would spend the winter alone with his beloved Canyon.
Dad's was a strange nature. He understood the moods of the great gash in the plateau; he seemed literally to be able to translate the mysterious moans and whispers of the wind as it swirled between the rocky walls and went shrieking up the painted sides of the gulches.
But of all this the boys knew nothing as yet. It was all to be revealed to them later.
"You'll have a look over the country tomorrow," said Dad.
"Where is the Canyon?" asked Tad, eager for a view of the wonderful spot.
"You'll get a glimpse of it in the morning. You'll know the place when you get to it. Here we be at the top. There's the hole."
Chunky peered into the crater rather timidly.
"How do you get down?" he asked.
"Slide," answered Ned.
"I can do that, but what's at the bottom?"
"The same thing. Cinders and lava," answered Tad. "What would you expect to find in a volcano?"
"I'd never expect to find Stacy Brown in one, and I'm not sure that I'm going to."
"All hands follow me. There's no danger," called the guide, shouldering his pack and leaping and sliding down the sharp incline. He was followed by the boys with shouts of glee. They went tumbling head over heels, laughing, whooping, letting off their excess steam. The Professor's grim face relaxed in a smile; Dad's eyes twinkled.
"We'll take it out of them by and by," he confided to the Professor.
"You don't know them," answered Professor Zepplin. "Better men than you or I have tried it. Remember, they are young. We are old men. Of course, it is different with you. You are hardened to the work, still I think they could tire both of us out."
"We'll see about that."
"Whoop-e-e!" came the voice of Tad Butler far below them. "I'm at the bottom. Any wild animals down here, Dad?"
"Only one at present. There'll be three more in a minute."
"Six, you mean," laughed Tad.
The others had soon joined him.
"How far are we from the surface?" asked Walter.
"About five hundred feet down. We're in the bowels of the mountain for sure, kid," answered the guide.
"That's pretty tough on the mountain. I'm afraid it will have a bad case of indigestion," laughed Tad.
"You needn't be. It has swallowed tougher mouthfuls than you are," returned the guide, ever ready with an answer.
"Dad's able to give as good as you send," laughed Ned.
"That's good. All the better for us," nodded Tad. "What about some light?"
"Unload the wood from your packs. This is where you are glad you did pack some stuff."
In a few minutes a fire was blazing, lighting up the interior of the crater. The boys found themselves in a circular opening of almost terrifying roughness and something like a quarter of a mile across. Here, in ages past, the forces of Nature had been at work with fearful earnestness. Weird shadows, mysterious shapes, somewhat resembling moving figures, were thrown by the flickering blaze of the camp fire. While the boys were exploring the crater Dad was busy getting the supper ready, talking with Professor Zepplin as he worked.
The voices of the boys echoed from side to side of the crater, sounding strange and unreal. The call to supper put an end to their explorations. They sat down with keen edges to their appetites. It was their first meal in the open on this journey. All were in high spirits.
"I think we should agree upon our work for the future," declared the Professor.
"Work?" exclaimed Chunky, opening wide his big eyes.
"Yes. It is not going to be all play during this trip."
"We are willing to do our share," answered Ned.
"Yes, of course we are," chorused Walt and Stacy, though there was no enthusiasm in the fat boy's tone.
"I am of the opinion that you boys should take turns in cooking the meals, say one boy to cook for an entire day, another to take the job on the following day."
"I'll cook my own," declared the guide. "No tenderfoot experiments in my chuck."
"They know how to cook, Mr. Nance," explained the Professor.
"All right; they may cook for you," said the guide, with a note of finality in his tone. He glanced up at the sky, held out his hand and shook his head. Tad observed the movement.
"What is it?" asked the boy.
"It's going to snow," said Dad.
Tad laughed, glancing at his companions.
"What, snow in June?" questioned Stacy.
"You must remember that you are a good many thousand feet up," the Professor informed him.
"Up? I thought I was down in a crater."
"You are both up and down," spoke up Tad.
"Yes, I'm usually up and down, first standing on my feet then on my head," retorted Stacy. "How are we going to sleep?"
"Same as usual. Pick out your beds, then roll up in your blankets," directed Dad. "You are used to it, eh?"
"Well," drawled Chunky, "I've slept in a good many different kinds of beds, but this is the first time I ever slept in a lava bed."
True to Dad's prophecy, the snow came within half an hour.
"Better turn in before the beds get too wet," advised Dad.
All hands turned in. Sleep did not come to the boys as readily as usual. They had been sleeping in real beds too long. After a time the snow changed to rain in the warmth of the crater. Chunky got up disgustedly.
"I'm tired of sleeping in the bath tub," he declared. "Think I'll move into the hall bedroom."
Chuckles were heard from beneath other blankets, while Stacy, grumbling and growling, fussed about until he found a place that appeared to be to his liking.
"When you get through changing beds perhaps you will give us a chance to go to sleep," called the guide.
Stacy's voice died away to an indistinct murmur. Soon after that quiet settled over the dark hole in the mountain. The rain came down harder than ever, but by this time the Pony Rider Boys were asleep. They neither heard nor felt the water, though every one was drenched to the skin.
Toward morning Tad woke up with a start. He thought something had startled him. Just then an unearthly yell woke the echoes of the crater. Yell upon yell followed for the next few seconds, each yell seeming to be further away than the preceding one, and finally dying out altogether.
"It's Chunky!" shouted Tad, kicking himself free of his blankets and leaping up. "Some thing's happened to Chunky!"
TAD LENDS HELPING HAND
"What is it? What is it?" cried the other boys, getting free of their blankets and in the confusion rolling and kicking about in the cinders.
"What is it?" shouted the Professor, very much excited.
Ned, dragging his blanket after him, had started to run about, not knowing which way to turn nor what had occurred. In the meantime the guide and Tad had started in the direction from which the yells had seemed to come.
"It was this way," shouted Tad.
Ned headed them off running toward the west edge of the crater. All at once a new note sounded. With an unearthly howl Ned Rector disappeared. They heard his voice growing fainter, too, just as Stacy's had done.
"They've fallen in!" cried Tad.
"Everybody stand still!" commanded Dad.
Recognizing that he was right, the others obeyed, with the exception of Tad Butler, who crept cautiously forward, feeling his way with the toes of his boots, that he too might not share the fate of his two companions.
Dad, from somewhere about his person, produced a bundle of sticks which he lighted. He was prepared for just such an emergency. A flickering light pierced the deep shadows, just enough to show the party that two of their number had disappeared.
"There is the place," cried Tad. "It's a hole in the ground. They've fallen in."
"Chunky's always falling in," laughed Walter half hysterically.
With his rope in hand, Tad sprang forward.
"Light this way, please," called Butler. "Hello, down there!" he cried, peering into the hole in the ground.
"Hello!" came back a faint answer from Ned Rector. "Get us out quick."
"I don't know. Chunky fell in and I fell on him."
"Is he hurt?"
"I don't know. I guess I knocked the wind out of him."
"How far down are you?" demanded Dad peering in, holding his torch low, exposing a hole about six feet square at the top, widening out as it extended downward.
"I—-I don't know. It felt like a mile when I came down. Hurry. Think I want to stay here all night?"
"If Stacy isn't able to help himself, tie the rope around his waist and we will haul him up," directed Tad.
"Serve him right to leave him here," retorted Ned.
"All right, we will leave you both there, if you feel that way," answered Nance grimly.
"He doesn't mean it," said Tad. "Ned must have his joke, no matter how serious the situation may be." Tad lowered his rope, loop first. "Well, how about it?" he called.
"I've made it fast. Haul away." Chunky was something of a heavy weight. It required the combined efforts of those at the top to haul him out. Dragging Stacy to the surface, Tad dropped beside the fat boy, giving him a shake and peering anxiously into his eyes, shouting, "Stacy! Stacy!"
Chunky opened one eye and winked knowingly at Tad.
"Oh, you rascal! You've made us pull until we are out of breath. Why'd you make a dead weight of yourself?"
"Is—-is he all right?" inquired Professor Zepplin anxiously.
"He hasn't been hurt——-"
"Yes, I have. I'm all bunged up—-I'm all shot to pieces. The—-the mountain blew up and——-"
"Well, are you fellows going to leave me down here all the rest of the night?" demanded the far-away voice of Ned Rector.
"Yes, you stay there. You're out of the wet," answered Stacy.
"That's a fine way to talk after I have saved your life almost at the expense of my own."
"Pshaw! Saved my life! You nearly knocked it all out of me when you fell on top of me."
"Here comes the rope, Ned," called Tad. "If you can help us a little you will make the haul easier for us."
"I'll use my feet."
"Better take a hitch around your waist in case you should slip," advised Butler.
Ned did so, and by bracing his feet against the side of the rock he was able to aid them not a little in their efforts to haul him to the surface. Ned fixed Stacy with stern eye.
"Were you bluffing all the time?" he demanded.
"Was I bluffing? Think a fellow would need to bluff when a big chump like you fell in on him? I thought the mountain had caved in on me, but it was something softer than a mountain, I guess," added Stacy maliciously.
"What did happen?" demanded Ned, gazing at the hole wonderingly.
"It's one of those thin crusts," announced the guide, examining the broken place in the lava with critical eyes, in which occupation the Professor joined.
"Yes, it was pretty crusty," muttered Chunky.
"You see, sir, this occurs occasionally," nodded the guide, looking up at the grizzled face of Professor Zepplin. "One never knows in this country when the crust is going to give way and let him down. I guess the rain must have weakened the ground."
"And I fell in again," growled Stacy.
"You were bound to fall in sooner or later," answered Tad. "Perhaps it is just as well that you fell in a soft place."
"A soft place?" shouted Stacy. "If you think so, just take a drop in there yourself."
"I thought it was the softest thing I ever fell on," grinned Rector, whereupon the laugh was on Stacy.
There was no more sleep in the camp in the crater of Sunset Peak that night. Nor was there fire to warm the campers. They walked about until daylight. That morning they made a breakfast on cold biscuit and snowballs at the rim of the crater. But as the sun came out they felt well repaid for all that they had passed through on the previous night. Such a vista of wonderful peaks as lay before them none of the Pony Riders ever had gazed upon.
To the west lay the San Francisco Peaks, those ever-present landmarks of northern Arizona. To the south the boys looked off over a vast area of forest and hills, while to the east in the foreground were grouped many superb cinder cones, similar to the one on which they were standing, though not nearly so high. Lava beds, rugged and barren, reached out like fingers to the edge of the plateau as if reaching for the far-away painted desert.
"Where is the Canyon?" asked Tad in a low voice.
"Yonder," said Dad, pointing to the north over an unbroken stretch of forest. There in the dim distance lay the walls of the Grand Canyon, the stupendous expanse of the ramparts of the Canyon stretching as far as the eye could see.
"How far away are they?" asked Tad.
"More than forty miles," answered Dad. "You wait till we get to the edge. You can't tell anything about those buttes now."
"What is a butte—-how did they happen to be called that?" asked Walter.
"A butte is a butte," answered the guide.
"A butte is a bump on the landscape," interjected Stacy.
"A butte is a mound of earth or stone worn away by erosion," answered the Professor, with an assurance that forbade any one to question the correctness of his statement.
"Yes, sir," murmured the Pony Rider Boys. "A wart on the hand of fair Nature, as it were," added Chunky under his breath.
"Come, we must be on our way," urged Dad. "We want to make half the distance to the Canyon before night. I reckon the pack train will have gone on. We'll have to live on what we have in our saddle bags till we catch up with the train, which I reckon we'll do hard onto noon."
No great effort was required to descend Sunset Mountain. It was one long slide and roll. The boys screamed with delight as they saw the dignified Professor coasting and taking headers down the cinder-covered mountain.
By this time the clothes of the explorers had become well dried out in the hot sun. When they reached the camp they found that the pack train had long since broken camp and gone on.
"Where are the ponies?" cried Walter, looking about.
"I'll get them," answered Dad, circling the camp a few times to pick up the trail.
It will be remembered that the animals had been hobbled on the previous afternoon and turned loose to graze. Dad found the trail and was off on it running with head bent, reminding the boys of the actions of a hound. While he was away Tad cooked breakfast, made coffee and the others showed their appreciation of his efforts by eating all that was placed before them and calling loudly for more. Dad returned about an hour later, riding Silver Face, driving the other mustangs before him. When the boys saw the stock coming in they shouted with merriment. The mustangs had been hobbled by tying their fore feet together. This made it necessary for the animals to hop like kangaroos. The boys named them the kangaroos right then and there.
Tad had some hot coffee ready for Nance by the time Dad got back. The guide forgot that he had declared against eating or drinking anything cooked by the Pony Rider Boys. He did full justice to Tad's cooking, while the rest of the boys stood around watching the guide eat, offering suggestions and remarks. Dad took it all good-naturedly. He would have plenty of opportunities to get back at them. Dad was something of a joker himself, though this fact was suspected only by Tad Butler, who had noted the constantly recurring twinkle in the eyes of the guide.
"We shall hear from Dad one of these days," was Butler's mental conclusion. "All right, we deserve all we get and more, I guess."
Shortly afterwards the party was in the saddle, setting out for their forty-mile ride in high spirits. They hoped to reach their destination early on the following morning. Some of the way was dusty and hot, though the greater part of it was shaded by the giant pines.
They caught up with the pack train shortly before noon, as Nance had said they would. A halt was made and a real meal cooked while the mustangs were watered and permitted to graze at the ends of their ropes. The meal being finished, saddle bags were stocked as the party would not see the pack train again until some time on the following day. Then the journey was resumed again.
The Pony Rider Boys were full of anticipation for what they would see when they reached the Canyon. Dad was in a hurry, too. He could hardly wait until he came in sight of his beloved Canyon. But even with all their expectations the lads had no idea of the wonderful sight in store for them when they should first set eyes on this greatest of Nature's wonders.
That night they took supper under the tall trees, and after a sleep of some three hours, were roughly awakened by the guide, who soon had them started on their way again.
A SIGHT THAT THRILLED
"We'll make camp here for a time, I reckon," announced Dad about two o'clock in the morning.
"I thought we were going on to the Canyon," said Tad.
"We shall see it in the morning," answered the guide somewhat evasively. "You boys turn in now, and get some sleep, for you will want to have your eyes wide open in the morning. But let me give you a tip: Don't you go roaming around in the dark here."
"Why—-why not?" demanded Stacy Brown.
"Oh, nothing much, only we're likely to lose your valuable company if you try it. You have a habit of falling in, I am told. You'll fall in for keeps if you go moseying about in this vicinity."
"Where are we?" asked Butler.
"'Bout half a mile from the El Tovar," answered Nance. "Now you fellows turn in. Stake down the pintos. Isn't safe to let them roam around on two legs."
Tad understood. He knew from the words of Nance that they were somewhere in the vicinity of the great gash in the earth that they had come so far to see. But he was content to wait until the morrow for the great sight that was before them.
The sun was an hour high before they felt the heavy hand of Jim Nance on their shoulders shaking them awake. The odor of steaming coffee and frying bacon was in the air.
"What—-sunrise?" cried Tad, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"And breakfast?" added Ned.
"Real food?" piped Stacy Brown.
"Where do we wash?" questioned Walter.
"You will have to take a sun bath," answered the guide with a twinkle. "There isn't any water near this place. We will find water for the stock later in the morning."
"But where is the Canyon?" wondered Tad.
"You're at it."
"I don't see anything that looks like a canyon," scoffed Ned.
"No, this is a level plateau," returned Tad. "However, I guess Dad knows what he is talking about. I for one am more interested in what I smell just now than anything else."
Chunky sniffed the air.
"Well, it will take more than a smell to satisfy me this morning," declared Chunky, wrinkling his nose.
"This is my day to cook," called Tad. "Why didn't you let me get the breakfast, Mr. Nance?"
"I'm doing the cooking this morning. I've had a long walk and feel fine, so I decided to be the cook, the wrangler and the whole outfit this morning. How do you feel, boys?"
"Fine!" chorused the Pony Riders. "But we thought we should see the Canyon when we woke up this morning."
A quizzical smile twitched the corners of Dad's mouth. Tad saw that the guide had something of a surprise for them. The lad asked no further questions.
Breakfast finished, the boys cleared away the dishes, packing everything as if for a continuation of their journey, which they fully expected to make.
A slight rise of ground lay a few rods ahead of them. Tad started to stroll that way. He halted as a party of men and women were seen approaching from the direction of El Tovar, where the hotel was located.
"Now, gentlemen, you may walk along," nodded the guide, smiling broadly.
"Which way?" asked the Professor.
"Follow the crowd you see there."
They saw the party step up to the rise, then a woman's scream smote their ears. Tad, thinking something had occurred, dashed forward.
He reached the level plateau on the rise, where his companions saw him halt suddenly, throwing both arms above his head.
The boys started on a run, followed by the professor, who by this time was a little excited.
Then all at once the glorious panorama burst upon them. There at their very feet lay the Grand Canyon. Below them lay the wonder of the world, and more than five thousand feet down, like a slender silver thread, rippled the Colorado.
The first sight of the Canyon affects different persons differently. It overwhelmed the Pony Rider Boys, leaving them speechless. They shrank back as they gazed into the awful chasm at their feet and into which they might have plunged had the hour been earlier, for it had burst upon them almost with the suddenness of the crack of a rifle.
They had thought to see mountains. There were none. What they saw was really a break in the level plateau. From where they stood they looked almost straight down into the abyss for something more than a mile. Gazing straight ahead they saw to the other side of the chasm twelve miles away. To the right and to the left their gaze reached more than twenty miles in each direction.
This great space was filled with gigantic architectural constructions, with amphitheaters, gorges, precipices, walls of masonry, fortresses, terraced up to the level of the eyes, temples, mountain high, all brilliant with horizontal lines of color—-streaks of hues from a few feet to a thousand feet in width, mottled here and there with all the colors of the rainbow.
Such coloring, such harmony of tints the Pony Rider Boys never had gazed on before. It seemed to them as if they themselves were standing in midair looking down upon a new and wonderful world. There was neither laughter nor jest upon the lips of these brown-faced, hardy boys now.
Professor Zepplin slowly took off his hat in homage to what was there at his feet. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead. A glance at Tad Butler showed tear drops glistening on his cheeks. He was trembling. Never before had a more profound emotion taken hold of him. Ned Rector and Walter Perkins's faces wore expressions of fear. No other moment in the lives of the four boys had been like this.
Dad's face shone as with a reflected light from the Canyon that he loved so well, and that had been his almost constant companion for more than thirty years; whose moods he knew almost as well as his own, and whose every smile or frown had its meaning for him.
The travelers each forgot that there was any other human being than himself present. They were drawn sharply to the fact that there were others present, when one of the little party of sight-seers that had come over from the hotel picked up a rock, the weight of which was almost too much for him.
The lads watched him with fascinated eyes. The man swung the rock back and forth a few times, then hurled it over the edge. The Pony Rider Boys waited, actually holding their breath, to catch the report when the rock should strike the bottom.
No report came. It requires some little time for a rock to fall a mile, and when it does land it is doubtful if those at the other end of the mile would hear the report.
The faces of the Pony Riders actually paled. This was indeed the next thing to a bottomless pit. Walter Perkins recalled afterwards that his head had spun dizzily, Ned that he was too frightened to move a muscle.
Suddenly the silence was broken by a shout that was really an agonized yell. The voice was Stacy Brown's.
"Hold me! Somebody hold me!" he screamed
The others glanced at him with disapproving eyes. Could nothing impress Chunky? The fat boy had begun to move forward toward the edge, both hands extended in front of him as to ward off something.
"Hold me! I'm going to jump! Oh, won't somebody hold me?"
Even then only one in that little party appeared to understand. They were paralyzed with amazement and unable to move a muscle. The one who did see and understand was Tad Butler. Chunky was giving way to an irresistible impulse. He was at that instant being drawn toward the terrible abyss.
ON THE RIM OF ETERNITY
Tad caught his breath sharply. He, too, for the instant seemed unable to move. Then all at once he sprang forward, throwing himself upon the fat boy, both going to earth together, locked in a tight embrace.
"Leggo! Leggo!" shrieked Stacy.
The fat boy fought desperately. He had appealed for help; now he refused to accept it. He was possessed with a maddened desire to throw himself into the mile-deep chasm. It was all Tad Butler could do at the moment to keep from being rolled to the rim himself.
Dad, suddenly discovering the situation, ran at full speed toward the struggling boys.
"Grab his legs. I will look out for his shoulders," gasped Tad, sitting down on Chunky's face for a brief respite.
"I'll handle him," said the guide quietly. "They get taken that way sometimes when they first look into the hole."
By this time the others, having shaken off the spell, started to move toward the scene of the brief conflict. Dad waved them back; then, with Tad holding up the fat boy's shoulders, Dad with Chunky's feet in hand, the two carried him back some distance, where they laid him on the ground. Stacy did not move. His face was ghastly.
"I think he has fainted—-fainted away," stammered Tad.
"Let him alone. He'll be all right in a few minutes," directed the guide.
"What made him do that?" wondered Tad, turning large eyes on Nance.
"He jest couldn't help it. I told you you'd see something, but I didn't think Fatty would be taken quite so hard. You go back."
"No, I'll wait. You perhaps had better look after the others, Ned or the Professor might be taken the same way," answered Tad, with a faint smile.
Nance hurried back. After a time Chunky opened his eyes. He sat up, looking dazed then he reached a feeble hand toward Tad.
"I'd 'a' gone sure, Tad," he said weakly.
"I would, sure."
"Come back and look at it."
"Not for a million, I wouldn't."
"Oh, pooh! Don't be a baby. Come back, I tell you. You've got to get over that fright. We shall have to be around this canyon for some time. If you haven't any nerve, why——-"
"Nerve? Nerve?" queried Stacy, rousing himself suddenly. "Talk about nerve! Don't you think it takes nerve for a fellow to start in to jump off a rock a mile high? Well, I guess it does. Don't you talk to me about nerve."
"There come the others."
The Professor, the guide and the other boys walked slowly up to them at this juncture. Chunky expected that Ned would make fun of him. Ned did nothing of the sort. Both Ned and Walter were solemn and their faces were drawn. They sighed as if they had just awakened from a deep sleep.
"What do you think of it, Professor?" asked Tad, looking up.
"Words fail me."
"I must have another look," announced Butler.
He walked straight to the edge of the rim, then lying flat on his stomach, head out over the chasm, he gazed down into the terrible abyss.
Jim Nance nodded approvingly.
"He's going to love it just the same as I do." The old man's heart warmed toward Tad Butler in that moment, when Tad, all alone, sought a closer acquaintance with the mystery of the great gash. After a time the others walked back, Dad taking Chunky by the nape of the neck. Perhaps it was the method of approach, or else Chunky, having had his fright, had been cured. At least this time he felt no fear. He was lost in wonder.
"Buck up now!" urged the guide.
"I am bucked. Leggo my neck. I won't make a fool of myself this time, I promise you."
"You can't blame him," said Tad, rising from his perilous position and walking calmly back to them. "I nearly got them myself."
"Got what?" demanded Stacy.
"That's it. That describes it."
Professor Zepplin, who had informed himself before starting out, now turned suddenly upon them.
"He's going to give us a lecture. Listen," whispered Tad.
"Young gentlemen, you have, perhaps, little idea of the vastness of that upon which you are now gazing."
"We know it is the biggest thing in the world, Professor," said Ned.
"Imagine, if you can," continued the Professor, without heeding the interruption, "that this amphitheatre is a real theatre. Allowing twice as much room as is given for the seat of each person in the most comfortable theatre in the world, and you could seat here an audience of two hundred and fifty millions of people. These would all be in the boxes on this side."
The boys opened their eyes at the magnitude of the figures.
"An orchestra of one hundred million pieces and a chorus of a hundred and fifty million voices could be placed comfortably on the opposite side. Can you conceive of such a scene? What do you think of it?"
"I—-I think," stammered Chunky, "that I'd like to be in the box office of that show—-holding on to the ticket money."
Without appearing to have heard Stacy Brown's flippant reply, Professor Zepplin began again.
"Now that you are about to explore this fairy land it is well that you be informed in advance as to what it is. The river which you see down there is the Colorado. As perhaps some of you, who have studied your geography seriously, may know, the river is formed in southern Utah by the confluence of the Green and Grand, intersecting the north-western corner of Arizona it becomes the eastern boundary of Nevada and California, flowing southward until it reaches the Gulf of California."
"Yes, sir," said the boys politely, filling in a brief pause.
"That river drains a territory of some three hundred thousand square miles, and from its source is two thousand miles long. This gorge is slightly more than two hundred miles long. Am I correct in my figures, Mr. Nance?" demanded the Professor, turning to Dad, a "contradict-me-at-your-peril" expression on his face.
"I reckon you are, sir."
"The river has a winding way——-"
"That's the way with rivers," muttered Chunky to himself.
"Millions of years have been consumed in the building of this great Canyon. In that time ten thousand feet of non-conformable strata have been deposited, elevated, tilted, and washed away; the depression of the Canyon Surface serving for the depositing of Devonian, Lower Carboniferous, Upper Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous; the formation of the vast eocene lake and its total disappearance; the opening of the earth's crust and the venting from its angry stomach the foul lavas—-the mind reels and whirls and grows dizzy——-"