Our supper was a little late that night, but it tasted all the better for that. Before we ate, Mark insisted on our building the two watch-fires, and somebody was keeping his eyes on the enemy's country every minute.
When it gets dark at Lake Ravona it doesn't just fool around with it; it gets right down to business and turns out first-quality darkness. There wasn't any moon, but there were seven million stars, which only made it seem blacker than it was. Outside the circle where our fires threw light you couldn't see any more than as if you were trying to look through a black curtain.
Motu and Plunk drew the watch for the first part of the night, and Mark and I went up to the second floor of the citadel to sleep. Before we turned in we stepped out on the roof of the porch to look around. Below we could see the fires blazing, and a dark figure standing by each of them. Plunk was by the one in front of the citadel, and Motu was near the other.
"It don't seem real, does it?" I says.
"Does l-l-look like a dream or somethin'," says Mark.
"I didn't mean just what we see-the fires and things-but the whole mix-up we're in. Here we are, four boys from Michigan, way up here in the mountains in a ramshackle hotel by ourselves, when we expected to be staying at a swell summer resort. That don't seem real, but when you add to it that we've got a war on our hands all on account of a mysterious Japanese boy who appears from nowhere, and add to that again that the enemy is a party of Japanese men trying to get that boy-well, it pretty nearly flabbergasts me. It ain't so, that's all."
"It is m-m-mysterious," says Mark. "I've been figgerin' it over quite a bit."
"What d'you make of it?"
"Not much. Motu's the mystery. If we knew what he's doin' here, or if we knew who he was, then we could make a guess. Yes," he says, sort of calculating-like, " it's who and what Motu is that is the real m-m-mystery."
"You can bet," says I, "that he ain't just a common, every-day boy like you and me."
"Never heard of anybody b-b-besiegin' a citadel just to get their hands on either of us, did you?"
"Not yet," says I.
"Motu's somebody or somethin'," says Mark. "He's mighty secret about it, too. Got a right to be if he wants to. But it sure makes me m- mighty curious."
"Well," says I, "we'll know some day."
"Can't tell," says Mark. "Maybe it's one of those kind of s-s-secrets that can't ever be told."
"That," says I, "would be doggone aggravatin'."
"It would," says Mark. "Let's go to bed."
About the next thing I remember was Plunk shaking me to tell me his watch was over. It didn't seem like I'd shut my eyes at all.
"Anything happen?" says I.
"Not a thing," says he. "They've got a big fire, and a couple of them are sittin' in front of it. But they haven't made a move. Just watchin' us, I guess."
Mark and I went down to mount guard. Sure enough, they had a big watch-fire, and a couple of them were crouching in front of it. Mark and I walked up and down and up and down, but nobody stirred. For hours it kept on just like that. Somehow I got a feeling that nothing was going to happen, and I told Mark so.
"Just the t-t-time somethin's apt to happen," says he. "The Man Who Will Come is p- probably tryin' to make us feel that way, and as soon as we act careless, swoop! down he'll be on us."
But I was right for once. Morning came without a hostile act by the enemy. It was just five o'clock when Mark and I turned in, and we slept till nine. We'd have slept longer if Binney hadn't set up a yell.
"Boat!" he says. "Boat! There's a boat comin' down the lake."
We hustled out to see, pretty hopeful all of a sudden. It looked like the siege was ended and reinforcements were coming. The boat was way down at the far end of the lake and we could just see it and two figures sitting in it, rowing. It was headed our way.
"I'll bet it's Mr. Ames come ahead of time," Binney says, beginning to dance up and down, he was so excited.
Mark didn't say anything, and he didn't look glad, only worried and puzzled.
"What's the matter?'' says I. "Come on and join the celebration."
"I never s-s-shoot firecrackers till the Fourth of July," says he, which was as much as to tell us we were getting happy ahead of time.
The boat didn't come very fast, because the wind was blowing right in its face. When it came near enough so we could make out to see men in it we could tell they were pretty poor boatmen. They did more splashing than they did rowing. And then we saw they were Japanese! Somewhere around the lake they had found an old scow.
"Well," says Mark, with a long breath, "the enemy's got a n-navy."
"Yes," says I, "and we'd better strengthen our shore-defense batteries."
"I t-think," says Mark, "that The Man Who Will Come will try to take the citadel by s- storm-once. He's due to load his army aboard his navy and attack. If we can beat them back once he won't try it again. It'll be stratagems we'll have to look out for."
"Five boys and a dog," says Binney.
"More'n that," says Mark, with the sort of look he wears when he's got an unpleasant surprise waiting for somebody. "I calc'late we'll have quite a sizable army when the time comes."
"Goin' to enlist the fish?" says Plunk.
"Might if I had to," says Mark, and I'll bet he would have found some way to use them if he'd had to.
The Japanese began to stir around and pretty soon they started for the boat. Mark began giving orders.
"Motu and Plunk, you're strongest. Get those two long p-p-poles inside; I've put spikes in 'em. Regular p-pike-poles. Use 'em to fend off the boat. Jab the spikes in the boat and p-push. Keep 'em from touchin' the shore. You ought to be able to hold 'em ten feet away."
"Aye, aye, sir," says Plunk.
He turned and scooted into the citadel as fast as his size would let him, and that was faster than you would expect. In a jiffy he was back with a couple of poles an inch and a half thick and eight feet long, with a big pad like a boxing-glove on the end of each. He'd been making them on the quiet while the rest of us were fooling around.
"Tallow and Binney, take these lances," says he. " When a m-m-man steps off a boat he isn't balanced very well. If anybody gets to land jab this into his stomach and poke him back. Keep the lances handy for close work. Use your slingshots for artillery. As soon as the boat starts out open fire. Aim for the f-f-fingers of the men rowin'."
"What are you aimin' to do?" says I.
Mark sort of chuckled. "I'm goin' upstairs where it's safe," says he.
That was a joke, all right. Mark Tidd wasn't the sort of fellow to hunt a hole when his chums were running risks, so I knew he had some sort of a scheme whizzing in his head. It stiffened my spine in a second. When it comes to strategy I take off my hat to Mark.
We kept our eyes on the Japanese, who were getting into the old scow. They weren't used to boats and had a pretty tough time pushing off and getting under way. But when they got started they came like they meant business.
The Man Who Will Come was standing up in the stern. Two Japs were rowing, and two sat all ready to attack as soon as they landed. They had to row about two hundred feet.
Binney and I held our fire till they were a hundred feet off, then we let fly. We didn't hit any fingers at that distance, but we knocked some dust out of a couple of pairs of pants. We could see the Japanese jump and squirm, for those pebbles hit plenty hard and stung enough to make anybody wish he had on a suit of armor.
We kept up a steady fire, and Plunk joined in while they were too far away to reach with his pole. None of us bothered with The Man Who Will Come. It was the machinery we wanted to damage, and the two rowers were the engine. I was sort of sorry for those fellows, because they caught it and caught it good. At last Binney plunked one fellow right on the knuckles. He got half out of his seat, let out a howl, and dropped his oar overboard. That made the boat swing around sideways. The Man Who Will Come didn't lose his jaunty air for a minute. He just spoke low to the man, who reached out quick and got his oar.
They pulled around straight and came on again. Binney and I kept on peppering them good. I had the luck to smack my man on the hand, but he didn't drop his oar. He missed a stroke, though.
The Man Who Will Come fixed his round glass in one eye and beamed at us as jovial as could be.
"Ho, leetle boys, make a stopping. Do not throwing stones. My men will get to become angry if you hurt them some more."
"I'll hurt you," says I, and gave him one for luck.
It struck him on the elbow. Must have hit his funny-bone, I guess, for he didn't act quite so happy and began rubbing the spot.
"For that," says he, " I shall make a spanking on you when you are caught."
"It might as well be a good spanking," says I, and let him have another.
"F-f-fire volleys," says Mark Tidd from way up above.
Binney and I tried it. I'd call, "Shoot," and we'd both let go. Plunk, too. It worked fine. Mark began to shoot, too, and you know what a shot he was with the sling. Well, sir, we stopped them. The men at the oars turned and grumbled something to their commander. He said something back, but they shook their heads. He stopped smiling and spoke louder in Japanese. Now he wasn't smiling, but you could see his teeth just the same. His eyes were half shut and glinting, and he leaned forward like he was going to leap.
The men were more afraid of him than they were of getting hurt, for they picked up their oars once more.
"I'll t-t-take the commander," says Mark. "You three 'tend to the rowers."
Mark shot fast, and every pebble struck. I could see them spat against The Man. They were only about thirty feet away now and shooting was easy. We shot faster than ever. Spat, spat, spat, spat, went the pebbles. Mark had The Man fidgeting good and plenty, and we had the poor rowers about as uncomfortable as men can be.
At last it got to be too much for The Man himself, and when the rowers stopped again he said something, and they turned the boat and began to retreat. We helped them.
"Ain't goin' to spank me to-day, be you?" says I to The Man.
He turned and grinned and waved his little cane. "It is but the beginning of the commencement," says he. "Plenty of time for spankings is yet left remaining."
"I'll show you how it feels," says I, and gave him one right where he'd have spanked me. He quit standing up without a second's delay. I guess he figured he'd rather be hit some place else by a pebble. Well, I accommodated him.
"Three c-c-cheers," says Mark, and we all threw our hats in the air and yelled.
It was the first big battle of the campaign. They had tried a straight frontal attack, as Mark called it, but Mark's strategy and his disposition of his artillery had won the battle. So far we had come out ahead every place from the beginning. But the end was a long way off.
"Don't leave your places," says Mark. "They'll be back."