Motu and I soon disposed of the two Japanese and their ladder. As soon as they had picked themselves up we heard The Man Who Will Come calling to them. Motu said he was telling them to quit monkeying around there and come to help him.
"I will watch here," says Motu. "You go to help Mark Tidd."
I was willing enough because I wanted to see what was going on, so I ran around the corner just in time to see Mark leaning as far over as the size of him would allow and smearing something on the stairs where they were hauled up.
"What you doin'?" I asked. "Feedin' them?"
"Sure," says he, without so much as the shadow of a smile. "They was askin' for f-f- food, so I'm rubbin' it into 'em. It was in this barrel." He pointed to the big barrel I'd seen him rolling out.
I went over and looked. In the bottom of the barrel was about a pailful of some messy- looking stuff-soft soap or something like that.
"What's the idee?" I asked him.
" M-makin' the stairs easy to walk up," says he.
I didn't quite understand, but it wasn't very many hours before I understood good and plenty-and it was one of the slickest sights Mark Tidd ever arranged.
Mark went right on daubing the messy stuff on the stairs as thick as he could get it, while Plunk kept poking away at the knife a Japanese was trying to cut the rope with.
"I wish that rope was wire," says I. "It wouldn't be so easy to cut."
Mark straightened up and looked at me. "Tallow," says he, "that idee was worth your board for the rest of the summer. There's a coil of w-w-wire clothes-line hangin' up in there. Get it."
I found it hanging on a nail and brought it along. By that time Mark was done daubing, and he took the wire and rigged it alongside the rope to the stairs that led up to the third floor.
"We'll use the r-rope to haul up the stairs," says he, "if it gets so we have to h-haul 'em up. Then we'll f-f-fasten 'em with the wire. Tallow, I'm proud of you. You're promoted. For this wire idee I dub thee knight. Git down on your knees."
"Don't believe cliff-dwellers had knights," says I.
" We're the kind that does," says he. "Kneel."
I grinned sort of foolish, I expect, and got down. He tapped me on the shoulder with the stick he had been using and says:
"Rise, Sir Tallow Martin. I dub thee knight." With that he put a smear of the messy stuff on my cheek and chuckled. "I daub thee knight, too," says he. "That 'll make it all the stronger."
"It was plenty powerful enough without," says I.
All of a sudden the stairs dropped with a bang. Plunk had missed the knife with his lance and the Japanese had cut the rope.
"Ready to repel attack," Mark shouted, and grabbed his lance.
Plunk had his and so did 1. Mark and I stood plumb at the head of the stairs, while Plunk stood over to the side to take the enemy on the flank. No sooner did the stairs drop than three Japanese made a wild jump on to them. One man was ahead and made a bound up three steps. The others were right on his heels. Well, sir, what followed was too good to be true. The top man no sooner landed on the step than both his feet went slap out from under him and he sprawled on his face. His heels flew back and swatted the two behind, and they went down, and all of them rolled over and over to the floor in a tangle. I caught a glimpse of their faces and you never saw anybody look so surprised and startled and mad all at once.
"Wumph!" the first fellow says when he landed, and "Wough!" says the other two fellows when his heels hit them in the stummicks. I guess it knocked the wind clean out of them, for they all sat on the floor gasping and hanging on to their waist-lines like they thought somebody was going to try to steal them. They didn't get right up. You could see they weren't ready to stand up, not any of them. They were perfectly willing to rest a bit.
In a minute The Man came in sight and began jabbering at them. At first they didn't do anything but goggle at him and groan and pant, but he tongue-lashed them till they got on to their feet pretty slow and painful.
The Man pointed at the stairs and says something in a commanding voice. The three started at us again, but there wasn't any rush about it. They had their plateful of rushing on those stairs. No, sir, they didn't hurry a bit. You'd have thought maybe they were climbing up to have a tooth pulled, hanging on to the rail and stepping soft and easy. Even at that the stairs were so slippery they could hardly hold their feet.
We stood at the top and laughed at them. That was about all we could do. We laughed, but that didn't mean we were easy in our minds-I should say not. Those fellows looked mad. I felt as if somebody was waving his hand up and down inside my stummick, and my legs were trembly, and I wished I was back in Michigan with lots of room to run.
"How d'you feel?" says I to Mark.
"Lonesome," says he, and grinned sickly- like.
That was the very word for it. There was company enough, too much of it if you come to that, but I was never so lonesome before, and I don't expect ever to be so lonesome again.
The first man, hanging on to the rail with one hand, was near enough now so Plunk could swipe at him with his lance. The lance, you remember, was a long stick with a wad on the end bigger than a boxing- glove. It wouldn't hurt anybody much to get a wallop with it, but it would bother them considerable. It bothered the Japanese, for Plunk drew back and gave him a good one right alongside the ear.
The man grunted and threw up his arm. Plunk banged him again, and he sort of wabbled.
"Poke him quick while he's off his b-b-b- balance!" yelled Mark; and Plunk did.
The Jap did a funny little dance on his toes, grabbed for the rail and missed it, whirled around with his arms waggling, and sat down ker-sloosh! Then he coasted right against the legs of the other two and pushed their feet off the stairs so they plumped down right on top of him like he was a sled, and coasted all the way down on him. I'll bet he enjoyed it!
"T-t-toboggan slide," Mark says. "Guess they don't have 'em in Japan. They act like they didn't understand slidin' very well."
"I thought," says I, "that they made a pretty good slide for beginners."
"'Twan't graceful," says Plunk. "I like to see folks slide pretty and neat. These fellers is clumsy as all-git-out."
The three picked themselves up after they'd felt of their shins and rubbed their ribs and grunted considerable. The Man, dapper as ever, with his glass in his eye, stood scowling at them. He never looked up at us once. For a while he didn't say anything; then he spoke in Japanese and they all went away.
"Whee!" says I. "Attack's repulsed."
"Huh!" Mark grunted. "It hasn't b-b-begun yet. The Man's got a scheme. Just wait."
We didn't have to wait long, for in three minutes they were back, each one of them carrying a pail-of sand.
"What're they goin' to do with that?" says Plunk. "Throw it in our eyes?"
"How do you stop an engine on a slippery track?" Mark asked.
"Put sand in front of the drivers," says Plunk.
"Well," says he, "pertend these Japanese was engines and the stairs was a t-t-track. What then?"
It was plain enough now. The Man had found a way to get ahead of Mark's grease scheme. They began putting sand on the stairs thick. First they covered the bottom step and then worked up a step at a time, fixing each one so they had a firm footing. Of course they couldn't get to the four or five top steps, because we were there to see they didn't, but they did the best they could.
Then they stood out of reach and tossed up stand so it fell on the steps that were still greasy. They kept it up till every step was covered, and then they made another attack.
It was lucky the stairs were narrow so only one man could come at us at a time, but that didn't stop them. They came like they meant business. The first man crouched and jumped. Marls poked him while he was in the air and he stumbled and went down on his knees. But there he stuck. There wasn't any more coasting, on account of the sand. He got up again and stood with his hand like a boxer, ready to grab the first lance that was shoved at him. On he came.
Mark feinted for his face, and when he threw up his hands, changed his aim of a sudden and lammed him in the stummick. At the same time Plunk let him have one in the ear and I reached through and gave his ankle a shove. It upset him again.
The others caught him and shoved him ahead. I guess they figured on using him as a shield, but he didn't appear to like that idea much, for he wiggled and squirmed and yelled. We were sorry for him-of course we were-but business was business and we gave it to him good. Thud! thud! thud! thud! went the padded ends of our lances against his ribs and his head and wherever we could reach.
It wasn't any use. The stairs were narrow and steep, and they couldn't get a firm footing in spite of their sand, and we forced them back, a step at a time, until Mark and I were standing half-way down the stairs. We didn't go any farther, but there we stood and beat them back as fast as they came on.
Then what did The Man do but get an eighteen-foot two-by-four and put his men on it. They came at us like a battering-ram, and you'd better believe we had to scatter. Up the stairs they charged, but when their ram was past the head of the flight we were ready for them again. The farther they came the farther past us their ram went-and we could get in range with our lances.
It was hot work and hard work, but we forced them back once more and managed to grab their two-by-four when they dropped it. It was our second trophy of the war. First The Man's little cane, and now the battering-ram. We treated ourselves to a cheer, though we didn't have a great supply of wind to cheer with.
Now came a lull in the attack. I guess the enemy had run out of ambition, or maybe The Man was fussing around to get some new idea. He had done pretty well so far with his ideas, and, taking the whole campaign into consideration, we had a little the worst of it, for we had lost the bridge and the island, and were besieged in the citadel. But that didn't mean we were licked. The hardest fights in a siege come when the citadel itself has to be taken, and the Japanese were finding that out.
We hadn't used all our resources, either, for Binney and Motu were keeping guard, and the dog was tied up to be sure he would be out of the way. Mark sort of figured the dog might come in handy sometime, but he didn't want to use him if he didn't have to, because the Japanese wouldn't care whether they hurt the dog or not, and they would be a little mite careful what they did to us.
We weren't afraid of what would happen to us, anyhow. The worst would be a little rough handling. What we were worried about was their capturing Motu.
The Japanese had disappeared from the foot of the stairway, and Mark went to warn the guards to keep their eyes wide open. Then he came back and we sat down to wait developments. Below somewhere we heard the noise of hammering, and Mark says:
"I'll bet here's where we l-l-lose this stairway. If The Man's thinkin' of the same scheme I am he can d-drive us back."
"What then?" says I, sort of startled.
"Then," says he, "we make for the t-third floor. They can't cut down the stairs there and they can't reach us with ladders. It's our strongest p-place."
"Grub up there?"
"Every ounce of it," says Mark.
"Why not sneak up there, then?" says I.
'Because," says he, "we want to take up every m-minute of time we can. Every hour we save is in our f-favor. Here they've been half a d-day tryin' to take this stairway. More'n that, I guess." He took out his watch arid looked at it. Then he wrinkled up his face and felt of his stomach. "Thought I felt sort of funny," says he. "Know what t-time it is?"
'No," says I.
"Three o'clock," says he.
You can believe now that we had been having a pretty busy and exciting time. The best proof of it that I could give you was just this-that Mark Tidd forgot it was dinner-time. He had gone three hours past meal-time and never noticed it.
"I'm goin' to eat," says he, "Japs or no Japs."
" Fetch down enough for the crowd," says I.
He waddled up-stairs, and in ten minutes came back with two ham sandwiches for each of us. We had w whole boiled ham, and enough bread to run us. They were good, generous sandwiches with a slice of ham in them that you could taste when you bit, and mustard. When Mark Tidd fixed something to eat he fixed it so nobody in the world could complain, and so he couldn't complain himself. There was as much difference between these sandwiches of his and the kind you buy as there is between getting hit with a hammer and getting hit with a feather. When the five of us got through there wasn't a crumb left that would pay for a bird's time picking it up. Mark didn't forget the dog, either, but gave him a bone.
"Wish I had a drink," says I.
Mark looked at me and then at Plunk. "Water!" says he.
"Ain't there none?" says Plunk.
"Not a drop," says Mark. "It's all downstairs."
"Hum!" says I, sort of significant.
"Go on and hum," says Mark. "It's my fault, all right, but I guess it ain't s-s-serious. The lake's right below us."
"And when we get thirsty we can go to look at it, I suppose," I says, as sarcastic as I could get.
"If you're thirsty," says Mark, "s'pose you f- f-find some way to get water. It's near enough. "
"We can let down a bucket with a rope," I says, for that idea just popped into my head. I should have thought of it before.
"Go ahead," says Mark.
I went to get a bucket, but not a bucket could I find. I hunted high and low and crossways and sideways, but not a sign of a bucket was there. Not a bucket nor a pail nor anything that I could see that would hold water. I went back and told Mark so.
"Huh!" says he. "I could have told you. And if you'd f-f-found a bucket there wouldn't have been any rope."
"How long can a man live without water?" says I, getting all-fired thirsty all at once.
"A camel can live eight d-d-days," says he, as sober as a judge.
"I ain't a camel," says I, getting pretty mad at the cool way he took it.
"We'll have to stand it as long as we can," says Mark. "It was a bad blunder. Worst I ever made, I guess. But," says he, his little eyes sort of glinting, "I'll be so dry the wind 'll blow me away before I s-s-surrender."
"They say," says I, still good and mad, "that the human body is three-quarters water. If that's so there's enough water mixed up with you to quench the thirst of General Grant's armies."
For once he didn't say anything back, but he stored that up in his mind, you'd better believe, with the idea of getting even with me when the chance cane. But that didn't worry me. It was enough worry to think about being shut up for days without anything to drink.
I sat down on the railing and looked out over the lake, just thinking of things, general like. I must have got interested in what I was thinking about, for the next thing I knew I heard a voice over past the hotel yelling:
"Can't you tell when I got the brake on, eh? Say! What kind of a automobeel be you, anyhow? I've throwed out the clutch and slammed on the brake, but you don't pay no more 'tention than as if I hadn't done nothing at all. Whoa, there!"
It was my friend that I'd met on the road and got to deliver the message. What he was doing here I couldn't for the life of me guess, but I figured he'd come out of curiosity to find out what was going on. I called Mark and the boys.
The old fellow managed to stop his "engine" and sat staring over at us. I waved my hand and yelled at him-and then The Man and his followers just boiled across the bridge and went for the old fellow. He saw them coming and began to jerk and slap his lines.
"Hey, you!" he yelled. "Hain't I pressed the self-starter button, eh? Then why don't you start? Hain't the lever in low? Git a stir on to you!"
But the animal never stirred. The old fellow stood up and larruped him with the lines, but he just sort of humped his back and laid down his ears and took root. Then The Man and his folks got there. One of them set out to grab the mule. The mule turned and looked him right in the face, and then something happened. You never saw an engine explode, I'll bet you. Neither did I, but that's the nearest I can imagine to what that mule did. He just naturally up and exploded. First he opened his mouth and let out a holler that was enough to raise the dead, and then he lashed out with all four feet and his tail, and tried to bite with his teeth. You can bet those Japanese backed off a little. The old fellow didn't seem to mind a bit. He just spread his legs so the mule could kick free and waited. All at once the mule quit kicking and started off straight ahead.
" The lever's in high," yelled the old fellow.
This time I guess the mule knew right where the lever was, for the way he got out of there was a caution. If he wasn't doing forty miles an hour then I don't want a cent. The Japanese tried to stop him, but he nipped one on the arm and came pretty close to running right over the top of another. Whee! but they scattered.
The old fellow turned around and sort of waved his hand at us. Then he put his thumb to his nose and wiggled his fingers at the Japanese. That was the last we saw of him, for the mule yanked him around a clump of trees and out of sight.
I looked at Mark and grinned, and Mark looked at me.
"Well?" says he
"Same here," says I.
"It'll mean quick trouble f-f-for us," says he. "The Japs 'll be afraid he'll go after h- help."
"Not him," says I. "Bet he don't know enough. Seems like he was sort of crazy or somethin'."
Mark shook his head. "You n-never can tell," says he.