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They were well along in the afternoon now and their predicament was apparently serious.
"There seems to be only one way out of the difficulty," said the Professor, after a little thought.
"What's that, Professor?" asked Walter.
"We must send for help, distant as it is."
"If you will pardon my differing with you, Professor, we have help in plenty right here and a lazy Indian thrown in for good measure," said Chunky.
The boys laughed and nodded their heads in approval.
"What we need is a rope, not more help. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, yes. I should have put it that way myself only--"
"Why not send the Indian for a rope?" suggested Chunky. "I would go myself if I knew the way."
"No, you'd fall in somewhere," chuckled Ned.
"And the Indian probably would forget to come back," added Walter. "Altogether we are in a fix."
"I think Master Stacy's suggestion is the most practicable of all," decided the Professor.
"Yes, but where could you send Eagle-eye?" asked Ned. "It would take two days for him to ride to Springfield, and that much more time to return. Tad would starve to death before that, wouldn't he?"
"Not hardly. Altogether, the situation has some humor in it. Master Tad is down there with plenty of food, but he cannot get up here. On the other hand we are up here safe, but without food and cannot get down to him."
"If Tad couldn't get out, he'd be even better off than we then," laughed Walter.
"We would all be all right in that event, my boy. Come here, Eagle-eye."
The Indian obeyed the command lazily.
"We want you to take one of the ponies and ride back to your friend's place as fast as you can. Get a rope, one long enough to reach down into the gully. Don't spare the pony. Get back as quickly as possible."
"Him no got rope."
"How do you know? You go just the same and you go in a hurry. Don't you dare to show your face back here unless you bring a rope, sir. If you get back before dark, I shall make you a present of this rifle that you have admired so much--"
"I beg your pardon, that's my gun you are trying to give away," objected Stacy.
"Never mind, you shall have another. Don't you think it's worth that much to get Master Tad out of his difficulty quickly?"
"Of course it is. I didn't mean it just that way. Sure, give the lazy Indian my gun, give him anything I have, only do something to make him hurry."
The Indian's eyes sparkled with anticipation. "You give Indian gun?" he asked. "Yes. Me ride um pony like fire from sky."
"Well, get off now," said the Professor. "We'll take for granted that you'll do your best. But get back before dark."
The red man was off with a bound, and releasing one of the ponies leaped into the saddle, plunging over the rough, rocky trail at a pace that threatened destruction to pony and rider.
"They'll break their necks. But he certainly is making time," grinned Walter.
"Hope he doesn't break any necks until he returns with a rope. I don't care how soon after that he--"
"That's not a kind thing to say, even of an Indian," corrected the Professor.
"Then I won't say it. I'll just think it," laughed Ned.
"We have sent for a rope, Tad," called Walter. "You must have patience, for it may be several hours before he gets back."
"Whom did you send?"
"The noble red man," interjected Ned, with a laugh.
"Then, it is more likely to be a week before he returns," sighed the lad.
They could almost hear Tad groan. However, there was nothing they could do, and after talking back and forth for a time, the boys settled down to rest, rather worn out from the excitement of the last few hours.
Chunky, though, seemed drawn to the edge of the cliff as if by some invisible force. He simply could not keep away from it.
Twice Ned Rector had hauled him back.
"Fall over if you wish to, Chunky. I can't be bothered to watch you all the time," said Ned finally.
"I won't fall over. Once is enough," replied Stacy, then they left him to himself.
The boy, observing that his friends were not looking, began to toss tiny pebbles over. He was chuckling with glee. First he would throw one, peer over to watch the effect, then dodge back. Stacy Brown's sense of humor seemed impossible to satisfy.
At first Tad paid little attention, believing that what he heard dropping about him was particles dislodged from the rocks overhead.
But when finally, a bit of limestone the size of a chestnut hit the lad fairly on the top of his head and bounded off, he sprang up from where he had been sitting, with an exclamation of impatience.
Moving slightly to one side, Tad peered cautiously upward. He was gratified a moment later by a sight of Stacy Brown's red face peeking over at him.
"Hi, yi, yi, yi!" exploded Tad Butler.
Just at this time Professor Zepplin happened to cast his eyes over toward Stacy and, seeing that something unusual was going on, went quickly but silently over to the boy.
"What's the trouble? Anything the matter?" called the Professor.
"There will be if you don't tie Chunky to a tree or something," called Tad.
"We haven't any rope to tie him with, but we'll attend to the young man," answered the Professor. "See here, boy, what have you been up to?"
"I--I was tossing pebbles over at him," answered Stacy whimsically.
"That will do, young man," warned the Professor. "I shall have to take you in hand if I hear any more such complaints. Do you know that you might have seriously injured Master Tad? Anything thrown from such a height strikes with considerable force."
Stacy hung his head, and thrusting his hands in his pockets walked away, after which there was peace in the camp of the Pony Riders for some time.
"Every time I try to have a little fun I get into trouble," muttered the boy. "I'll show them some of these days that Stacy Brown isn't the tenderfoot they seem to think he is. I'll do something yet."
He had already done so when he threw himself on the rope with the hope of saving his companion from a terrible fall. But, as usual, his effort had resulted in his own undoing.
"Got anything to eat?" he asked, approaching the group.
"You deserve to go hungry," retorted Ned.
"Looks as though he would, whether he deserves it or not," added Walter.
"Young men, there are some canned beans in my saddle bag. I carried them along in case we should become separated from our pack train," observed the Professor.
"Hooray!" laughed Ned, tossing his hat in the air. "I guess we won't starve this evening. Let's cook them?"
"What shall we cook them in?" asked Walter.
"That's so. I'd forgotten that. Our cooking outfit is at the bottom of the gorge."
"I think you will find something on one of the two remaining mules--something that will answer the purpose," suggested the Professor. "But first, I would suggest that you unpack your tents and pitch them. It is plain that we shall have to remain here all night."
"Why not throw Tad's tent down to him if we don't succeed in getting him up?" asked Chunky.
"Don't you think we've got enough to do with getting him and the provisions up, without throwing down the rest of our stuff?" sniffed Ned. "You must think we have an easy job ahead of us. Well, if you think that you're wrong; we haven't."
They got to work at once, unloading their tents. The canvas was soon spread out on the ground, ropes laid in place and folding cots placed where they belonged. The next task was to cut some tent poles, which was quickly accomplished. Shortly afterwards, the little tents sprang up, and the boys busied themselves with making them inhabitable.
While they were doing this, Professor Zepplin had busied himself with gathering firewood. He had trouble in finding enough dry stuff to answer their purpose. Walter remembered having seen some in a gully a short distance away.
"I know where it is. I'll go fetch it as soon as we have finished here," he said.
"Very well, Walter. I have enough here to start the supper with."
Having done all that was necessary to the tent for the time being, Walter Perkins ran off to get the wood for the night fire, while Ned, having found a spider, prepared to cook the supper.
Out of the packs he had drawn a small package that looked good to him. He opened it and uttered a shout.
"Will we starve to-night? I guess not," he laughed, waving the contents of the package above his head.
"What have you found?" asked the Professor.
"Bacon. Enough for all of us and perhaps some to spare."
"Then, we are not so badly off after all, Master Ned. How about the coffee?"
"Coffee went down the hill."
"The tea also?"
"Yes. The whole business. Neither have we any butter or lard. We shall have to cook the beans in themselves and eat them without seasoning."
"Cook the bacon with them. That will furnish the salt," suggested Stacy.
"Large head," laughed Ned. "I'll do it. Go fetch me some water."
Stacy hurried away whistling, and in a few minutes returned with his sombrero filled with clear, cool mountain water.
"Here, here! What do you mean? Think we want to drink out of that old hat?" jeered Ned. "Get a pail; what ails you?"
"Nothing ails me. It's the pail you want to find fault with--not with me."
"What do you mean?"
"The pail's down at the bottom of the mountain with Tad," grinned Stacy.
"That's one on me," laughed Ned. "Very well, go wash the hat thoroughly. I suppose we shall have to use it for a water pail. A good scrubbing won't do it any harm, at that."
"I did wash it," replied Stacy. "Think I'd bring you water in it without doing so?"
"All right, put it down," said Ned, turning away.
"If I put the hat down the water will all run out over the top."
"Then stand there and hold it till we get through supper," growled Ned, turning to the fire where the bacon was frying in the pan of beans.
Stacy eyed him questioningly for a few seconds, and then with an exclamation poured the water on the ground, jamming the wet, dripping sombrero down over his head.
"You go get your own water. I'm not the cook, anyhow," he said, thrusting both hands into his trousers pockets and strolling over to the other side of the fire, where he watched the supper preparations out of the corners of his eyes.
"Serve you right if we didn't give you any supper," commented Ned.
"I'll set the table if you will agree not to find fault with the way I do it," offered the boy.
"Go ahead. I'll promise."
Stacy flirted the table cloth in the air, and after walking around several times, succeeded in smoothing it out. He could find only two spoons in their kit, and no knives and forks.
The boy pondered deeply for a moment, then hurried off into the brush, returning shortly, stuffing something in his inside coat pocket.
"Grub pi-i-i-lee!" announced the cook.
"Hey, Tad, supper's ready," shouted Ned, peering over the cliff.
"All right," came back the answer. "I'm eating mine now. I've got corned beef and--"
"And what? It must be something pretty good."
"It is. What would you say to canned peaches?"
"Canned peaches! Now, fellows, what do you think of that? I didn't know there were any in the pack," mourned Ned.
"And you the cook! I don't think you're much of a cook after all. It's lucky for us you didn't know it, I guess," said Stacy, with a grimace.
"Lucky for Tad, you mean. Precious little of those canned peaches we'll ever see. Come, fall to. You'll make me late with my dishes," urged Ned.
They were hungry enough, and the spiderful of beans and bacon looked good to them.
"What, do we have to eat with a spoon--a large spoon, at that?"
"You do, unless you prefer to use your fingers, Professor. We are not allowed by you to do that, but I presume you can if you want to. Chunky doesn't need any. We will divide the two spoons between the three of us," said Ned, with a twinkle in Stacy's direction.
But his levity did not disturb the fat boy in the least. After having had his plate heaped with beans and bacon, Stacy calmly took from his pocket two sharp sticks that he had cut and trimmed just before supper. On one of these he speared a piece of bacon, stringing several beans on the other, and carrying both mouthward at the same time.
The boys burst out laughing.
"Well, will you look at the chopsticks!" exclaimed Ned. "I always thought he'd make a good Chinaman."
"Master Stacy is at least resourceful," answered the Professor, a broad grin on his face. "I think I shall cut me some sticks just like those."
The boy stripped the beans from one into his mouth and extended the stick to Professor Zepplin.
"No, thank you," laughed the scientist. "I think I prefer to get my own."
Chunky solemnly chased a truant bean about his plate, finally spearing and conveying it to his already well-filled mouth.
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