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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

THE CLIFF PALACE

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Based on a painting by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)


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First published in The Children's Newspaper, 3-24 September 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-09-22

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TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER 1. — IN PAGAN PASS

MARK ANSON and his young brother Roy had been delighted when the wealthy Mr Richard Dutton had given them the job of guiding him through the desert which fringes the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. The pay was good and Mr Dutton treated them as friends.

But now, after three weeks of desperately hard travelling among terrific gorges and canyons, the two young Englishmen were not so happy. So far they had not found a trace of the city of the ancient cliff dwellers for which Richard Dutton was searching so eagerly, and they were now beginning to fear that they would fail to gain the reward of a thousand dollars which he had offered for success. They needed this money badly to pay for laying on water to the land which their father had taken up in Southern Colorado.

All day the party had been working down in one of the deep cross canyons, which run out like cracks in a sheet of glass from the Grand Canyon, but had found nothing. Now they were toiling up Pagan Pass on their way back to camp. It was a steep and dangerous trail, and the horses had their work cut out to scramble up it. The sun had set, heavy clouds covered the sky, and lightning was flickering along the horizon.

For a long time the only sound had been the clinking of shod hoofs on hard rock, then at last Mr Dutton spoke. "Looks mighty like a storm, Mark."

"Storm's coming for a certainty," Mark answered. "I only hope we'll reach camp before it breaks."

"How far do you reckon we have to go?"

"All of three miles," Mark answered.

"Which means a good hour. It surely looks like we'll get wet."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a brilliant flash threw up the whole grim scene in glaring relief, and was followed by a crash of thunder which seemed to echo endlessly along the mighty rock walls rising on either side.

"Get off, sir," Mark said sharply. "Quick, before the rain comes." He turned to his brother. "Roy, wasn't there a cave somewhere here?"

"Just round the next bend," Roy said. "Hurry, and we'll get in before it starts."

Roy, too, was out of his saddle, and the three dragged their tired beasts along as quickly as possible. Came another blinding blaze and showed a dark hole in the cliff just above the trail. They and their beasts were barely inside before the sky opened and the rain fell not in drops but in a solid sheet. Mr Dutton stood, holding his horse's bridle, staring out into the deluge. He saw the water coming over the cliff in a cascade and beating up in yellow foam from the trail, and turned to Mark.

"The bottom's dropped out!" he drawled.

"Say, how long's this going to last?"

"We shan't reach camp tonight," Mark told him.

Mr Dutton pursed his lips. "Well, we'll sleep dry," he remarked.

One point the boys liked about him was that he always made the best of things.

"Any grub left, Roy?"

Roy rummaged in the saddle bags. "Tin of tongue, sir. About two pounds of crackers, and a lump of cheese. Oh, and a slab of chocolate."

"Fine! We won't starve. Let's take the saddles off, find a soft spot, and camp."

They had to go in some way to find what they wanted, and were lucky in hitting on a flat slab of rock, where they could spread their saddle cloths and sit in comfort. They had plenty of candles, which they carried for exploring purposes, so there was light for them to eat their supper.

Beyond, the cave stretched away like the nave of a great church: they could not see the end. By degrees the storm passed muttering away, but it still rained steadily. All three were tired, so presently they stretched out and, with their saddles as pillows, were soon asleep.

It seemed to Mark that he had barely closed his eyes before someone was shaking him awake. "What's up?" he asked crossly. "It's not morning."

"Spell it with a u," Roy said in his ear.

Mark sat up quickly. The rain had stopped, and, barring a faint drip of water through some hole in the roof, all was quiet as death. Then he heard it. A groan! Where it came from he could not tell, but the sound sent shivers down his spine.

"No, it's not a ghost," said Roy, "though it sounds like one. That's a man, and he's hurt or in trouble. It's the third time I've heard it."

Mark got up. "Let's have a look," he said. "No need to disturb the boss." He took a flash from his pocket, while Roy collected a couple of candles; and just then the groan came again.

"It's farther in," Roy said.

"Go carefully," Mark warned him, and it was as well he did so, for the brothers had not gone fifty paces before they found themselves on the brink of a great shaft at least 20 feet across which seemed to drop to the bottom of the world. As Mark turned the beam of his torch down into the black depths the groan came up from the pit. Mark gasped.

"Can't be anyone down here," he declared.

"There jolly well is," Roy told him. "Hang on to my legs while I look over."

Roy took the torch and lay on his stomach while his brother held his legs.

"There's a ledge about thirty feet down and two men on it," he said.

He leaned farther over. "Hi!" he called. "Can you hear me?"

Instead of a groan came a gasp. Then a voice so hoarse it sounded like a croak. "Water! I'm nigh dead with thirst."


CHAPTER 2. — THE COMING OF QUENT

ROY crawled back. "I'll get a cantine from the saddle."

"And a rope," his brother added. "And you'd better wake the boss. It'll take the three of us to pull these chaps out." Roy nodded and was off.

Mark crept to the edge. "You'll have some water in a minute," he promised the man below.

Roy came running with a cantine tied to a length of cord. Mr Dutton followed with the coil of strong Alpine rope which they always carried. Roy let the cantine down carefully. The man who had spoken was sitting up. Roy could see that he was young and had red hair. The cantine dropped straight into his hands, and he unscrewed it eagerly. Then, instead of drinking, he turned to his companion, who seemed to be insensible, and poured a little water between his blackened lips. Roy felt a glow of pleasure as he watched.

"That's a white man," he said to himself.

The insensible man stirred, then the other took a drink. He looked up. "I don't know who you are, stranger," he said in a more natural voice, "but you've surely saved our lives. If you've a rope handy maybe you can help us out."

"There's plenty of rope," came the deep voice of Mr Dutton, "and there are three of us here. We'll get you up all right."

As he spoke he flung down one end of the coil. The red-haired man caught it and began to make it fast round his companion's body. "Be careful with him," he said. "He can't help himself."

"Don't worry. We'll get him up safely," Mr Dutton answered.

Three sturdy pairs of arms made short work of lifting the man. When they got him over the edge they saw he was short, stocky, black-haired, sallow, and about 30 years old. His clothes were in rags, his face unshaven, his hair long. They laid him down and dropped the rope for the red-head. He was taller but not so heavy, and a good deal younger than the first man. Though as ragged and unshaven as his companion, Roy liked the look of him. He blinked in the bright light of the flash.

"I'm mighty grateful to you gents," he said gravely. "Jake and me, we were just about all in."

He staggered, and Roy steadied him. "Come on," he said. "Mark can you and Mr Dutton carry the other chap?"

They got the two to their camping place. Luckily, they had plenty of water, and the red-head was soon able to eat. Jake recovered enough to swallow some water, then fell into a deep sleep.

"Best thing for him," Mr Dutton said. He spoke to the red-head, who was munching cheese and biscuit.

"Do you feel up to talking?" he asked kindly. "You can guess we are keen to know how you two came to be in a place like that? Did you fall in?"

"No, mister. We came up from the bottom," replied Red-head, and grinned as he saw the amazement on the faces of his audience. "I guess I better tell you about it from the beginning. My name's Parley, Pete Parley, and he"—pointing to the black-haired man—"he's Jake Holt. We were working on the big dam, and a fellow named Seth Whitting, an old prospector, told us there was gold on a creek called Sun River, which runs into the Colorado. Holt and me had saved a stake, so we laid off and went up to Sphinx City, bought a boat, took it down to Lee's Ferry, and started out.

"It was a crazy job. Them rapids are enough to scare the hair off your head. Down in Marble Canyon we got upset and lost nigh everything we had except a little grub. The wonder was we got out alive. The boat was bust all to pieces, so we worked along the bank until we come to a cross canyon, and started up it; but the cliffs were about a mile high, and I don't reckon a squirrel could have climbed 'em, and presently we came to a blind end.

"Grub was finished, and it looked like we were finished too, when I saw a kind of path up the side. Jake said it was made by some of the old folk as used to live here before the Injuns came."

"The Cliff Dwellers," Mr Dutton put in.

"That's it, mister," said Parley. "But them fellers weren't men: they were monkeys. How we ever got up that path beats me, but we did, and there was the biggest cave you ever saw, all cut up by walls and full of stuff those old folk had left behind."

Mr Dutton jumped up. "The Cliff Palace!" he cried. "It must have been the Cliff Palace you found. Where is it?"

Parley looked startled. "That's more'n I can tell you, mister, for it's a long way from here. Listen! In a sort of bin we found a lot of maize, and there was an old stone mill close by. So we ground some up and mixed it with water (there was a good spring in the cave) and ate it. Then we slept. Next day we lit a fire and made cakes, and when we'd got as much grub as we could carry we started to find a way out.

"There was a passage which led out into another big rift, but that didn't help us any, for there wasn't no way out. To cut a long story short, mister, we wandered around in a sort o' spider web of canyons for six days; our corn cakes were finished and we'd about given up when Jake found the mouth of a tunnel which looked like it might lead to the top. We were desperate enough to try anything, so we started up. Seems to me we were climbing for a week, then, just as our last bit of candle gave out, we reached that ledge where you saw us, and found we couldn't go farther. We couldn't go back in the dark, so there we stayed, and"—he paused—"I reckon you came along just in time."

Mr Dutton, usually so calm and self-possessed, was quivering with excitement.

"It was the Cliff Palace you stumbled on. Tell me, Parley, can't you find your way back there? It will be worth a thousand dollars to you if you can."

Parley shook his head.

"I'll allow that a thousand dollars would be mighty welcome to me and my partner, but neither him nor me could find our way back through them big cracks in the earth. But I'll tell you what, mister. If we were to go down the river again I could show you the place. I'll tell you why. There's a great arch of rock across the mouth of that there canyon—what they call a natural bridge."

"Fine!" cried Mr Dutton: "I'll have a proper boat built, and if you will guide us the money shall be yours." He calmed down. "Now let us sleep. We must start early."

A week later the five were at the little desert town called Sphinx, where they put up at the Dorado Hotel. As they entered the place a man rose from a chair. He was tall, powerfully built, and distinctly good-looking; but his nose was like an eagle's beak, and his pale blue eyes were cold as glacier ice. With him was a boy of about Roy's age, so like him Roy was sure he was his son.

"Hulloa, Dutton!" the big man said.

Roy saw a queer expression cross his employer's face. "So you are here, Quent," he answered in a chilly voice.

"Why not?" smiled the other, and went out into the street, followed by his son.

"Who is he, sir?" Mark Anson asked.

"Ashley Quent. My bitterest rival." Mr Dutton lowered his voice. "I would not mind a rival if he were honest. But Quent is not honest. He is the worst crook in the West. There is nothing he will stop at to beat me to the discovery of the Cliff Palace. And that boy of his, Gordon, is no better than his father." He shrugged. "Mark, warn Parley and Holt not to have anything to do with them."


CHAPTER 3. — THE FIRST RAPID

MARK went off at once to the stable, where Parley and Holt had gone to look after the horses. Parley was there, but he did not see Holt. "Where's Jake?" he asked.

"I don't know where he is right now, Mark," Pete answered. "There was a tall chap came in and spoke to him, and he went down the street with him."

"Quent!" snapped Mark, and hurried out. But it was too late. There was no sign of Quent, his son, or Holt. Mark ran back to the hotel and at the door met Roy. He told him what had happened.

"Quent has bribed Jake to guide him. I'm afraid there's no stopping them."

Instead of answering, Roy turned sharply back into the hotel. He ran upstairs to the Quents' room. Young Gordon Quent was just coming out.

"Where is your father?" Roy demanded. Gordon stopped short.

"What business is that of yours?" he asked, with a sneer. "Get out of my way."

Roy stiffened. "Not until you tell me," he replied.

Gordon dropped the bag. His fist shot out. Roy ducked and flung his arms round Gordon. The two went to the floor together with a crash.

Mark Anson heard the crash and came running. He found his brother flat on the floor with his eyes closed. In falling he had hit his head against the wall and was stunned. Mark caught Gordon Quent by the shoulder.

"What have you done to my brother?" he demanded.

Gordon made no attempt to resist.

"I was coming out of my room when he suddenly went for me," he said coldly. "I think he must have gone crazy."

"Quite innocent, aren't you?" Mark retorted. "Where's your father?"

"I haven't a notion." Gordon paused and stared at Mark. "See here, Anson, you have nothing against me and you'd better let me go. If you don't I shall appeal to the sheriff."

"You can appeal to the President if you want to. Wait till I've put my brother on his bed, then I'll talk to you."

"I'll help you," said Gordon, and stooped as if to pick up Roy. But as Mark stooped Gordon, gave him a sudden violent shove, and bolted. Before Mark could get to his feet Gordon was down the stairs. Mark went after him, but by the time he reached the door Gordon Quent was a hundred yards down the street, running like the wind. He whirled round a corner, and when Mark gained that corner he was just in time to see Gordon join his father, who was on horseback and holding another horse. Gordon sprang into the saddle and both galloped away.

When Mark got back to the hotel he found Mr Dutton looking after Roy. Roy was coming round. He declared he was not much hurt. Mark had to tell Mr Dutton just what had happened, and he fully expected an explosion. It did not come.

"I might have known it," he said quietly. "I never did think a lot of Jake. I ought to have given him his money and packed him off." He shrugged. "The damage is done; there's no help for it."

Mark's eyes widened. "Do you mean you're going to chuck it?" he asked.

The other smiled. "Don't you know me better than that, Mark? We still have Parley, and no one is going to bribe him to go back on us. But this changes all my plans. There will be no time to build a special boat. We shall have to get what we can, and do it at once. And," he added slowly, "there may be a speck of trouble."

Mark's face brightened. "We're game," he said shortly. "So is Pete, if I don't miss my guess."

"Then that's all right," said Mr Dutton.

"You two stay here in the hotel while I go and see about the boat. And remember this: if we find the Cliff Palace you two get a thousand as well as Parley."

"That's the sort of man to work for," said Roy, after their employer had left. "Mark, I don't care what happens: we're going to beat Quent in this business."

"We're going to have a jolly good try," Mark agreed. "I've a notion things are going to move before we're much older."

Mark's prophecy proved a true one, for within less than two hours Mr Dutton was back to tell them he had found a boat and had hired a van and driver to take it to the river. The rest of the day he meant to spend in buying necessary supplies, and they would leave at dawn next morning.

"We're going with the boat," he told Mark and Roy. "We're not taking any chances of Quent smashing it up on the way."

It was cool and pleasant when they left at five next morning. The boat, a solid-looking craft, 18 feet long, was packed on a lorry. The stores were in her. Pete rode on the lorry and the rest travelled in a car which Mr Dutton had hired. They had 30 miles to go and the road was merely a trail across the desert.

It was midday when they came to the edge of Marble Canyon. Mark and Roy had seen plenty of canyons during the past weeks, but both pulled up short and gasped when they reached the edge of this tremendous rift. The drop from top to bottom was more than a mile. As for the Colorado itself, it looked like a brown ribbon no wider than a garden path, yet actually they knew it to be as wide as the Thames opposite Chelsea. From the spot where they stood to the top of the opposite cliff was 11 miles. Mr Dutton came up beside them.

"All done by water," he said; "but the Colorado is one of the oldest rivers in the world, and it has been on the job for several million years. We must push on or it will be dark before we get to the bottom."

"There's no sign of Quent," Mark said. "Do you think he's ahead of us?"

"I'm pretty sure he isn't," was the reply. "He didn't wait to get a boat at Sphinx. I reckon he went to Kanab. In that case he can't be here before tomorrow."

"Then we're all right," exclaimed Roy. Mr Dutton shrugged. "I wouldn't gamble on that. We've quite a way to go. He could easily pass us." He turned and led the way back to the road.

The trail wound endlessly down the giant cliffs and it was sunset before they arrived at the bottom. They found themselves in a different climate. It had been cool and breezy up on the desert; down here it was almost tropical. With the help of their two drivers they launched the boat, then set to work to make camp. The drivers stayed with them: they dared not tackle the pass in darkness.

Sir Dutton had his party up before dawn, the loads were carefully stowed in the boat, and after breakfast they got afloat. The drivers waved to them as they pulled away. The river here was smooth enough, but there were long white streaks of foam on its dirty brown surface and Mark and Roy were startled at the speed of the current. A mile below was a sharp curve.

As they rounded it the boat's bow dipped, the stern jumped into the air, and she went rushing at breathless speed down a toboggan slide of white water.


CHAPTER 4. — THUNDER BY NIGHT

THE boat was leaping like a bucking horse and the roar was like that of Niagara.

"Pull!" shouted Pete, and Roy realised that the fierce current had swung them right under the western cliff. He dipped his oar and pulled till his muscles cracked, then, before he knew it, the turmoil was behind them and the boat gliding along once more in smooth water.

"Nothing to it," said Pete Parley with a grin.

Roy tried to laugh, but it was rather a feeble effort.

In the next hour they ran two more rapids, then came a couple of miles of comparatively quiet water. By this time the sun was over the rim of the gorge, and Roy held his breath at the magnificence surrounding him. The cliffs glowed with marvellous colours. A great band of almost scarlet sandstone showed high above their heads; other rocks were yellow, brown, and bright purple. These contrasted with the rich green of cedar and pine growing in thickets among the broken rocks and the paler green of mesquite in the bottom lands.

Soon the ominous roar was heard again; the boat travelled more swiftly and Roy's heart began to beat more rapidly. In the distance he saw a cloud of spray rising, and wondered uneasily what was before them.

"This isn't a rapid," he said; "it's a waterfall."

"That's right," agreed Pete. "Fairy Falls they call it. Now you've got a job of work ahead."

He turned the boat to the bank and they all scrambled out on the rocks. Every single thing was taken out and piled on the bank, then a stout rope was attached to the boat.

"Whatever you do don't let go of the rope," Pete warned them. "If we lose the boat we'll never get out of this place."

He pushed her off and she went over the rim.

This rapid was quite short but frightfully steep, and there was a huge wave halfway down. The boat shot into it and disappeared. The rope jerked violently and Mr Dutton stumbled and fell. He tried to hold on, but the rope was torn from his hands. Pete took a quick turn of the rope around a pointed rock. The strain was too great. With a crack like a rifle shot the stout line parted.

"If we lose the boat we'll never get out."

Pete's warning echoed in Roy's brain. Leaping over Mr Dutton, he raced across the rocks, gained the bottom of the rapid, and, without thought of danger, sprang far out into the icy water.

The boat was already out of reach, but the broken rope was trailing behind her. Swimming with a speed of which he hadn't believed himself capable, Roy reached the rope, grasped it, and began to pull himself up hand over hand towards the boat. He gained it, scrambled over the stern, then realised that there were no oars, no way of getting back to the bank.

A shout from the bank made him turn. Here was Pete, springing from rock to rock. He had the rest of the rope coiled over one arm. Fifty yards beyond a point of rock ran out into the water. Pete gained the end of this just as the boat came opposite and, with the skill of long practice, flung-his rope. One end fell across the boat. Roy grasped it, made it fast, and in a matter of moments the boat was safe under the point.

Pete looked at Roy. "You surely beat me to it," was all he said, but Roy felt a warm glow run through his chilled body. Then Mr Dutton arrived.

"Roy, your quick thinking has saved us all," he said warmly. "Now we had better load up and push on."

They ran three more rapids that afternoon, and camped for the night at the head of one that could not be run. It was known as The Staircase, for it had three great Steps, each causing a huge wave.

So far as weather went the evening was perfect. Close by the camp a great spring gushed out from the foot of the cliff, making a perfect little bathing pool of water clear as glass. Flowers grew around it, and there were plenty of trees for firewood. Mr Dutton had ransacked the shops at Sphinx and they had a splendid supper. Rested and well fed, they stretched themselves on their blankets.

"How far have we to go, Pete?" Roy asked lazily.

"It ain't a great way," Pete told him. "Jake and me, we did the trip in three days, and the river was a deal lower then than it is now. We've done fine today."

"Too finely, if you ask me," said Mr Dutton.

"What do you mean, sir?" Roy asked.

"It's all too peaceful, Roy," was the reply. "If you knew Quent as I do you'd be looking for trouble."

"But I thought you said he couldn't get afloat until tomorrow."

"I said I thought so. I can't be sure. It's on the cards he might have had a boat waiting at Kanab, and if he had he might easily have reached the Ferry by ten this morning."

"Even so he'd be a long way behind us," put in Mark.

"Not if he had a motor. I meant to have had a boat with a good outboard motor, only there wasn't time to get it."

Mark frowned. "Then it's up to us to keep a watch tonight."

"It surely is," agreed Pete, who had been listening with interest. "Listen here. I'll take first watch; you come on next, boss. Then Roy and then Mark."

"Good enough," agreed his employer. "We'd better turn in. I'm not as young as I was, and I'll admit to sore muscles after this day's work."

Roy was asleep in a few minutes, and he could hardly believe it was one o'clock when Mr Dutton roused him.

"All quiet, sir?" he asked, as he sat up.

"Perfectly peaceful," the other told him; "but keep a good watch upstream." He lay down, and Roy climbed to a ledge behind the camp and sat with his back against the cliff. Not a breath of wind was stirring and it was not very dark. The moon, nearly full, was high in the sky and her light reached even the depths of this mighty rift.

Roy kept his eyes glued on the river but saw nothing suspicious. So an hour passed. Roy stood up and stretched, and even as he did so a noise like distant thunder reached his ears. It came from overhead. He looked up, then with a yell sprang down to the camp. "Take cover!" he shouted. "A rock slide!"


CHAPTER 5. — THE HEAD OF THE SNAKE

PETE and Mark were up in a flash. Mr Dutton was not so quick, but Roy and Mark jerked him to his feet.

"This way!" Pete yelled, and dashed back under the cliff.

It looked like suicide but was really good sense, for about 50 feet up the rock bulged outward like a pent-house roof. The four had barely reached this shelter before the front of the great fall struck this bulge and leaped outward. The whole cliff quivered with the terrific impact, and as for the noise it was simply stunning.

Plastered against the cliff face the little party stood motionless, deafened, blinded, while such an avalanche poured down that it appeared as if they had only escaped crushing to be buried alive. It seemed to Roy that it went on for whole minutes, but actually it was probably not more than 30 seconds before the fall was over. He opened his eyes and rubbed the dust out of them; then he heard Mr Dutton's voice. "Are you all safe?"

"I reckon," Pete answered, in his usual western drawl. As the great cloud of dust settled Roy saw that they were all four standing in a narrow space between the cliff and a monstrous pile of broken rock boulders and earth. The pile stood more than 20 feet high and its weight must have been at least a thousand tons. He stepped forward but Pete caught him by the arm.

"Might be more to come," he said briefly, and even as he spoke a solitary boulder dropped with a thump on top of the heap.

"The boat!" said Mr Dutton, in a very anxious voice.

"I don't reckon she's hurt, boss," Pete answered. "She was tied quite a way upstream. I guess we're all right now," he added and moved out. The first thing he did was to run to where the boat had been moored.

"She's all right, boss," he shouted.

"Ain't even got a pebble in her."

"Thanks be for that," said Mr Dutton fervently. He went toward the spot where they had been sleeping. It was littered with boulders, some too big for a man to lift. He pulled up and stood looking at it.

"Not one of us would have been alive but for your warning, Roy," he said gravely.

"That was your doing, sir," Roy answered. "You set the watch. I say, do you think—" He stopped short, but Mr Dutton knew what he meant.

"I don't know what to think. Rock falls are not infrequent in these gorges, but this one—well, the time and the place are a bit too well chosen to be altogether chance."

"But if they're up there they may try it again," said Mark sharply.

"Not likely," Mr Dutton told him. "If it was Ashley Quent's work it was probably a time fuse. It would take a long time to climb up there and come back."

"Then you think they're close behind us?" Roy asked.

"Probably. But now Quent won't hurry for he will feel sure that we are wiped out."

Roy chuckled. "Sell for him, for now we'll get there first."

"We'll have a mighty good try," agreed Mr Dutton. He looked at his watch. "I think we can all sleep safely now—that is, if we can ever recover our blankets."

It took half an hour's hard work to rescue their bedding, and some of it was spoilt. But the stores were all right for they had been left close to the boat. All four moved a little way up-river, so as to be out of the way of loosened boulders, and slept till dawn. It was hardly daylight when they had finished breakfast and were lining the boat down the Staircase. This time they took no chances: they used two ropes.

All the same it took a long time, for all the stores had to be carried over a most dangerous and difficult path, a mere ledge under the cliff. As they worked they kept on looking back for Quent's boat, but it did not show up. Mark was uneasy.

"When Quent comes," he said, "he will see that our boat is gone."

"I reckon he'll think it's sunk," Mr Dutton answered; "but in any case we shall be well out of sight, and, with any luck, we ought to reach the Cliff Palace ahead of him. Once we are in it we can easily block the trail up the cliff."

They did not spare themselves that morning. Every rapid that could be run they did run. There were only two which were so bad they had to land and portage around them. The weather was very hot and all worked stripped to the waist.

"We're doing fine," said Pete, when they stopped for a meal at midday. "I reckon we ought to reach the Snake afore night."

"The Snake—what's that?" Roy asked.

"A mighty bad place," Pete told him. "And you can't portage because the cliffs is sheer both sides. But me and Jake got down it all right, so I reckon we can do the same."

In spite of the need for haste, Mr Dutton made them take a full hour's rest. Indeed, they needed it for they were all tired. They got afloat again at once and kept the boat moving fast down a couple of miles of good water. Then came a bad place. This rapid was short but terribly steep and one mass of waves. They unloaded and put two lines on the boat. Pete sat in her stern with the steering oar. She went down finely, riding the waves like a duck, but when she got to the bottom of the rapid she turned her nose outward and shot across toward the opposite cliff. Pete worked furiously but could not stop her, and it was all the three on shore could do to hold her. They stopped her, she came round, rose on a wave, then ducked her bows under and vanished.

"It's a whirlpool!" cried Mr Dutton. "Pull—pull for all you're worth."

Roy was scared almost stiff. He felt sure that Pete was drowned. But he pulled with all his strength, and gasped with relief as he saw the boat come up, with Pete still in her. She was full to the gunwale, but now they had her out of the eddy, and in another minute she was safe under the shelving bank.

"Water's mighty cold," was all that Pete said as he climbed out and helped to pull the boat on to the beach. They baled her dry, repacked her, and got off again.

In spite of the delay they reached the head of the Snake before dark. It was too late to run it that night so Mr Dutton ordered camp to be made. After the fire was lighted he and Roy walked on to have a look at the rapid. They climbed on a pile of broken rock, and there was the Snake. Roy drew a long breath. During the past two days he had seen some bad places, but never anything like this.

The Snake was about half a mile long. The river, penned between perpendicular cliffs, rolled down the steep in a thunder of white foam, fearful to contemplate. To make it even worse, down near the lower end of the rapid a great rock, which must have fallen from above, perhaps hundreds of years ago, ran out like a promontory, so that the whole current was piled against it in a boiling mass.

For a long, time neither spoke; they stood fascinated by the fury of the mad river, deafened by its thunder. At last Mr Dutton turned to Roy. "We can't go back," he said.

Roy stiffened. "Go back. Why should we? Pete and Jake got down it."

Mr Dutton shrugged. "If I had known of this I should never have started," he said. "I don't mind risking my own life, but I have no right to let you take such chances."

"It's probably not half as bad as it looks," Roy said sturdily, then pulled up short. "Oh!" he gasped.

A wave at least 15 feet high had risen almost at their feet. It covered the whole breadth of the river and swept away down the rapid, rolling in white foam like an ocean breaker, and collapsing with a roar that for a moment drowned even the thunder of the Snake itself.

"W-what made that?" Roy stammered.

Mr Dutton did not answer: he stood frowning at the river. A few moments later a second wave, like the first, reared its mighty crest, and went smashing over the verge. Mr Dutton's face cleared.

"It's a flood. A cloud-burst somewhere up-stream. See how the river is rising."

Roy could hardly believe his eyes, for before them the white foam of the rapid was disappearing. There was only a rushing current instead. Rocks which a minute before had raised their black heads amid the surges had vanished. The river had risen six feet in less than as many minutes and was still rising.


CHAPTER 6. — WRECK

THAT night watch was kept but there was no sign of Quent's party. At earliest light they went to inspect the rapid. The river had fallen but was still a good deal above its level of the day before. They were all rather silent as they ate breakfast. Then they stowed everything carefully in the boat, pushed off, and almost before they knew it were in the rapid.

It was the wildest, most daring and exciting ride that could be imagined. The current, rushing from one side to the other, constantly threatened to fling the boat against the canyon walls, and it was only by the most desperate efforts that they escaped disaster.

The speed was terrific and, almost before Roy knew it, he saw the great rock flash into sight. He saw the muscles of Pete's bare arms writhe as he swung the steering oar with all his might, then, with a crack like a rifle shot, the oar snapped, the wave caught the boat, there was a shock that flung Roy backwards, and when he scrambled up he found the boat, with all in it, stranded high on the rock.

Instinctively he sprang out and, planting his bare feet firmly, clung to the gunwale. Pete did the same, and an instant later Mark joined them. But Mr Dutton lay stunned at the bottom of the boat.

"Pull!" Pete roared, and by almost superhuman efforts the three succeeded in dragging the heavy boat the extra yard which saved her from being swept away by the next surge.

"Get the boss out," Pete ordered, and Roy and Mark lifted him out and laid him on the dry summit of the great rock.

"Is he bad hurt?" Pete asked.

"No, he is coming round," Mark answered. "Then get the stuff out," Pete said. "We got to see how bad she's damaged."

There was a fairly level space on top of the great rock where they quickly piled the stuff. Before they had finished unloading Mr Dutton had come round and wanted to help, but they would not let him.

"Save your strength, boss," Pete said, and for once his voice was grim. "Even if the boat ain't hurt it'll be a job to get her back in the water."

Roy glanced down at the roaring rapid. He did not say anything, but to him it did not seem possible that the boat could ever be launched again. He helped to turn her over, and his heart sank still lower when he saw the damage. There was a hole a foot long and half that width.

Pete examined it. "I guess we can fix it," he said. "Lucky we brought that copper sheeting. Get the tools out, Roy."

He went to work as coolly as if he was in a carpenter's shop instead of being perched on a crag above one of the worst rapids in the Colorado, and his coolness made Roy feel better. He and Mark helped as well as they could, but Pete was the one who understood the work and did most of it.

Even so the job took a long time and Pete was weary when at last he straightened his back and said he reckoned the patch would hold. "You feel up to starting, boss?" he asked. "We'd ought to get along if we wants to reach the Rock Bridge before night."

"What I feel like is food," Mr Dutton answered. "And you three need it more than I. Sit down. I have it ready."

So he had. He had even made hot coffee on a spirit stove. Roy was hungry, but he hardly noticed what he ate. He was wondering how they could possibly get afloat again, but would not say anything for fear of discouraging the others. In any case it was pretty hard to talk because the steady thunder of the great rapid was deafening. They had just finished and were putting the things away when Mark gave a shout. "Here's Quent!"

All sprang up. Here came Quent. His son was with him and Jake Holt, and in the stern of the boat a huge fellow with a face that looked as if it was carved of granite and muscles that bulged in knobs on his arms and back.

"Ole Bronson!" Mr Dutton exclaimed. "The finest river man and the biggest brute in Colorado! I could have had him myself but I wouldn't hire him."

Bronson knew his job. No doubt of that. The way he handled the big boat was superb. The boat itself was a fine craft, partly decked, very solidly built, and there was a motor casing amidships. Quent sat in the bow, and suddenly he saw the party perched on the rock. For a moment there was an expression of amazement on his hard face, but this changed to one of triumph. Roy saw him point and saw Gordon Quent staring at him as the motor-boat swept past at racing speed. Next moment it had driven through the narrow channel between the great rock and the opposite cliff and was floating safely in the calmer water below. Quent motioned to Bronson and he brought the launch round, facing up-stream.

Quent put a speaking trumpet to his mouth. "Any message I can take to your friends, Dutton?" he shouted.

"I'll take my own messages," Mr Dutton replied.

"You'll have a job," shouted Quent.

The launch turned and sped away downstream.


CHAPTER 7. — THE LAST CAMP

ROY cried, "Brute!" But Sir Dutton only shrugged. "Save your breath, Roy, and let's be moving."

"How can we move?" asked Roy in despair.

"Guess we can manage," Pete told him. "Help me to get the ropes on the boat."

They fastened two ropes to the boat while Pete cut a couple of rollers out of the broken oar blade. Pete then drove an iron peg into a cleft at the top of the rock and rove the ropes around this.

"We got to get her into that little eddy down under the end of the rock," he explained. "The ropes will keep her from slipping sideways while we work her down. When she's afloat I reckon to have three of us at the oars, and I'll steer. Head her well out into the stream and she'll go."

Pete seemed quite confident, but Roy had deep doubts about the possibility of pushing the heavy boat over the rock, which sloped at a steep angle to the water and was worn smooth by centuries of flood. If she skidded sideways into the rapid even the ropes could not save her.

Actually the task was not as bad as Roy had anticipated. The river was falling fast. It had gone down at least a foot since the wreck, and this gave more space for handling the boat. Mr Dutton handled the ropes while the other three pushed the boat along the face of the rock. In less than half an hour they had her in the eddy. Then came the loading, and that took time. It was past three before all was ready.

The eddy was almost at the end of the rapid, but not quite, and the danger was that if they did not get right out into the stream at the first effort she would be smashed against the right-hand cliff.

"Now!" Pete shouted. The three dipped their oars and pulled with all their might. The boat drove out, then the fierce stream caught her and whirled her round. The blade of Roy's oar actually struck the cliff, but, pulling with all his force, he managed to keep her off. She shot out into the rapid and was safe.

"Good work!" said Mr Dutton, as the boat drove into smooth water.

"Good so far," agreed Mark; "but what happens now, sir? Quent has beaten us to the Cliff Palace, and we certainly can't climb up to it so long as he is inside."

"Don't worry," Pete cut in. "We'll fix them fellows. If we can't do nothing else we can take their boat and leave 'em stranded like they did us."

"That's an idea," Mr Dutton agreed.

"They won't be expecting us," put in Roy, and Pete laughed.

"That's right, Roy. We'll surely give them a nasty surprise."

Barring a couple of short rapids they had no bad water for the rest of the day, and, just as the sun was setting, Pete pointed.

"There's the rock bridge, boss."

They all saw it—a huge arch of rock nearly 200 feet high, spanning a canyon that came in from the west.

"Get in close to the western bank," Mr Dutton ordered. "We don't want them to see, us." They pushed in and hid their boat in a small inlet among the rocks. They got out, and Pete was anxious to go ahead at once, but Mr Dutton decided to wait until dark before spying out the land.

"The moon is nearly full," he said, "and there will be plenty of light. We'll have supper first."

Roy was so excited he could hardly eat, but the rest made a good meal; then, taking rope and torches and wearing rubber-soled shoes, they moved quietly across the rocks to the mouth of the side canyon. A small stream came down it and in the mouth the launch was tied. There was no one aboard, and Pete was all for shifting her, but Mr Dutton refused for fear of making a noise. He pointed up the opposite cliff to a faint glow of light.

"They are all in the Cliff House," he said. He turned to Pete. "Can't we climb up and surprise them?"

"Not a hope, boss," Pete answered curtly. "Even if there wasn't no one there to drop rocks on us I wouldn't try that climb in the dark for all you could offer me. Only thing is to take their boat away and starve 'em out."

"I don't want that. It would hang us up for days, and, bad as they are, I dislike the idea of starving them."

Pete shrugged.

"What about that back passage, Pete," suggested Roy, "the one you escaped by?"

"How do you reckon to get there?" Pete asked shortly.

"I'll tell you. We climb up this side. It's not so steep as the other. Then we cross the rock bridge."

"You're crazy," was all Pete said, but Mr Dutton thought well of the plan.

"I'm pretty sure we can climb to the bridge," he said. "The task will be to cross it. There are no hand-rails."

"Mark and I have pretty good heads," Roy said. "And I know Pete has. What about you, sir?"

"My head is better than my hands," was the reply.

Pete shrugged. "You're all plumb crazy," he said, "but I'll try anything once."

The moon was up but the gorge was deep in shadow. Mark, who had done more rock climbing than the others, led the way. It was not what mountaineers would have called hard climbing, but it was very steep, and the darkness made it harder. Halfway up they came to a really dangerous place where they were forced to climb a narrow cleft called a chimney. It was about ten feet high and quite straight up and down. The only way to do it was to get your back against one side and your legs against the other and work up bit by bit. Mark did it, carrying the rope. He pulled up Roy, the two dragged Pete up, and the three between them lifted Mr Dutton.

The rest was easy, and presently all four stood on the broad ledge from which the rock bridge curved across to the other side of the cleft. The surface was polished smooth by wind and rain, and in the centre the arch was barely a yard wide.

Roy's heart thumped. He almost wished he had not suggested the idea of crossing it. Mark spoke quietly, "No use looking at it. Tie yourselves on to the rope and let's get along. I'll go first."


CHAPTER 8. — WHEN THIEVES FALL OUT

THAT middle part was bad. They were forced to crawl on hands and knees, which meant that they had to look down into the awful depth beneath. At the top of the arch Roy stopped. His head was spinning, big drops of cold perspiration ran down his face.

Mark spoke. "It's better here. Come on, old man." His calm voice helped. Roy made a desperate effort and crossed the centre. The arch widened. Mr Dutton came on slowly but surely. Another few minutes and they were all across. Pete drew a long breath. "I ain't going back that way!" he said firmly.

"We're going back through the cave," Mr Dutton told him. "Can you find the passage?"

"I can find that all right, but what do you reckon to do when you get inside? Ole Bronson's a tiger, and Quent ain't no woolly lamb."

"I'm hoping to catch them asleep and tie them up before they can do harm," Mr Dutton answered.

"All right," said Pete. "Let's hope."

He led the way across the rocky cliff-top. It was a quarter of a mile to the entrance, but the moonlight was strong and Pete found it without trouble. The tunnel was high enough to walk upright and the floor was level. Pete led the way with a torch, and in their rubber-soled shoes the four moved without making a sound. At last Pete stopped and switched off his light.

"We're 'most there," he whispered. "It's a mighty big place, and all divided up with walls. I reckon they'll be in the front, for I can't see no light. If you'll stay right here I'll spy around."

Minutes dragged by. To Roy each seemed like an hour. He was nervous about Pete, of whom he had become very fond. He remembered the crag-like face of Ole Bronson and his huge muscles. That man alone would be a match for three like Pete.

The silence was broken by a crash and a scream echoed through the blackness.

Roy sprang up. "It's Pete. We must help!" he exclaimed.

Mark grabbed his brother. "Steady, old son. That wasn't Pete's voice."

Mr Dutton switched on his torch, but the bright beam showed nothing but the floor of a cave and a wall of masonry opposite. From beyond this wall came the crash of a pistol shot, another yell, then the sound of a struggle. Roy was mad to go, but Mr Dutton told him sternly to wait. Next minute Pete came swiftly through an opening in the wall and Roy drew a long breath of relief. "What's happened?" he questioned eagerly.

"I don't rightly know," Pete answered. "I reckon Ole's gone crazy. Jest as I got to the doorway into the front cave I seed him catch hold of Jake by the throat and throw him down. Then Quent came out with a gun. I was scared he'd see me, so I went back. I heard him shoot."

"He must have shot Bronson," Mr Dutton said swiftly. "But he hasn't killed him. Listen! They are fighting. Come, all of you."

They ran forward. They passed through a gap in the wall into a second cave. Roy was dimly conscious that it was full of relics of its old inhabitants, but his eyes were fixed on light which came through another doorway in front. They reached it, all together, and pulled up short.

The light came from a wood fire burning in the middle of the great cave room and showed two men struggling desperately together. One was the huge Ole Bronson, the other Ashley Quent. A third man, Jake, lay beyond them, very still. Ole had his arms round Quent and was crushing him like a grizzly bear. His face was terrible.

Roy sprang forward, but before he could reach the fighting men young Gordon Quent came flying out from the shadows. He had a heavy club in his right hand. Before Mark or the others could do anything the club fell with a thud on Ole's head, and down he went on top of Ashley Quent.

Gordon heard steps behind him and whirled to face Roy. He stared as if he had seen a ghost.

"You!" he said thickly, and up went his club again. He was not quick enough. Roy ducked, caught him round the legs, and floored him.

Ashley Quent was dazed by his fall, and before he well knew what had happened he was tied up. Ole was insensible, and the others found that he had a bullet through his thigh and was bleeding badly. Mr Dutton, who knew something of surgery, put on a tourniquet and so stopped the bleeding, then dressed the wound. Pete meantime attended to Jake. He had an ugly scalp wound and was insensible. Roy let Gordon scramble up.

"What's the matter?" Roy demanded. "Have you all gone crazy?"

Gordon scowled as he looked round but, realising he was helpless, decided to speak.

"It's the gold," he said sullenly.

"Gold?" repeated Roy, amazed.

"Don't pretend you don't know," Gordon snapped.

"We never heard of it. Mr Dutton is after the relics left by the Cave Dwellers."

Gordon's face expressed his astonishment. "And you never heard of the plunder from Snowslide?"

"Never," Mr Dutton answered.

Gordon pointed to four buckskin bags lying in a corner. "There it is. That's the gold Crawton's gang stole from the bank at Snowslide. I told Dad it was crazy to let Bronson in on it, but he wouldn't listen. But I was right. Bronson waited till we were asleep and started to clear out with the gold, but Jake must have heard him. The rest you've seen for yourselves."

Mr Dutton came forward. "This explains a lot," he said. He turned to Ashley Quent. "That gold goes back to the bank," he said sternly. "And you and your party will go on down river in our boat. Your launch I am going to keep here until I have finished exploring the cave." He paused, then went on: "You're getting off cheaply, Quent. If I chose to prosecute you'd go to prison. The law does not look kindly on men who handle stolen goods. And that business of the landslide would probably mean a life sentence. But I don't want to be bothered with you, and I'm sorry for your son, so if you accept my terms I shall lay no information."

Quent bit his lip savagely. Roy thought he looked like a trapped wolf.

"All right," he snarled. "I accept."

"You are wise," said Mr Dutton curtly. "But you will remain tied till tomorrow. I don't trust you." He turned to the others.

"I think a few hours' sleep is what we most need. Tomorrow we will see these people off the premises. Once they are started we know they cannot come back. Then we will thoroughly explore this wonderful place, and—afterwards—well, I don't think you will have any cause of complaint."

Mr Dutton was right. Neither the two Ansons nor Pete Parley had any reason to complain, for, besides the thousand dollars each which he had promised, they shared the reward money given by the bank at Snowslide.

Pete decided to throw in with the Ansons. He took up a homestead of one hundred and eighty acres next to them, and, by latest accounts, the whole of this land is irrigated and producing fine crops.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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