SUMO’S ARMY.

For a better understanding of what follows it will be well to explain
the situation of the castle of Yamagata, and its general construction.

It was located on the southern edge of Lake Inawashiro, and covered a
large extent of ground.

The main portion of the building was well preserved, consisting of a
line of massive stone battlements with a lofty tower at each end. In the
interior rose a shattered wall, all that was left of the extensive
partitions.

There were two entrances, one at the main drawbridge, still in good
condition, and another nearer the lake. The latter was choked up with
stones and various _débris_. A moat ran around three sides of the pile,
connecting with the lake, which touched the fourth wall.

The road ran past the front of the castle, and in the vicinity were
numerous huts occupied by coolies working in the rice fields. An
extensive forest of maple and willows lined a good part of the lake.
Rising in the distance to the north was the majestic peak of Bandai-San.

So much for description.

When Nattie and Mori heard the tramping of horses in the interior they
were entirely unprepared to see issue from the main entrance a cavalcade
composed of Ralph Black, Willis Round and Patrick Cronin, with Grant a
prisoner in the center.

The party was further augmented by Raiko and two brother coolies. For an
instant the mutual surprise was so great that neither side made a
movement. Nattie broke the spell by leaping from his _’rikisha_ with the
glad cry:

“Grant! Grant! I have found you at last!”

The words had scarcely left his lips when Ralph Black, who was in
advance, dashed the spurs into his horse, and whirled around. There was
a brief scramble and confusion, then the whole cavalcade rode
helter-skelter back into the castle.

Grant was dragged with them, being still tied hand and foot. An instant
later, an ancient portcullis, which had survived the ravages of time,
fell into place with a crash, completely blocking the entrance.

The sudden retreat of Ralph and his party left Nattie and Mori staring
after them as if powerless to move. Their inaction did not last long,
however. Wild with rage they darted across the drawbridge, but only to
find the portcullis–an arrangement of timbers joined across one another
after the manner of a harrow–barring their way.

Seizing one part of it, Nattie attempted to force himself through, but
he was met with a bullet that whizzed past his head in dangerous
proximity to that useful member. Simultaneous with the report there
appeared on the other side Ralph and the ex-bookkeeper.

Both carried revolvers, which they flourished menacingly. Deeming
discretion the better part of valor, Nattie and Mori dodged behind a
projecting corner of the massive entrance. A taunting laugh came to
their ears.

“Why don’t you come in and rescue your brother, you coward?” called out
the merchant’s son. “What are you afraid of?”

The epithet and the insulting tone was too much for Nattie’s hot young
blood, and he was on the point of rushing forth from his shelter,
regardless of consequences, when he was forcibly detained by Mori.

“Stop! Don’t be foolish,” explained the young Japanese. “He is only
trying to get a shot at you.”

“But I can’t stand being called a coward by a cur like that.”

“We will repay him in good time. We have them cornered, and all we have
to do is to see that they don’t get away while we send for the
authorities. Don’t ruin everything by your rashness.”

“Why don’t you storm the castle like the knights of old?” jeered Ralph,
just then. “We are waiting for you.”

“You are a scoundrel and a fool,” retorted Nattie, grimly, heeding his
companion’s advice. “We’ve got you in a trap, and we’ll mighty soon turn
you and your brother conspirators over to the law.”

“Talk is cheap,” replied a voice from within the castle, but there was
far less confidence in the tone. The speaker was Willis Round. Presently
Patrick made himself heard.

“Why don’t yez lift that fine-tooth comb thing and go out and fight
them?” he asked, impatiently. “It’s meself that can whip the whole lot,
although Oi shouldn’t be the one to tell it. Sally forth, Oi say, and
sweep the spalpanes intid the lake.”

It is unnecessary to say that his belligerent proposal was not adopted
by his more discreet companions. There was a murmur of voices, as if the
three were holding a consultation, then all became quiet.

In the meantime, Nattie and Mori looked about them. Back in the road
were the _karumayas_, still standing near their _jinrikishas_. One of
the porters was with them, but Sumo had disappeared. The absence of the
giant native struck the boys as peculiar, and they wondered whether he
had fled at the first shot.

Through the forest on the right they saw the outlines of several huts,
and running toward the castle were three or four natives, evidently
attracted by the revolver report. Turning their attention to themselves
Nattie and Mori found that they were in a peculiar situation.

Where they had taken refuge was a spot behind the projecting stone frame
of the main entrance. There the drawbridge extended out a few feet,
barely permitting room for two. There was no way of retreating from it
save across the bridge in plain view of those in the castle.

“Whew! We are nicely situated,” remarked Mori. “How are we going to
reach the road, I wonder?”

“I guess we’ll have to run for it,” replied Nattie, doubtfully.

“Yes, and get potted before we had gone three steps.”

“Wait, I’ll peep out and see if they are still on guard.”

Cautiously edging his way toward the center of the bridge, the lad
glanced into the interior of the castle. He dodged back with great
promptness, and said, with a grimace:

“That bloodthirsty Irishman is standing near the portcullis with two big
revolvers pointed this way.”

“Where are the others?”

“I couldn’t see them.”

Mori looked grave.

“They are up to some trick,” he said. “I wonder if there is any way by
which they could leave?”

“Not without they find a boat, or try to swim the lake.”

“Don’t be too sure of it. These old _shiros_ sometimes contain secret
passages leading from the interior. They could fool us nicely if they
should stumble across a tunnel running under the moat.”




“Confound it! we can’t remain here like two birds upon a limb,”
exclaimed Nattie, impatiently. “We’ll have to make a dash for it. Come
on; I’ll lead.”

He gathered himself together to dart across the fifteen feet of bridge,
but before he could start a loud hail came from the forest to the north
of the castle.

Looking in that direction, they saw Sumo advancing with a whole host of
natives. There were at least forty in the party, and each appeared to be
armed with some sort of weapon. There were ancient guns, long spears,
swords, reaping hooks and a number of plain clubs.

With this martial array at his heels the giant porter approached the
scene, bearing himself like a general at the head of a legion. As he
walked, he flourished the sword given him by Mori, and kept up a running
fire of orders to his impromptu command. At another time it would have
been comical in the extreme, but under the circumstances, both Nattie
and Mori hailed his appearance with joy.

Alas for their hopes!

“Courage, masters!” shouted Sumo. “Wait where you are. We will drive the
scoundrels from their stronghold. March faster, my braves; get ready to
charge.”

But at that interesting moment the little army arrived opposite the
entrance. “Bang, bang!” went Patrick’s revolvers, and in the twinkling
of an eye the whole forty natives took to their heels, bestrewing the
road with a choice collection of farming implements, ancient swords and
clubs.

Sumo had discretion enough to drop behind a stump, from which place of
safety he watched the flight of his forces with feelings too harrowing
to mention.