"I don't see," says I, "why we couldn't just as well pile into a boat and row to the far end of the lake. From there we could make tracks for town and save all this bother."
Mark Tidd just looked at me disgusted.
"How far is it to t-t-town?" says he.
"Ten miles,'' says I.
"How m-much lead d'you think you'd get on the Japs by rowin' to the end of the lake?"
"Mile or so," says I.
"Huh! Those men could run there 'most as fast as we could row. We'd gain some, but in the t-t-ten miles to town they'd catch us, and a f-fine chance we'd have."
I guess he was right about it. We were safer where we were, though I'd have liked more water between us than there was.
"Mr. Ames ought to be here in three days," says Binney. "Then Motu 'll be safe."
"Yes," says Mark, sarcastic-like. "I s'pose five Japs'll be close to scared to death of one lame old man. Why, Mr. Ames hasn't as much f-f-fight in him as any one of us."
"But he might fetch somebody with him," says Plunk.
"That's what we've got to hope for," says Mark. "The main thing right now is to keep off the Japanese till Mr. Ames does come. Three days is a l-long time."
"Yes," says I, "but it would be a heap longer if we didn't have plenty of grub."
"'Tis supper-time," says Binney. "Come on."
Well, sir, five minutes after that you could have bought the whole crowd for a cent with a hole in it. We got everything ready to cook and fixed wood and kindling for the fire-and nobody had a match. We searched our pockets and turned them inside out. Then we rummaged through everything we had brought over to the citadel from the hotel; and as a last resort we scoured the whole citadel to see if somebody hadn't left one laying around by accident. But there wasn't a match.
"No coffee," says Binney.
"Coffee!" grunted Mark. "What's worryin' me is no f-fires to-night. We might peg along somehow with the grub we've got, but we can't get along without fire to-night."
"Might make fire like the savages do," says I. "Take a stick with a point to it and whirl it around in a hole in another stick."
"If I was wrecked on a d-d-desert island," says Mark, "and there wasn't any other way, I might try that. Probably it'd take a day's fussin' to get the things fixed just right so's they'd work. No, there's a b-better way than that."
"What is it?" says I.
"Go get the box of m-matches on the kitchen shelf in the hotel."
"Sure," says 1. "Just call and ask The Man Who Will Come to toss 'em over."
"Get all the fun you can out of it now," says Mark, "because you're elected, Tallow."
"Me?" says I. "Why?"
"Because you're the best s-s-swimmer."
"Next time," says I, "I won't learn to swim."
"I don't think there'll be much danger," says Mark. "We'll fix up a decoy. How f-far can you swim underwater, Tallow?"
"Fifty or sixty feet," says I.
"Good. I've seen you do b-b-better 'n that. First we'll send out Plunk in the canoe. He'll start out from the wharf and p-paddle along the shore about two hundred f-feet out. He'll take a cloth and m-make b'lieve wave it to somebody on the far shore. I calc'late that'll interest the Japs some. Eh? Sort of give 'em the idea reinforcements are comin'."
"Fine!" says I. "But where do I come in?"
"I'll show you that as soon as Plunk's gone."
"When does he go?"
"Now," says Mark.
"And all I've got to do is just slide across and fetch a supply of matches?" says I. "Swim under water with 'em? How 'll I keep 'em dry? And while I'm there hadn't I better fetch along the kitchen stove? Could just as well's not."
"You're goin' to be k-kept busy," says Mark, "without tirin' yourself out tryin' to be funny. Do your jokin' when you get back with the m-matches."
We pushed off the canoe and Plunk started out with a pillow-case lying handy for him to wave. He paddled until he got opposite the porch of the hotel, and then, all of a sudden, he acted as if he was looking for something on the far shore of the lake. After he'd watched a minute he rose up as high as he dared without tipping over, and began to wave like he had gone crazy. He flapped that pillow-case around his head in circles and back and forth and up and down, at the same time letting out a holler as if he was tickled to death about something.
As soon as Plunk's side-show was performing I got ready for the main act. Mark took me into the citadel, where we pried up a loose plank in the floor. That part of the building was built on spiles right over the water. So all I had to do was let myself through. That way I could get into the water without the least bit of danger of anybody's seeing me. The water was up to my neck under the floor and got deeper toward the edge. I found that out all by myself. It didn't take any help at all. All I did was to take one step careless-like, and into a hole I went ker-splash!
It wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't been talking to Mark at that minute. But I was. I guess I must have been saying a big word, because my mouth was as far open as I could get it. When you duck suddenly under water with your mouth wide open the pleasure you get out of it is very small. If Lake Ravona hadn't been a pretty good- sized body of water I'd have swallowed all of it and left the fish flopping on dry land. As it was I did my best and lowered the level considerable.
When I came up, choking and splashing and close to drowned to death, Mark Tidd was laughing fit to split.
"See if you can t-t-think of anythin' humorous to say now, Tallow. You've been unusual funny these few days past."
"I'd like to have you down here," says I. "I'll bet I'd make you think of somethin' pretty laughable."
"Duck your head," says he, still shaking all over like a plate of jelly, "and swim under water to the back of the hotel. You can crawl in through the kitchen window and get out again without anybody knowin' you've b-b-been there."
I was mad, but there wasn't anything to do but swallow it and wait for a chance to get even. So I took a sight for the place where I wanted to land and dived.
Swimming under water is all right when you do it for fun and when you do it in water you know all about. But here I wasn't doing it for fun-far from it-and I didn't know much about the water. I was pretty confident there weren't any spiles or boulders between me and shore to split my head against, but I didn't know. There's a heap of difference between being pretty sure and knowing. An ounce of know is better than a ton of pretty sure.
I took it as easy and cautious as I could, and after I'd been swimming ahead till I thought my lungs would burst if I didn't get a breath of air my knees scraped the bottom. I'd got as far as I could go under water. So I crouched down with nothing but my nose and eyes above water, and spied around a bit.
I didn't see a soul any place, so I crept in nearer, and got out on shore at the back of the hotel. The kitchen window wasn't far, now, so I made a break for it. When I got to it I stopped again and looked all around as well as inside. It looked safe. If only things were always as safe as they look it would be fine. Wouldn't it? But they're not.
I pulled myself up and scrambled inside. It wasn't very light in there, but I could see as well as I needed to-at any rate, I thought I could. Anyhow, I found my way across to the shelf and grabbed a large package of matches. Then I turned and scuttled across to the window I'd got in at. Right there was a surprise party for me-about the worst one I ever got. I raised my head above the edge of the window and looked out. While I was doing that a Japanese outside was raising his head above the level of the window to look in. We almost rubbed noses.
It was a close race to see who was most startled, but I guess I won. I figure I did because he wouldn't have been looking in that way if he hadn't expected to see something. I wasn't expecting any sights, and didn't need any. I could have got along fine with out seeing any Japanese just then.
I let go and dropped back quick. It was pretty plain I couldn't get out the way I got in, and it was just as sure I was in a bad box. I'd been discovered, and stood a first- class chance of being trapped right there in the kitchen. I bolted.
My main idea was to get anywhere else, I didn't so much care where. I wanted to move and move quick. I did, too. Through the dining-room and into the office, where I stopped a second to breathe and see if I could think. Outside I could hear Plunk yelling and cheering like he was at a baseball game. Whether the Jap who discovered me did any yelling to give the alarm I don't know. I found I didn't do a very workman-like job of thinking, so I says to myself that if I couldn't think I'd better run, anyhow. I ran. This time I headed up- stairs because I caught a glimpse of The Man Who Will Come outside, watching Plunk, and, though I couldn't see any more, I believed other Japanese were with him. If I'd had any hopes of escaping out of the front door they went glimmering.
I scooted down the long corridor toward the other end of the hotel, partly because it was about the only way I could go, and partly to get nearer to the citadel. I wanted to get a chance to warn Mark Tidd of the predicament I was in if I could.
I suppose I could have gone on to the third floor and hidden in Motu's old den, but the matches kept weighing on my mind. If I holed up like a frightened fox and took the matches with me Mark and the fellows would be in a bad fix that night. I made up my mind I'd get the matches across somehow, no matter what happened to me. That was why I wanted to get near the citadel. If I could attract Mark's attention I could heave the matches over to him, and then have my mind free to look out for myself.
About half-way down I thought I heard a sound ahead of me, and stopped quick. Sure enough there was a sound. It was somebody coming up the back stairs, probably to head me off. That made me listen back the way I'd come. Right then and there I pretty nearly quit and curled up on the floor like one of those little green worms does when you touch it with a stick. I couldn't go either way. All the choice I had was which room I'd hide in.
As a matter of fact I didn't stop to choose, but just bobbed into the nearest doorway. By luck the key was in the door and I turned it. Then I tiptoed to the window, but it was too far to jump or drop without taking a big chance of spraining an ankle. Over at one side was a door that opened into a bathroom, and the bathroom opened into another room, and the other room opened into another room. A regular suite, it was. Then I got an idea. If I do say it myself, it was about as good as Mark Tidd could have done in the circumstances.
I had already locked the hall door. Quick as a wink I ran to it and banged against it like I was trying to get out, or had slipped and fallen against it. Then I scooted through the bathroom door and locked that. After that I just went headlong, but as quietly as I could go, into the third room. You see, I figured the Japanese would hear the noise, and when they found the door locked would think I was there. Then if they tried the next room and the bath they'd find that door locked, and, because I had the key right in my pocket, they'd be more than liable to suppose it was locked on the inside. That would make them dead certain I was in there. While they were trying to break in and catch me I'd be making tracks.
Now, Mark Tidd or not, I think that was a good scheme. I don't get up a scheme very often, so when I do I want folks to know about it and sort of appreciate it.
This scheme worked. I heard a man rush by the door of the room where I crouched. Then, as plain as day, I heard him meet another fellow in front of the locked door. They jabbered a minute in their funny language, and after a minute they rattled on the door.
"Open," says a man.
Of course nobody answered.
"Open," he says again, "or we break."
"Go ahead," I thought to myself. "That's what I want you to do."
But they didn't bu'st the door down. They went into the next room and, I expect, found the bathroom and the other locked door. I know they did, for I heard them bang on it and yell again. Both of them yelled. I knew then that the hall was clear, so I opened my door and scooted. My bare feet didn't make much noise and I got to the top of the back stairs all right, but I didn't go down. What was down there I didn't know, but I did know that nobody was straight ahead-and straight ahead took me nearer to the citadel.
There was a turn in the corridor that hid me from anybody behind, so I slacked down so as not to make a particle of sound. Into the very last room I went. It had a side window that looked right out on the little strait that separated me from the citadel.
You can guess it didn't take me long to throw up that window and look out. The Man Who Will Come was still on the beach, watching Plunk. Across on the dock was Mark Tidd. I didn't stop to think, but just let out a yell at Mark. He turned, but didn't see me for a second. As soon as he saw me I drew back my arm and threw the matches as far toward him as I could. They landed safe. He picked them up and waved his hand.
I took a look toward The Man Who Will Come and saw that he saw me, for he was coming on the run. It was my move, all right, so I began by getting out of that room into the hall. The door opposite was open and I took a chance on going in. Outside its back window was the roof of a porch-a sort of dish-washing, fish-cleaning porch off the kitchen. It was built on spiles and stood maybe six or eight feet into the water.
Out on that porch I got, and not a minute too soon, for those two Japanese had smelled me out and came tearing in at the door. I hadn't much time to figure. I was cornered. The only way off that porch was through the window, and the Japanese were between that and the door-one of the nicest little traps you ever saw.
Well, there was just one thing for me to do. I knew how deep the water was below. It was a good seven feet. The drop was a little over twenty-feet-and, as Mark Tidd said, I was the best swimmer and diver in the bunch. I jumped to the edge, poised a second, and dove.
It wasn't much of a dive. I've taken higher ones, but the water was pretty shallow. Still, there really wasn't such a terrible risk to it. I turned as soon as I struck the water, and, though I touched bottom, it wasn't hard enough to hurt me. Then I struck out for the citadel. The rest was easy.
Mark Tidd was there to help me climb out, and so was Motu.
"Guess we'll have to get a m-m-medal struck off for him, won't we, Motu?" says Mark.
"He shall have a thing better than many medals," says Motu. "I am glad I saw it. I will make it into a song myself. 'The Leap of Tallow Martin' it shall be called."
"Aw, shucks!" says I, but all the same I was just a bit pleased with myself.
Mark saw that like he sees everything, and calculated it was his duty to take me down a peg.
"There wasn't the r-r-risk you figure, Motu,' says he. "He'd have landed on his h-head, you know, and that wouldn't have hurt him."