Nothing happened the rest of the night. Whatever it was that had been prowling around the hotel didn't prowl any more. By daylight it all seemed like a joke. But it hadn't been any joke in the dark, I can tell you.
The cool air of that mountain lake made us hungry enough to eat the blankets off the bed, but Mark said that wouldn't be fair to Mr. Ames. He said no hotel proprietor liked to have his boarders eat the blankets except as a last resort. We built a fire in the big fireplace in the dining-room and it wasn't two minutes before we had coffee brewing and bacon frizzling. Binney, who was considerable of a cook, was fixing up some biscuits. So, you see, we didn't really need the blankets, after all.
"What'll we do to-day?" says I.
"F-fix the boats," says Mark. "Got to have the n-navy in shape. Can't tell when war 'll b-bust out, and we can't have an enemy landin' on our coast. I calc'late we better have two dreadnoughts in tip-top fightin' condition."
We all went over to the boat-house. In it were a dozen clinker-bottomed rowboats, a couple of flat bottoms, and, bottom-up on two saw-horses, was the prettiest cedar canoe you ever saw.
"T-torpedo-boat destroyer," says Mark. "Have that to g-guard the fishin' fleet and carry messages."
We went at it like nailers. Anybody who thinks it isn't some job to fix up a boat so it won't leak just wants to try it once. We painted and calked and messed around all day, and then had only two boats in shape- not counting the canoe. We went at that first and gave it a thick coat of paint.
"May need it any m-minute," says Mark. "Best to be on the safe side."
At noon we knocked off and did a good business-like job of eating. We ate so much it made us sleepy, so we strung out under a tree to take a little nap. I woke up all of a sudden with the queerest feeling! It was just as if somebody had been bending over, looking at me close and I had felt his breath in my face. I jumped up and looked all around me. Not a thing was in sight. I happened to look down at the grass, and right under my eyes a couple of blades moved, first one and then the other. You've seen grass straighten up after you've stepped on it. Well, that's just how this grass acted- -exactly as if somebody had stepped there a minute before.
"Mark," says I, cautious-like.
He sat up quickly.
"Somebody's been here looking us over."
"H-how do you know?" says he.
I told him about the feeling I had and about the way the grass straightened up.
"Hum!" says he. "Can't understand it. Who'd be so interested in us, eh? Who in the world could be p-p-prowlin' around this old hotel? 'Tain't natural. If this thing keeps on I'm goin' to look into it."
"You'd better look into it, anyhow," says I. "I don't like it. I don't like havin' folks parade around where I'm sleeping and I don't like havin' 'em lean over and blow in my face. 'Tain't safe."
"Shucks !" says Mark, but you could see he was put out and worried by the way he reached for his ear and began to jerk it. He always did that when he was bothered and couldn't make head or tail to things.
The other fellows waked up while we were arguing, and we traipsed off to work again. Just in front of the hotel, where the grass was long, Mark stumbled. Then he stopped and leaned over to pick up something. Leaning over is one of the hardest things Mark does-there's so much of him he gets in his own way in front. He grunted like everything and stood up with what looked like a bone in his hand.
"Huh!" says he, and looks at me with a queer kind of expression. " Huh!"
"What is it?" says I.
He held it out. It wasn't a bone at all, though it looked like it was made of bone. It was pure white except that at one end, where there was something that looked like a handle, there were figures and funny curlicues carved, and down the whole length of it was a row of things that looked like the Hebrew letters in our family Bible.
"What do you calc'late it is?" says I, taking hold of it.
Mark had one end in his hand, and I had hold of the thing that looked like a handle. It was a handle. When I pulled it moved toward me, and there I stood with the most peculiar-looking knife in my hand that you ever saw. It had a straight blade more than ten inches long, and on the blade, which was new and shiny and polished, were more funny-looking letters.
I dropped it like it was hot.
"It's a dagger," says I, and I guess my voice sounded scairt.
"S-somethin' like that," says Mark.
"Maybe," says Binney, looking over my shoulder, "it's an Indian relic. Maybe it's been layin' here for a hundred years."
"Sure," says Mark, scornful as anything. "That's how it got so rusty and battered up. Probably laid in that identical spot since George Washington discovered the Mississippi."
"He never discovered the Mississippi," says Binney.
"He did just as much as that knife is an Indian relic," says Mark. "Look at it. S- shiny, ain't it? Polished, eh? Been taken care of. That knife hain't laid there but a few hours. Heavy dew here, ain't there? Would 'a' rusted it some in no time. No, sir, whoever dropped that did it last night or today."
"Looks like one of them souveneers you could buy to the World's Fair," says Plunk.
"This ain't a s-souvenir," says Mark; "it's the real thing. I've seen those knives and swords and things from Turkey and Persia and such p-places, but they're cheap. Jest made to sell to folks. This ain't cheap. It's the real thing, I tell you."
"What do you calc'late it is? Turk or what?"
"Can't t-tell. Some such race owned it. Come from Asia or Africa, that's sure."
"Well," says I, "I hope the feller that dropped it hain't got another. I'd feel safer a lot if I knew he was just out of knives like this and couldn't get any more."
"Me, too," says Plunk.
"I wonder how a man in these parts came by a dagger from Asia," says Binney.
"We d-don't know," says Mark, "that it is a man from these p-parts. Maybe it's a man from Asia."
"'Tain't likely," says I.
"'Tain't likely a man from here would have such a weapon," says Mark, "and 'tain't likely anybody'd be prowlin' around this hotel, and 'tain't likely anybody'd be bendin' over Tallow when he was asleep- but s-s-some of those things are facts, ain't they? Well? I'll bet that if there's a d-d- dagger from Asia here there's a man from Asia with it."
"And an animal from Asia, too?" I asked, because there was some kind of a beast with whoever was skulking around last night.
"I wouldn't be s'prised to s-s-see a two- humped camel off of the Desert of Sahara," says Mark.
"It wasn't a camel,'' I says. "It was too little."
"It don't matter if it was the old crocodile of the Nile," says Plunk, "we've got to finish up those boats."
So we took along the dagger and crossed the little bridge to the boat-house. Mark put the dagger on a shelf just inside the door, and we all rolled up our sleeves and went to work.
"I wish I knew what it was," Binney said, after a while.
"You don't d-d-differ much from the rest of us on that point," says Mark.
"Then," says Binney, "why don't you figger out a scheme to discover?"
Mark grinned. He liked to be appreciated. You'll notice Binney didn't ask me nor Plunk to think up a scheme. No, sir, it was Mark he asked. And Mark was pleased. He wasn't the least bit swell-headed, but he did like to have credit for what he did and for the kind of brains he had. He deserved it, too. I don't suppose there are a dozen boys in the United States with just the kind of planning, scheming brain that Mark Tidd has. He's always scheming. Just give him something to plot over and he's happy. If there isn't anything for him to plan about really he'll imagine something. Funniest fellow you ever saw.
"Suppose," says Mark, "this was a castle- the whole hotel. And suppose we was the g- g-garrison. Along comes an army of knights and men-at-arms to capture us." All of a sudden he got interested, his little eyes began to shine, and his fingers sort of twitched. His imagination was going. "Listen," says he, "don't you hear a trumpet off in the m-m-mountains? Sure. They're a- comin'. What'll we do?"
"Fight," says Plunk.
"Sure," says Mark, "but we got to have a plan of b-b-battle. We've got food and water to think of."
"Plenty of both," says I.
"Suppose the castle over there was s-s- surrounded. We'd have food, but we couldn't g-get to water. I'll tell you: we'd b- better fetch a store of food over here across the bridge. Then if it got too hot for us in the castle we could retreat and tear down the bridge and be pretty s-s-safe here. Eh?"
"Sure," says Binney.
"Come on, then," says Mark. "We'll divide the stores and f-fetch half over here in case of emergency."
Of course it was all just pretending, but it seemed mighty real with Mark telling it, and before we knew it we were all working like nailers to get the canned stuff across into the house where the boats were. It was heavy lifting, but somehow it was fun and as exciting as if hostile men-at-arms were actually coming down out of the mountains to attack us.
We got everything all arranged and sat down to rest.
"They can attack now any time they w-want to," says Mark. "We're ready for 'em."
"Huh!" says Plunk, "it looks like we did a lot of work for nothin'. It's all right to pretend, but here we've up and lugged about a ton of grub over here where we don't want it."
It did look as if Plunk was right, but now I come to think it over I don't know just how much Mark was pretending, and how much he was carrying out a plan he had in his head, and took that way to do it without getting the rest of us frightened. Mark always took the easiest and best and safest way to do things. Before we got away from Lake Ravona we were mighty glad Mark pretended we were going to be attacked that day, I can tell you, and we were mighty thankful he moved all that store of food across to the building on the island. If he hadn't done that I don't know how we would have come out, but, anyhow, we'd have had a pretty hard time of it, and a close shave.
"Now," says Mark, "l-lets get back to mending the navy."
I got up and stretched, and looked over toward the door. I happened to remember that Mark had left the dagger on a shelf right alongside the door, and without thinking I looked for it.
"Mark," says I, startled, "did you take the dagger?"
"No," says he, quick-like. "Why?"
"Look where you put it," says I.
Everybody looked. The dagger was gone. Yes, sir. It was gone right from in under our very eyes. Whoever was infesting the hotel had sneaked right up to us and got his weapon in broad daylight. It made us feel pretty cheap-and not very comfortable.
" Fine!" says Mark. " Next t-t-time I capture the enemy's weapons I guess I'll know enough to keep them s-s-safe."
You see he took the blame himself. That was his way, too. He wanted praise when it was due, but he never dodged the blame when blame was coming.
But taking the blame didn't mend matters. The dagger was gone. Worse than that, we knew the man who took it was near. Probably he was watching us that very minute. We drew closer together and looked all around. We went outside and looked, but everything was silent and deserted as if we were the only people on the earth.
"It's ten miles to town," says Binney.
"Well," says Mark, "we've l-l-looked after ourselves before, and I guess we can m- manage it this time."
But, for all that, there were four boys there on that little mountain lake who had their hearts right in their mouths ready to bite them.