George, who still was the rear guard, steadily dropped behind his companions until he was no longer able to discern them before him.
The way by which Zeke was leading now led along a side of the canyon where the walking was increasingly difficult. The broken stone crumbled beneath their feet and they were in constant danger of slipping or falling.
Aware that he had lost sight of his companions and was steadily falling behind, George increased his pace, hoping to overtake his companions within a few minutes.
In his zeal he approached nearer the edge of a ledge than he was aware. Suddenly the broken stone gave way beneath his feet and in spite of his efforts George was thrown from the ledge and began a swift descent on the side of the cliff.
Fortunately the cliff-side was not as steep as in certain other places, but the desperate boy was unable to check his flight.
He had given one wild call to his friends when first he had slipped over the border. After that all his strength was required to prevent himself from falling headlong.
In spite of his utmost endeavors his foothold soon became more insecure and suddenly as the ground beneath him gave way George was thrown forward on his face.
The heavy pack on his shoulders prevented him from rising or recovering the ground he had lost. Rolling, slipping, sliding, the terrified boy continued on his way down the side of the cliff.
A PERILOUS FALL
Fortunately the side of the cliff down which George was slipping was not sheer all the way. It was steep; indeed, so steep that it was impossible for the frightened boy in spite of his desperate attempts to check his flight, to gain a foothold. In his descent some of the loose ground gave way and whenever he tried to seize a small projecting point that too fell before him.
George was aware that far below him was the valley or bottom of the gulch. There were possibilities that at any moment he might slide over some cliff beneath which there was nothing to interfere with his fall to the ground far below, a descent of at least two hundred feet.
George was amazed at the coolness with which his mind was working. Fully aware of the peril confronting him, nevertheless he thought calmly of his companions and the surprise they would experience when his absence was discovered. If he fell to the bottom of the gulch doubtless they would never learn the fate which had befallen him.
When he had gone about sixty feet down the cliff-side his progress abruptly was halted when he came to a heavy projection of rock. Upon this a stunted tree was growing close to the side of the mountain. Almost instinctively George grasped this tree and his heart almost ceased to beat when he found that his progress was effectively stopped. His first fear was that the projection might give way under the force with which he had struck it. For a moment he simply clung to the trunk of the tree and closed his eyes waiting for the crash to come.