"When 'll Mr. Ames be out?" Plunk asked.
"Let's see," says I, "this is the second day we've been here. It'll be five or six days before we can expect to see him."
"So," says Mark, "you've either got to s-s- stick it out till then or walk to town."
Plunk sort of flushed. "I wasn't thinkin' about gettin' to town," says he. "I was hopin' he'd remember to fetch a lantern or somethin' to give us a little light."
"Send him a wireless," says Binney.
" Or-" Mark began, but he never finished what he was going to say, for the biggest sort of a barking and snarling and yelping started up in the woods not farther off than you could throw a stone, and all of a sudden something flashed out of the underbrush and came scurrying toward the hotel. We all jumped to our feet.
Then something else burst out of the trees and tore after the first thing that came. By that time we had sort of collected our senses and could tell what was going on. It was a big, black dog chasing some littler animal that seemed to bump and waddle and roll along, but made a pretty fast gait at that. The dog was barking as hard as he could bark.
About fifty feet from us he caught up with the little animal and made a jump for it. Well, sir, you never saw anything so funny in your life. The dog no sooner touched the little animal than he sat right back on his haunches like he was too astonished to live, and let out the dismalest howl you ever heard. Yip-yip-yi! he yelled. The little animal didn't run any more, but kind of curled up and waited. We went running over to see the fight.
"What is it?" says Binney.
"Porcupine," says Mark.
He was, and a fat old whopper, too, with enough quills on him to satisfy a dozen dogs. But this dog wasn't satisfied. After he got over his surprise he seemed to get mad, and in he tore again. I expect he figured the porcupine had hurt him by mistake. But he found out different. Mr. Porcupine sort of humped up his back and you could hear his quills rustle. Mr. Dog shoved his nose into them-and then pulled it out quick.
He was one disgusted dog, and I'm telling you that something besides his feelings were hurt. He looked as if he were trying to grow some funny sort of mustache. At first he didn't know what to make of it; then he sat back and began to paw at his muzzle. He pawed and pawed, and when he found out pawing didn't do any good he took to rolling, and while he rolled he yipped and yelled. All of a sudden he remembered his dignity and stood up. For a minute he looked at Mr. Porcupine, and all his mad came back. It got the better of his good sense. He didn't seem to realize that the time had come to arbitrate, so he took another lick at the porcupine, who was just beginning to move off as if it figured its day's work was done.
This time the dog stuck to it as long as he could, but that wasn't very long, and when he backed off he did it with his whole heart. He backed off so hard that he sat right up on his tail for a minute and then rolled over backward. If he could have seen himself he'd have been so ashamed he wouldn't have shown his face for a week, like proud dogs do when something makes them look ridiculous.
He started running around on three legs and pawing at his nose with the leg that was left. Then he stuck his muzzle against the ground and began to spin around it in a circle like he was trying to scour the quills out. But anybody could see he was having hard luck at it. Mr. Porcupine looked over his shoulder like he wasn't so very much interested, and for all the world he looked like he was grinning. Then he started to move off slow. This time the dog jumped right on him with all four feet-and from that time on you never heard such squawling in all your born days. We were sorry for him. Anybody would have been, but he was so funny, and, while he thrashed around so there wasn't a thing we could do. So we just stood there and laughed.
But in a minute we stopped laughing, stopped sudden, too, I can tell you, for there, standing between us and the dog- almost like he had dropped out of the sky- was a boy. We had been so busy watching the dog and porcupine we hadn't seen him come or which way he came from. The first we knew there he stood with his arms folded, scowling at us.
He wasn't as tall as Binney, but he was broader. :He looked strong-and for all his size, he looked sort of, well, I guess stately is the only word to describe it. He was foreign. His skin was dark, and his eyes were black, and his hair was black and straight-and it wasn't parted. I wondered how Mark Tidd had figured that out. He was angry, but for all of that, and for all his color and his foreign look, he was handsome. He stood there looking at us for a moment like he was making up his mind what to do with us. Then he said in just as good English as any of us could speak, only more careful, and sounding, somehow, as if he had to remember and take pains to find the words:
"You have hurt my dog. How dare you hurt my dog?"
The way he spoke made you sort of jump.
"It was the p-p-porcupine," says Mark, pointing to where the little animal was scurrying away. "Your dog chased it and got quills in his nose. We haven't touched him."
"You laughed at him when he was hurt."
"Yes, and you'd have l-laughed, too. He isn't hurt much. The quills will come out easy, and in a day or two he'll be as well as ever-and have a l-lot more sense. He'll know better than to tackle another p- porcupine."
The boy looked at us, right in the eyes, without speaking for a couple of minutes. I don't remember ever to have had anybody look at me just like that. It was a sort of judge-of-the-supreme-court look.
"What are you doing here?" he says when he got through looking us over.
Mark Tidd grinned that jolly grin of his, the grin he gets on when he wants to make friends or be particularly agreeable.
'Seems to me,'' says he, "it's up t-to you to t-t-tell us what you are d-d-doin' here." He was a little excited and stuttered like everything.
The boy looked puzzled. "Why do you speak like that?" he says. "I have not before heard English spoken that way."
Mark looked sort of taken back, and the rest of us laughed right out. The boy drew himself toward us and clenched his fists.
"You laugh at me," he said, taking a step toward us.
"No," says I, "we were laughin' at Mark Tidd. The joke was on him. He stutters, you know."
"Stutters? What is stutters?"
"Why, talks like you heard him. He can't help it. It's a sort of-of a disease," says I.
Mark got red and turned on me quick. "It ain't a disease," says he, "and if it is it would do you g-g-good to catch it."
"Never mind that," says the boy, with a wave of his hand as if it didn't matter much, anyhow. "What are you doing here?"
"Havin' a g-good time," says Mark. "Not that it's any of your b-business. What are you doin' here? We rent this hotel and p-pay for it. We've got a right to be here. What right have you to be prowlin' around it?"
The boy stepped forward and spoke angry- like in some foreign language. I guess he was mad and his English clean got away from him. He stopped of a sudden and says so we could understand:
"I will show you to speak with more respect-" Then he shut up quick and acted like he had let out something he didn't want to, and muttered to himself in his foreign language again.
"We're just as respectful to you as you are t- t-to us," says Mark. "We d-don't have to go out of our way to be r-r-respectful to any boy. You might as well understand that on the start."
The boy looked surprised. "Are you noble?" says he.
"N-noble?" says Mark, sort of puzzled. Then he grinned. "D'you mean do we b'long to the nobility? If that's it I calc'late we're as noble as they m-make 'em in these parts. I don't call to mind anybody that's nobler."
"Yes," says Binney, "any of us is entitled to be President of the United States-if we can get elected."
"Oh," says the boy. "I did not understand. I ask your pardon. I shall not again commit the same offense."
I didn't quite catch what offense he was talking about, but I guess Mark did, for he let on that it was all right as far as he was concerned.
"Say," says Plunk, "what nationality are you, anyway? Injun?"
The boy got so straight his back was like to bust and he looked as proud as the fellow who stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum.
"I am Samurai," he said.
"Don't recollect ever hearin' of 'em," says Plunk. "I've heard of Sioux and Pawnee and Iroquois and such, but Cooper nor nobody I've read mentioned Samurai."
"He m-means Japanese," says Mark, disgusted-like.
I guessed that myself, and had been wondering if he was the son of one of the men Mark and I had seen on the road that morning. I was just going to ask him when I thought I'd better wait and let Mark do the talking.
"You're a l-l-long ways from home," says Mark.
"Yes," says he, "a long way; a very long way."
"Alone?" says Mark.
The boy frowned, then he looked sort of undecided and uncomfortable. Finally he made up his mind to answer. "Yes," says he, "alone."
"Did you come way from Japan alone?" Plunk wanted to know.
" There are two ways to deal with a question one does not want to answer," says the boy. "One is to lie; the other is to keep silence. I do not lie."
"Um!" says I. "Guess that's bein' told to mind your own business."
"For a cent I'd take a punch at him," Plunk whispered.
"Best leave him alone. He might s'prise you," says I.
"My name," says Mark, "is Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd. My f-f-friends call me Mark Tidd."
"And mine," says the boy, " is-" He stopped a second. "You may call me Motu," says he.
"It seems s-sort of funny for a Japanese boy to be up here in the mountains all alone," says Mark, and then added, sly-like, "dropping daggers and taking fish and prowling around at night like he was afraid of something."
"I can tell you nothing. I am here because I must be here. Here I must stay until-until something happens that will let me go away. That is all I can say."
"Um!" says Mark Tidd. "Well, Motu, I guess you'll f-find it more comfortable sleepin' in a bed nights than prowlin' around; and easier and more f-fillin' to eat with us than to skirmish up food for yourself. There's l-lots of room, and lots of f-f-food." He stopped for a bit, and then went on, more polite than I'd ever heard him, and as dignified as Motu was. "It will give us pleasure to have you as our g- guest."
Motu's eyes shone, and he smiled. "I accept," says he. "You do me a great kindness. I am a stranger, far from home, and I cannot repay except with thanks."
"In this country," says Mark, "thanks are good money to pay for hospitality with any time."
And that's how we found the fellow who was sneaking around the hotel and scaring the daylights out of us. It's how he came to live there with us, and it's how we started a friendship with him that got to be one of the things that we're proudest of of anything in the world. Besides that, it's the reason why things happened to us that weren't very pleasant while they were going on, but which were plenty exciting-exciting and some dangerous. It's how Mark Tidd got another chance to show what a head he's got, and what backbone there is in him- and, I'm glad to say, it gave the rest of us a little chance to, and we took advantage of it in a way that we aren't ashamed of. And in the very end it brought us something that pretty nearly surprised us to death- something that I don't believe ever was had by four boys in the United States.
On the whole, it was a good thing that Motu's dog chased the porcupine and caught him-though the dog didn't think so for a day or two.