The Japanese came stamping and jabbering around under us, but that didn't do any particular good that I could see, and after a while they quieted down. I guess they were pretty tired after their day's work, and wanted a rest. Anyhow, they didn't bother us again that night.
The first thing Mark had us do was make stronger the fastening of the stairs. It was held by a double wire and a rope. We used up all the wire we had left putting on more fastenings, and when we got through we felt pretty safe for a while. It would take anybody more than a minute to get those stairs down, we were certain.
Now we were so high up they didn't have any ladders that could reach us, and we didn't need to bother watching anything but the stairs, so four of us went to sleep while one watched. Plunk was the unlucky one. He drew the shortest stick. He was to watch from nine till twelve, Binney from twelve to three, and Motu the rest of the night. When that was arranged I rolled up in my blanket on the floor and went to sleep.
Maybe you'll say that wasn't a comfortable bed, but it suited me. I was perfectly satisfied. The way I felt I guess I'd have been glad to lie down on a pile of cobblestones with a boulder for a pillow. I went to sleep so quick I hardly remember lying down, and I never wiggled till morning. From nine till six I slept and would have been willing to go on for a couple of hours more, but Mark Tidd shook me and yelled in my ear that breakfast was ready, such as it was.
While we were eating I got to thinking about things and says to Mark, "If they find any way to get these stairs down we're goners, because they can use their movable fort and come prancing right up to us."
"I've b-been calc'latin' about that fort," says Mark, "and I guess I wasn't very smart not to say a way to stop it before. They won't get us with that thingumbob," he says.
"How 'll you stop 'em?" says I.
"With that s-scantling we captured. It's come in handy, 'ain't it? Got water with it. Now we'll stop the fort with it."
"Easy. When they s-start up-if they ever do-we'll just jam one end of our two-by- four against their fort and the other end of it against a step. They'll have to shove the whole citadel over into the l-l-lake to move. It 'll be just like p-pushin' against a stone wall."
"Then what?" says I.
"Then," says he, "they'll have to come out and fight. We've got better than an even chance there."
"Where's tile dog?" says I, thinking of him all of a sudden.
Mark shrugged his shoulders. "D-d- downstairs," says he. "I left him on p- purpose. If we had him we might use him, and it sort of goes against the grain to be f- fightin' men with a dog."
"I'd fight 'em with a crocodile if I had one," says I, and let it go at that.
"They ought to be projectin' around pretty soon," says Binney. "If they leave us alone much longer we'll get all out of the habit of squabblin' with 'em."
"Don't worry," says Mark. "We won't have t-t-time to form any habits. We ain't apt to have time to spell habit unless we do it two letters at a time."
"Some one's down there now," says Plunk.
"The Man's b-been lookin' over our defenses quite a spell," Says Mark. "I've noticed him p-p-prowlin' around.''
"Then," says Motu, "we may expect a stirring up of something directly."
Of course, as soon as The Man saw the way we held the stairs fastened up with stout wire he'd know there wasn't any use trying to cut it with a knife like he did the rope on the stairs below. Likewise, unless he was a better schemer than Mark Tidd he wouldn't be able to figure out any other place to attack us than right up those stairs. So if he got us there was where he would have to come, and he would have to discover some plan to get down our stairs to climb up.
It might have been easy if he was where he could get tools, but it isn't customary to leave many valuable tools laying around an abandoned hotel, and he didn't have very much to work with. I guess he was a bit dubious himself, for he came and stood where we could see him and called up to us:
"Ho! up the stairs," says he. "I wish to be speaking and talking with you, eh?"
"Go ahead," says Mark.
"You are tangled up like trap with bunny rabbit in it," says The Man. "Nobody can go away-not at all by any means. Oh no! You are very fast and tight. Is it not without loud arguments so?"
"We're p-p-perfectly comfortable,'' says Mark. "You haven't seen us t-tryin' to go away, have you?"
"You will surrender up voluntary, eh? There has been fight and bickering plenty for everybody. For boys you have fight like bantam rooster. Oh yes, like everything. Now you are finished up, I believe. Yes?"
"Now we are t-through, you b'lieve? No," says Mark.
"The leetle Japanese boy-the bad, naughty leetle Japanese boy who runnings away from his father-you will now give him to me? In that case of the event nothing shall happen that is not nice. No! no! no! And besides additionally there shall be Christmas gift and handy present for you. Nice, beautiful presents that boys shall like to be owners of."
"We can Wait for Christmas," says Mark. "We ain't in any hurry for p-p-presents."
"Ah, but butter and bread and vittle, eh? There are stomachs that are lonesome for feed. To be certainly sure. There is thirstiness. It is bad and not a pleasant happening to be thirsty. Suppose I am staying here three days, maybe a week? How is that? You will be starving and thirsting. What then? Eh?"
"Mister," says Mark, "When you're hungry just s-s-send word. We'll be g-glad to lend you some grub. We've got p-plenty to last till you're far, far away."
"You are a pig-heal like a mule. You do not listen to commonest sense. No. Must I come to take away the bad leetle Japanese boy?"
"You must if you get him. But so far lookin' at it from the p-p-point of view of a ,am that's not interested, you 'ain't had much l-l- luck so far."
"I will buy and paying very generous for the leetle boy. How much?"
"We haven't any little boys for sale, mister. And now that 'll be about all. This t-truce is over. If you ain't gone from there by the time I count ten we'll open f-fire. Git!"
The Man stared up a moment through his one eye-glass and grinned and shrugged his shoulders, but before Mark had counted ten he was out of range.
After that we saw a couple of the enemy go over to the hotel. I expect they were rummaging around for something to use to cut our wire. They must have searched good, for we didn't see them come back for two hours, and one of them had an ax in his hand.
4' Much good that 'll do 'em," says I. "They can't reach with an ax."
"Shucks !" says Mark. "They can p-p-put a longer handle on it, can't they?"
Which is just what they did. It took quite a while to cut it and get it ready, so that it was after eleven o'clock when they started operations. Then a man came out with the ax on a long handle and commenced chopping at the wire. There was only a crack a couple of inches wide that we could shoot through, and I guess we didn't bother him much. Anyhow, he stayed there and swung his ax on our wires. They were good and tough, but at last he had one cut through. That was the first part of the end of things right there. In half an hour the last wire parted and down went the stairs. The way was open-open except for us fellows with our lances and slingshots at the top.
The Man didn't take any chances, though. The first thing he brought up his movable fort, and, sheltered behind it, they began the attack.
"The two-by-four," says Mark, "Be ready."
Four of us grabbed it up and stood holding it till Mark said the word.
"Now!" says he, and we aimed the scantling right at the middle of the fort and whanged it with all our might. I'll bet it jarred them good and plenty. Anyhow, they stopped and Mark ran down a couple of steps to pick up the scantling and fix it with one end against their shelter and the other end against a step. They were stopped. They heaved and pushed and strained but it wasn't any good. They couldn't reach over the top of their fort because they'd built a roof there for their own protection, and there they were. They could push all they wanted to. The more they pushed the more tired they'd get and the more fun we'd have.
At last they tried lifting their contraption from the bottom and grabbing our brace, but that wasn't any good. We held it just out of reach and peppered every arm that stuck out. Fifteen minutes of that and they saw they were outgeneraled, so they retreated, shelter and all. They had gained a point- the stairs were down; but we had gained a bigger point-we had beaten them off even when they came at us with their patent engine of war. We were pretty tickled, I can tell you.
But The Man wasn't beaten. In twenty minutes he was back again with his fort to make another try. The fort looked just like it looked before, but we soon found out it was different-a whole heap different. We jabbed it with the scantling again, but this time what do you calculate happened! Why, they just dropped off a six-inch board about the middle, backed away an inch or so, grabbed the end of our scantling, and pulled the end through the hole where the board had been. Then they came right on up. It looked like some new kind of spider climbing his thread, for as they came on the scantling went right inside and disappeared like the fort swallowed it.
Of course we tried to haul the scantling back, but they held on to it. In spite of all our wrenching and jerking and waggling they kept their end and climbed right on slow and sure.
"We're done," says I to Mark.
"Not yet," says he. "Motu, you keep behind."
"No," says Motu. "I will fight side by side with you."
Then Mark spoke short and sharp. "You'll obey orders," says he. "If you're plannin' on b-bein' a warrior you know what orders are. Keep behind."
Motu looked a bit ashamed and awful disappointed, but he did what Mark told him. It must have been hard for him just then, but it was the best plan.
"You'll get all the f-f-fightin' you need pretty quick," says Mark; and Motu smiled back at him.
"When we can't h-hold 'em back any longer," says Mark, "jump through this door and slam it shut. It'll gain a l-little time."
"What's the use gainin' time?" says Binney. "It won't make much difference if we're beat now or in half an hour."
"A heap of t-t-things can happen in half an hour," says Mark. "We don't give up till we can't hang on one more second."
They were almost on to us now. The fort was at the top step. Plunk jumped to the far side and began jabbing like all-git-out with his lance.
"Good b-boy," says Mark; and then those Japanese just boiled out from behind their fort and came at us. We kept Motu behind and fought the best we could. If it hadn't been for our lances we wouldn't have lasted long, but we kept together in a knot so they couldn't get behind us, and everlastingly poked them with the padded ends of our weapons.
Finally a man dropped sudden to his knees and dived under. He grabbed Plunk and they went to the floor together and rolled over and over, Plunk trying to get away, the man trying to hold him.
"Through the door, quick!" Mark yelled. He knew Plunk wouldn't suffer much damage, but we couldn't afford to lose another man by the same tactics, and we couldn't rescue Plunk. So we jumped backward through the door and just had time to slam it in their faces. We didn't get it to stay shut, though, so we could lock it. For the next five minutes it was a question of strength. They pushed in and we pushed out. But there were five of them to four of us and we were boys. Little by little they forced us back until one of them squeezed through.
We had to give back then. The hall was so narrow only two of us could fight abreast, and the luck fell to Mark and Binney. Motu and I got as close behind as we could and used our lances whenever we got a chance. It was pretty hot work, I can tell you. Then Binney turned his ankle and fell, and before he could scramble up the enemy had him.
Now there ware just three of us, and they forced us back step by step. The hall was long and narrow. There was no chance to take us on the flank, so they had to come straight on, but they seemed willing enough. Now it was just a matter of time. Pretty soon they would push us back to the end of the hall and close in on us, and we would be done for. After that Motu would be theirs and we would have stood the siege in vain.
Don't think the Japanese were having a pleasant time, for they weren't. A boxing- glove can't really hurt you, but it can muss you up a lot, and a good stiff punch will make you see stars. I'll bet there wasn't a man in the lot of them that hadn't seen a whole Fourth of July of fireworks. But they meant business. Nothing could stop them, and on they fought.
Then, before I realized how far we had gone, I backed slam into Motu, who was jammed against the wall. It was our last stand, and we made it a good one. It wasn't long before they had us wedged so tight we couldn't wiggle, and then hands grabbed me. It was all over. Of course I thrashed around the best I could, and I expect the others were doing the same, but it wasn't long before they had me good and fast. It wasn't any use to struggle, so I laid quiet, feeling pretty tired and sore and sorry. And then-and then, would you believe me; but I heard a sound that sent the life and courage back into me with a jump.
"Listen, Mark!" I yelled.
"I heard it, Tallow," says he.
The Japanese heard it, too, for they looked pretty startled and stared at each other. Then we heard the sound again. It was the toot of an automobile horn. The kind of horn you hear on great big sixty-horse- power cars.
"Whoop!" I yelled. "It ain't over yet!"
The Japanese were listening, and for a minute my man didn't hang on to me as tight as he ought to. I gave a sudden wrench and rolled out from under him. Before he could lay hands on me again I was up and running down that hall faster than the man who won the hundred-yard dash in the Olympic games.
I plunged out of the door and threw myself down-stairs. The Japanese was right at my heels, but at the ground floor he stopped, for just across the bridge was a whopping- big car with seven or eight men in it, some white, some Japanese, and just getting out was a little Japanese gentleman with a tall silk hat and a frock-coat.
"Hey!" I yelled. "You're just in time! Quick!"
In a minute the whole of them were out of the car and hurrying toward me.