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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks - 6/37 -
"I sincerely hope you do, too," laughed Tad.
"If I win, I'll lose. That sounds funny, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean?" demanded Chunky, pushing his way forward.
"He means," Walter informed him, "that if he wins it will be because he takes a tumble to the bottom of the canyon. Understand?"
"Oh," muttered Chunky, thrusting his hands into his trousers pockets. He stepped to the edge of the cliff, where he stood peering over curiously.
"I hope Tad doesn't win, too," he decided sagely, whereat the others laughed loudly.
"Now, Professor, will you please take charge of the operations?"
"Certainly. But, you understand, I permit this thing under strong protest. I am doing wrong. I should use my authority to prevent it were we not already in such a serious predicament."
"Don't worry. What I want is to have you take a few turns around that small tree there with the rope, and pay it out carefully, so that I can lower myself safely. Don't give me too much rope at one time, you know."
"No," chuckled Ned. "You know what they say happens to people who have too much rope."
"That they usually hang themselves."
Tad laughed softly.
"Please call that lazy Indian over here and set him to work. Little does he care what trouble we're in. See, he's asleep against a tree now."
"Yes, his head would fall off if it were not nailed fast to him," added Ned, striding to the Shawnee and giving him a violent shake. "Wake up, you sleepy head!" shouted Ned in a voice that brought the Indian quickly to his feet.
"Come over here, Eagle-eye. You're wanted," called Walter.
"Put the Indian on the end of the rope; and, Professor, you please take a hold nearest to the tree. You'll be my salvation. The rest of you, except Chunky, can stand between the Professor and Eagle-eye."
They took their places as directed, while Tad straightened out the rope until it extended to the edge of the cliff.
"What do you want me to do? Have I got to stand here and look on?" demanded Stacy.
"No, Chunky. You may run the signal tower," laughed Tad.
"What's that? I don't see any such thing around here?"
"You are it."
"What? I'm what?" answered the fat boy, plainly puzzled.
"You are the signal tower in this case. That is, you will stand here and watch me. When I give a signal you will receive and pass it on to the others."
"What kind of signals?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you, if you will give me the chance. When I hold up my hand, it means that they are to stop letting out rope. When I move it up and down, it means they are to let out on the rope a little. Understand?"
"Oh, yes; that's easy. When they shake their hand, it means you want to go up or down," exclaimed the lad enthusiastically.
"O Chunky, you're hopeless. No, no! Nothing of the kind. Listen. When I move my hand up and down, just like this--Understand?"
"That means I want to go down further. They don't wave their hands at all, at least I hope they don't while I am hanging in the air. Now, do you think you understand?"
"Yes, I understand."
"Repeat the directions to me then, please."
Stacy did so.
"That's right. See that you don't forget. Remember, I'm depending upon you, Chunky, and if you fail me, I may be killed."
"Don't you worry about me, Tad," answered Stacy, swelling with pride because of the responsibility that had been placed upon his plump shoulders. "I can make motions as well as anybody. Eagle-eye, tend to business over there. Get hold of that rope. Twist it around your arm. There, that's right."
"Hear, hear!" cried the boys.
Such self-confidence they had never observed in their companion before. And then again, they were trying to be as jolly as possible, that they might not give too much thought to the seriousness of the undertaking before them.
"Chunky's coming into his own," muttered Ned. "He'll be wanting to thrash some of us next. See if he doesn't."
"I think I am all ready now," announced Tad, casting a critical glance at the men holding the rope, then taking a careful survey of the depths below him.
He was standing on the very edge of the cliff, a position that would have made the average person dizzy. Yet it seemed to have no effect at all on Tad Butler.
He motioned for them to let out a little rope.
"More rope!" bellowed Stacy.
"All right, Captain," jeered Ned. "Better port your helm, though, or the rope will give you a side wipe and take you along over with Tad."
Stacy quickly changed his position, which Tad had intended telling him to do.
Without another word Tad sat down with his feet dangling over, then crawled cautiously down the steep wall. For a short distance he was able to do this without depending on the rope, Stacy in the meanwhile lying flat on his stomach, peering down and passing on the signals to those holding the rope.
Now Tad came to a piece of rock that was straight up and down and perfectly smooth. He motioned for them to lower him slowly, which they did until the boy's feet once more touched a solid footing.
He carefully settled down until he was in a sitting posture. He was on a narrow, shelving rock, and there he remained for a few moments to rest, for the trip thus far had been exceedingly trying.
"The water's fine, Chunky," he called up cheerfully.
"The water's fine," bellowed Chunky, glaring at his companions. Then a sheepish grin spread over his countenance when he realized what he had said. "I mean, that's what Tad called," he explained, amid a roar of laughter.
"He won't find it so fine if he falls in," muttered Walter.
"Bad spirits in water," grunted the Indian.
"Unfortunately for us, they're not all down there," growled Ned. But his barbed wit failed to penetrate the tough skin of the red man.
"Tend to business, boys," warned the Professor, observing a series of frantic gestures on the part of Stacy Brown. "What does he want, to be lowered?"
"Yes, yes, don't you understand?"
"No, we don't understand motions in a foreign language," laughed Walter, permitting the rope to slip through his hands a little.
"How's that?" queried Professor Zepplin.
"More rope!" roared Stacy. "Watch my signals, then you'll know what to do."
"What not to do," muttered Ned.
Once more Tad began his cautious creeping down the uncertain trail. Though he had gone some distance, it seemed to him as if the bottom were further away than when he started.
"I'm afraid this rope is not going to be long enough," he breathed. "However, I believe I can crawl down the last fifteen or twenty feet if the line will only reach to them. It's not nearly so steep down there as it is higher up."
There occurred a sudden sharp jolt on the rope, due to the men above not letting the loops slip around the tree while the rope was taut. This gave Tad a drop of three or four feet and a jar that made him think he was falling.
"Here you, up there! What are you trying to do?"
"What do you fellows mean?" demanded Stacy.
"Just a slip, that's all," answered Walter.
"Somebody slipped," shouted Stacy.
"Tell them to be careful, Chunky. This rope won't stand many such jerks as that. Remember, it's running over some sharp rocks above here and is liable to be cut in two."
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