The hammering down below kept on steadily for an hour or so. Then there was silence for quite a while, I expect while The Man's army was getting rested and recovering its grit. It was beginning to grow dusk before we saw a single Japanese.
Mark held a council of war. It wasn't much of a council, if that word means people talking together and offering one another advice. Mark did most of the talking and all of the advising. It wasn't because he wouldn't accept advice. No, sir. He wasn't that sort of fellow at all. He was always glad to listen and to change his own plan if somebody offered a better one, but right now he was the only one that had any plan. Mostly he was. The rest of us fellows were pretty good at doing things we were told, and maybe we were up to the average on brains, but Mark was a little out of the ordinary there. Anyhow, he had a different kind of brain. It was the kind that can't help scheming and figuring. So the council of war consisted mainly in his telling us what to do.
"We can't hold this l-l-line of defenses," says he. 'It won't be long before we have to make a strategic retirement to the next floor. That's our last stronghold, and it's the s-s-strongest. We can hold out there till-"
"Till it rains, I hope," says I. "Then we'll get a drink."
"Is that still on your mind, Tallow? Well, the first minute I have to spare I'll get you a drink."
"Is that a promise?" says I.
"Yes," says he.
That settled it. If Mark Tidd said he'd get water, then water would be got. I was satisfied.
"How you goin' to get it?" Plunk says.
"I don't know yet," says Mark. Now wasn't that just like him! He knew there must be some way of getting water up there, and he was sure, if there was a way, he could find it. I wish I was as confident of myself as that. Maybe that's why Mark is more thought of by folks than we are- because he never gives up, and because he knows if anybody can do a thing he can do it, too.
"We'll have to r-r-retreat," says he. "Maybe not at the next attack, but soon. If The Man uses the scheme I'm thinkin' of we'll retreat right sudden."
"Will we leave time," says I, "to run up the stairs and pull them up after us?"
"I've f-f-fixed it so we will," says he. You see, he'd thought it all out and was ready for anything. Of course he did make mistakes once in a while, like forgetting the water, but that was seldom. As Uncle Ike Bond said when he bought a citron because his bad eyesight made him think it was a muskmelon, "The best of us 'll make mistakes."
"Now," says Mark, " we want to know when to r-r-retreat. The two guards want to know b-because they've got farther to run. We'll have to have a signal. The minute they hear it, or you hear it, forget everything but how to get to the t-t-top of those stairs the quickest way there is. The signal will be two screeches like this." He showed us, and they were screeches for certain. A catamount would have been so proud of them he'd have jumped out of his skin. I guess a catamount that could yowl like that would be a sort of opera-singer among his folks, and they'd pay to hear him perform.
"Will that do?" says Mark.
"Do?" says I. " Yell like that and we won't have to retreat. It 'll scare the Japs stiff so they'll fall down-stairs and bu'st their necks."
"All right," says he. "You, Tallow, go and tell Motu and Binney."
I went off to tell them. Motu was leaning on the railing, looking over, when I got there.
"How's business?" says I.
He looked at me sort of blank. Then he smiled so all his fine white teeth showed between his lips. "Ha! Tallow, it is an American question. I understand. To be sure. How is business? There has not been business. I have not had a single-what do you say?-a single customer." He stopped and looked sort of disappointed. "You boys have had all the fighting," he says. "You fight for Motu, yet Motu has no part in it."
"Don't let that worry you, " says I. "Guardin' is as important as fightin', and harder to do, I expect. Besides," says I, "if you was tryin' to keep pirates from capturin' a treasure you wouldn't bring it right up to the fightin'-line where they could grab it and run. No, sir, you'd keep it back where it would be safe. Well, Motu, you're our treasure after a manner of speaking. We're tryin' to keep the Japanese from takin' you, so we want you back where they can't haul you off in the mix-up. That's strategy."
"Strategy maybe," says he, " but not honorable strategy for the treasure. Where others fight for you you should fight also for yourself, and not in the rear rank, but in front. Let no man be struck a blow in your defense that you yourself can take. So my father taught me."
I sort of figured it out that Motu had the right sort of a father. My grandfather fought in our war, and that's exactly the sort of thing he used to tell me. He was great on honor, granddad was. I told Motu about him because I didn't want him to think American boys weren't taught about honor as much as Japanese boys were.
"You'll get enough fightin' before we're through with this," says I, "so don't worry about takin' a little rest."
Then I went on and told Binney, who hadn't seen any of the enemy, either. He was worried, though, about a spruce-tree that grew pretty close to a window. He'd been thinking that maybe a man could climb it and get out on a limb that almost touched the wall, and from there jump smack through a window. It looked possible to me.
By this time it was getting quite dark and I hurried back to the stairs where Plunk and Mark were sitting. Mark had another big sandwich for each of us, so I carried supplies to Motu and Binney. Both of them asked for water, so I told them we were just out of it, but would have a fresh supply soon. Binney kicked a little about it, but Motu just smiled and said, "If we have to have water your Mark Tidd will get it."
I went back to my place again. Mark had a couple of blankets spread on the floor. "Two men s-s-sleep, " says he. " You and Plunk take t-t-turns with Binney and Motu."
"How about you?" says I.
"No sleep for me to-night," he said, with that look around his jaw that means there's no use arguing. "I'm the general of this army and my b-b-business is to be on the job."
"That'll give you a little time to think about gettin' water, then," says I, for I was still considerable r'iled up about that.
Mark grinned like the cat that ate the canary-bird. He always grins like that when he's got the best of you, so I knew he had been figuring about water and had found a way to get it.
"There's a f-f-five-pound pancake-flour bag up with the provisions," says he. "Fetch it down."
I ran up and got it, and then sat down to see what was going to happen. Mark took the bag and measured it careful. Then he took some of the clothes-line wire-there was about six feet of it left-and twisted and turned and braided it into a hoop just a mite smaller than the top of the bag. When that was done he put it inside the bag about two inches down and folded the thick, tough paper over it. Then, with string out of his pocket, he wound it over and over, punching holes every little ways to pass the string through. He was mighty careful and particular about it. When it was all done he had a bucket that would hold a good gallon of water. Another short piece of wire made the handle.
"There," says he, "that 'll hold water."
"Yes," says I, "but the water's quite a step down. How you goin' to reach it?"
"The enemy f-f-furnished us somethin' to reach it with," says he, pointing to the two- by-four we had captured. "That 'll reach, I calc'late. "
Sure enough, it would. All we had to do was drive a nail in the end and make a hook of it to hold the pail. I was so thirsty I could hardly wait, so I grabbed the contraption as soon as Mark finished it and rushed off to where I could reach water. It worked a little clumsy, but it did the business. I didn't have much trouble filling the pail.
You'd better believe water never tasted so good before. Mark was perfectly willing to drink, and Plunk got away with about a quart. Motu didn't act very excited about it, though he drank hearty enough.
"I told you," says he, "that your Mark Tidd could do it."
Binney was last to get a drink. That half- emptied the pail.
"Pour the rest in another paper bag," says Mark. "and tie it with a string. Hand it up- stairs. M-m-most of it will stay long enough. Then f-fill your bucket again and hang that up-stairs. We won't run any more risks."
"Listen," says Plunk.
It was now pretty dark. The moon showed just a little, but there were clouds which kept covering it up, and when they did you couldn't see a dozen feet away. But you could hear. We listened like Plunk told us to, and heard several men scurrying around down below. Then the moon popped out the clearest it had been and we saw!
"My scheme," says Mark, under his breath. "I knew he'd f-f-figger it out."
It was a scheme, all right. The Man had made a regular lean-to of planks. It was just as wide as the stairs and high enough to cover a man. Other planks about three feet long made a roof to it so we couldn't get at the attackers from above. One man was right behind it, and all four of the others were close to him, hanging on to a two-by- four that pushed it. It was a sort of battering-ram except that you didn't batter with it-you just pushed it along in front of you and shoved anybody out of the way. There wasn't a way in the world for us to stop them.
"Better screech them screeches," says I to Mark.
"Just a minute," says he. "Help me with that b-b-barrel."
Mark had the barrel half-full of heavy stuff. The barrel itself was one of those big oil- barrels, and weighed about a ton. We rolled it to the top of the stairs.
"Wait till I give the w-w-word," says he. "When I let out the signal, give her a shove."
We waited till the portable fort was a quarter of the way up, then Mark opened his mouth and gave the two screeches. They were better than the sample he had given us before. At that we both pushed and down rushed and bumped and clattered the barrel. It got under way and began to jump. The last five steps before it reached the movable fort never were touched at all. The barrel just seemed to come to life and leap at the enemy like it was trained. Maybe it was. I wouldn't be surprised if Mark had found some way to train it.
Anyhow, it jumped at those Japs and hit their shelter just above the center. Maybe it didn't hit it. Wow ! That barrel and the things in it must have weighed a couple of hundred pounds and it was going fast.
"Scoot!" says Mark to Plunk and me.
I stopped just long enough to see the shelter smash backward and break away from the two-by-four that pushed it. The barrel went right over it, and you should have seen those Japanese hop out of the way. Then I headed up like I'd been sent for in a hurry. Plunk beat me, Binney was right at my heels, next came Motu, and Mark brought up the rear.
"Quick !" says he. "Haul up the r-r-rope."
We grabbed her and pulled. It wasn't a second too soon for The Man himself came bounding up the stairs below and made a jump for the end of the stairs we were pulling up. He caught it, too, and hung there.
"Motu," says Mark, "ask him to g-g-get off."
Motu grinned and grabbed his lance. You could see he had a job he liked. He went to where he could reach The Man, whose hands were now on a level with our floor, and reached under. I saw him draw back his lance for a jab, and the jab went home. Right into The Man's stummick it went.
"Wourgh!" says The Man, or something that sounded like it, and dropped like a stone. He sat where he fell, or rather rolled over on his side with both arms folded across his belt-line, and there he stayed till a couple of his men came and picked him up. He didn't act very chipper for ten minutes.
"Here we are," says Mark, fastening the wire that held up the stairs. "They can't cut this, and they can't g-g-get to us with l- ladders. If they come they've got to come through the floor, in an airship, or up these s-stairs."
"It is a strong place to defend," says Motu. "But hunger and thirst are stronger. For a time we can hold out. Maybe days, maybe a week, but in the end we must give up. Is it not so, Mark Tidd?"
"I've got an idee," says Mark, "that any givin' up that's d-d-done won't be done by us."