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Title: Yankee Boys in Japan - The Young Merchants of Yokohama
Author: Lewis, Henry Harrison
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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YANKEE BOYS IN JAPAN

[Illustration: "With a shrill cry trembling upon his lips, Nattie felt
himself falling through space." (See page 107)]


YANKEE BOYS IN JAPAN

OR

THE YOUNG MERCHANTS OF YOKOHAMA

BY

HENRY HARRISON LEWIS

AUTHOR OF

"The Valley of Mystery," "Won at West Point,"
"King of the Islands," etc.

[Illustration: Logo]

NEW YORK AND LONDON
STREET & SMITH. PUBLISHERS


Copyright, 1903

By STREET & SMITH


Yankee Boys in Japan



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                 PAGE
     I--Three Characters are Introduced                    7

    II--Nattie Arrives Opportunely                        15

   III--Grant is Mysterious                               23

    IV--The Attack of the Ronins                          33

     V--The Man with the Gladstone Bag                    41

    VI--Mr. Black Receives a Surprise                     50

   VII--Nattie Carries His Point                          59

  VIII--One Conspirator Defeated                          68

    IX--Disaster Threatens                                77

     X--Mori Shows His Generosity                         85

    XI--Nattie Makes a Discovery                          92

   XII--The Struggle in the "Go-down"                    101

  XIII--Willis Round Escapes                             108

   XIV--The Beginning of the Celebration                 116

    XV--The Wrestling Match                              124

   XVI--After the Victory                                131

  XVII--The Turning Up of a Bad Penny and its Results    138

 XVIII--Evil Tidings                                     148

   XIX--Bad News Confirmed                               154

    XX--The Man Beyond the Hedge                         162

   XXI--A Prisoner                                       170

  XXII--The Pursuit                                      177

 XXIII--Patrick Shows His Cleverness                     184

  XXIV--Grant Beards the Lion                            192

   XXV--A Plan, and its Failure                          200

  XXVI--Grant Attempts to Escape                         207

 XXVII--In Front of the Old Castle                       215

XXVIII--Sumo's Army                                      223

  XXIX--A Mysterious Disappearance                       230

   XXX--The Tragedy in the Tunnel                        239

  XXXI--Ralph Secures Reinforcements                     245

 XXXII--The Flashing of the Swords                       252

XXXIII--"Grant! Brother, is it You?"                     258

 XXXIV--The Mysterious Forces of Nature                  264

  XXXV--Retribution!                                     270

 XXXVI--Conclusion                                       276



YANKEE BOYS IN JAPAN.



CHAPTER I.

THREE CHARACTERS ARE INTRODUCED.


It was early in the afternoon of a July day. A warm sun beaming down
with almost tropical fervency glinted through the open windows of an
office in the foreign settlement of Yokohama, Japan. The room, a large
one, furnished with desks and chairs, and the various equipments of such
an apartment, contained a solitary occupant.

He--it was a youth of not more than nineteen years of age--was leaning
back in an easy, revolving chair, with his hands resting upon an account
book laid open on a light bamboo desk. His face, as seen in the glare of
the light, was peculiar. The expression was that termed old-fashioned by
some. He had queer, puckered eyes, and many wrinkles here and there, but
the chin was firm and resolute, and the forehead lofty--marks of
intelligence and great shrewdness.

There was something in the pose of the body, however, that did not
denote either gracefulness or symmetry. Presently he arose from his
chair and moved with a halting gait toward window opening into an outer
court. Then it became evident that he was a cripple.

One leg, the right, was shorter than its mate. There was also a droop in
the shoulders that betokened a lack of physical strength, or many years
of ill health. Notwithstanding this misfortune, the youth had a cheerful
nature. As he glanced out into the court, with its huge-leafed palms,
shady maples, and the ever-present bamboos, he whistled softly to
himself.

Presently the faint tinkling notes of a _samisen_--a native
square-shaped banjo--came to his ears from a neighboring building. Then
the rat-tat of the hourglass-shaped drum called _tsuzumi_ joined in, and
the air was filled with a weird melody.

With something like a sigh, the young man turned back to his work.
Bending over the book, he added up interminable columns of figures,
jotting down the results upon a pad at his elbow.

A stranger entering from the teeming street would have noted something
amiss in this office. He would have seen that the half-dozen desks, with
the exception of that being used by the solitary occupant, were thickly
covered with dust.

A delicate tracery of cobwebs held in its bondage the majority of the
chairs. There were others festooning the row of books and pasteboard
files upon a number of shelves lining the walls. Over in one corner was
an open fireplace, looking grim and rusted, and above a lacquered side
table swung a parrot cage, desolate and empty. It was a scene of disuse,
and it had its meaning.

It was the counting-room of John Manning, "Importer and Trader," as a
tarnished gilt sign over the outer door informed the passerby. But the
master of it, and of the huge warehouse back on the bay, had gone to his
last rest many months before.

He had been the sole owner of the business--which rumor said had fallen
into decay--and when he went to join his helpmate, he left two sons to
fight the battle of life. One, Grant Manning, we now see hard at work in
the old office. The other, Nathaniel Manning, or "Nattie," as he was
familiarly called by his associates, was at that moment on his way to
the office to join his brother.

Just fifteen years had John Manning conducted business as an importer
and trader in the foreign quarter of Yokohama. At first his firm had
prospered, but the coming of new people, and severe competition had
finally almost forced the American to the wall.

He died leaving his affairs in a muddle, and now Grant, after months of
delay and litigation, was puzzling his brain over the carelessly kept
books and accounts. Five years previous Nattie had been sent home to New
England to school. He was on the point of entering Harvard when the word
came that his father had suddenly passed away.

In the letter Grant had added that but little remained of their father's
money, and that his presence was also needed to help settle the
accounts. For several months after Nattie's arrival in Japan nothing
could be done. At last the elder brother had cleared up matters
sufficiently for the boys to see where they stood.

On the day on which this story opens Grant had arranged an appointment
with his brother, and was now awaiting his coming with the patience
characteristic of him.

The task he had taken upon himself was not the lightest in the world.
The books were in almost hopeless confusion, but by dint of hard
application Grant had finally made out a trial balance sheet. As he was
adding the finishing touches to this, he suddenly heard the sounds of an
animated controversy in the street.

An exclamation uttered in a familiar voice caused him to hastily leave
his desk and open the door leading outside. As he did so a couple of
_jinrikishas_--two-wheeled carriages pulled by coolies--came into sudden
collision directly in front of the office. Each vehicle was occupied by
a fashionably dressed lad.

They were gesticulating angrily, and seemed on the point of coming to
blows. The _kurumayas_, or _jinrikisha_ men, were also bent on
hostilities, and the extraordinary scene was attracting a dense crowd of
blue-costumed natives. Rushing bareheaded into the street, Grant grasped
one of the lads by the arm, and exclaimed:

"What under the sun does this mean, Nattie? What is the cause of this
disgraceful row?"

"It's that cad, Ralph Black," was the wrathful reply. "He made his
_kurumaya_ run the _'rikisha_ in front of mine on purpose to provoke a
quarrel. He will have enough of it if he don't look out."

"Not from you, Nattie Manning!" insolently called out the youth in the
other vehicle. "You are very high and mighty for a pauper."

Nattie gave a leap from his carriage with the evident intention of
wreaking summary vengeance upon his insulter, but he was restrained by
Grant.

Ralph Black, a stocky-built youth of eighteen, with an unhealthy
complexion, probably thought that discretion was the better part of
valor as he hastily bade his _kurumaya_ carry him from the spot.

The brothers gave a final glance after the disappearing _jinrikisha_,
and then entered the office, leaving the crowd of straw-sandaled natives
to disperse before the efforts of a tardy policeman.

"Nattie, when will you ever learn to avoid these disgraceful rows?"
remarked Grant, seating himself at his desk. "Since your return from the
States you have quarreled with Ralph Black four or five times."

"I acknowledge it, brother, but, really, I can't help it," replied
Nattie, throwing himself into a chair. "The confounded cad forces
himself upon me whenever he can. He is insolent and overbearing, and I
won't stand it. You know I never liked Ralph. Before I left for the
States we were always rowing. He is a mean, contemptible sneak, and if
there is anything on earth I hate it is that."

The lad's face flushed with passion, and as he spoke he struck the arm
of the chair with his clinched fist. In both appearance and actions, the
brothers were totally different. Stalwart for his age, clean-limbed, a
handsome face, crowned by dark, clustering hair, Nattie would have
attracted admiration anywhere.

As stated before, Grant was a cripple, deformed and possessed of a
quaint, old-fashioned countenance, but readers of human nature would
have lingered longer over the breadth of his brow, and the kindly,
resolute chin. Nattie would have delighted athletes, but his elder
brother--a truce to descriptions, let their characters speak for
themselves as the story progresses.

Grant smiled reprovingly. He had a great liking for Nattie, but he
regretted his impulsiveness. None knew better than he that the lad was
all right in his heart, but he needed a rudder to his ship of life.

"I suppose it is hard to bear sometimes," he acknowledged. "It is a pity
that you are compelled to antagonize the fellow just when we are placed
in such a predicament. I have gone over the books from end to end, but I
declare I can't find any further references to the payment of the debt."

"We are sure father settled it, anyway."

"But we can't prove it, more's the pity. The last entry in father's
personal account book is this: 'Paid this date the sum of five thousand,
six hundred dollars ($5,600.00) to----' it ends there." Grant's voice
lowered as he added: "At that moment he fell from his chair, you know,
and died before help could come."

Both were silent for a while, then Nattie reached for the book in
question, and glanced over it. Finally he said, with decision:

"That entry certainly means that father paid back Mr. Black the debt of
five thousand dollars, with six per cent. interest for two years, on the
day of his death."

"There isn't the slightest doubt of it in my mind. I cannot find the
faintest trace of any similar debt in the books. But Mr. Black swears
the amount was not paid, and he threatens to sue the estate."

"Nice work for a reputable English exporting merchant. But I don't put
it above him. The sire of such a son as Ralph Black would do almost
anything, in my opinion."



CHAPTER II.

NATTIE ARRIVES OPPORTUNELY.


"I am afraid he will push us to the wall if he can," replied Grant,
taking up the balance sheet. "If Mr. Black compels us to pay, or rather
repay the debt, it will leave us penniless. This little trouble with
Ralph will probably cause him to take immediate action. Ralph has great
influence over his father, you know."

"How does the estate stand?" asked Nattie, flecking a speck of dust from
his carefully creased trousers.

"Badly enough. Briefly speaking, our liabilities, not counting the Black
debt, are seventy-three thousand, eight hundred and ten dollars and
forty-three cents, and the available assets, including everything--this
building, the warehouse, and our home on the heights--are exactly eighty
thousand dollars."

"Then we would have over six thousand dollars to the good if we could
prove that father had really paid the English importing merchant?"

"Yes, in round numbers. Six thousand one hundred and eighty-nine dollars
and fifty-seven cents. But there is no use in beating around the bush,
Nattie. We must face the issue squarely. We can't prove it, and we are
ruined."

The younger brother sprang to his feet and paced restlessly up and down
the office. There was a gleam in his eyes that boded ill for certain
persons if they should ever be placed in his power. Halting abruptly in
front of Grant, he said, passionately:

"It's a confounded shame that we should lose everything. Father was
fifteen years building up this trade, and now it must all go because of
that villain's treachery. You have gone over the books and know how the
business stands. If we had money could we continue the business with any
success?"

"Well, I should say so," replied Grant, earnestly. "We have been agents
and correspondents of the best American houses. Why, when the business
stopped, father had orders for almost one hundred thousand dollars'
worth of petroleum, flour, calico, sugar and machinery. Then there are
the exports. The firm of Broadhead & Company, of Philadelphia, wanted a
consignment of rice and silk."

"You are well known to the government people also."

"None better. I can say without boasting that I stand higher with them
than any other foreigner in business here. There is Yoshisada Udono, the
secretary to the Minister of War; and the sub-admiral of the navy,
Tanaka Tamotsu. I have some influence with both, and in case of
supplies I think I can hold my own. But what is the use of talking. We
haven't the money, nor can we get it."

Nattie walked over to the window leading into the court, and glanced
thoughtfully at the boxed walks, now overgrown with weeds. He plucked a
sprig of bamboo, and returned to the center of the room. There was a
smile upon his face.

"I have a plan, brother, which may work and may not," he said. "It can
be tried."

Grant leaned back and eyed him in silence.

"You remember Mori Okuma?" continued Nattie.

"Of course. I know him well. He returned to Japan with you. He has been
at Yale for several years. What about him?"

"Coming over on the steamer I became very chummy with him. He is as nice
a Japanese youth as you can find in sight of the volcano of Fuji San,
which about includes the islands, you know. Well, his people are dead,
and he is the sole heir to over fifty thousand dollars in good hard
money."

"And you propose?"

"To ask him to go in with us," replied Nattie, quietly. "He told me he
wished to invest his wealth if possible. He thought of returning to the
States, but he can be talked out of that. What do you think of it?"

Grant was visibly excited. He arose from his chair and paced back and
forth with queer little steps. He ran one white hand over his brow in a
way he had. His face lost some of its careworn expression, and he
finally became radiant with hope.

"Nattie, if we can induce him to form a firm with us our fortunes are
made," he said, eagerly. "Twenty thousand dollars, not half of his
capital, will square up everything and place us in running order. Just
think of it! It will mean the defeat of many ill-wishers; it will save
father's name from the disgrace of a failure, and it'll keep the old
house going. When can you see him? How about bringing him here this
afternoon? I can show him the books in a jiffy."

"I declare, brother, this is really the first time I ever saw you
excited," laughed Nattie. "Why, you positively look like another fellow.
Just bide here for a while, and I'll look Mori up. He'll be down to the
tea house near the bank, I suppose."

He brushed his sleeves where dust from the desk had soiled them,
jauntily placed his cork sun-helmet upon his head, and sauntered from
the offices, leaving Grant still trotting up and down in unwonted
animation. The latter was alert and boyish. His face actually
beamed--it was wonderful how the hope had changed him.

The mere thought that money might be secured and the house--his father's
firm in which he had loved to labor--would be saved from the disgrace of
bankruptcy was enough. The youth--he was nothing more in years--whistled
a merry air, and limped to the window leading into the street.

Drawing the curtain aside, he glanced forth, then started back with an
exclamation of surprise.

"Ah, they are at work early," he muttered. "I fancy the son's
malevolence has brought this call."

A knock sounded at the door. Grant threw it open, and bowed politely to
a man and a youth standing upon the threshold. The former, an austere
Englishman, with dark side whiskers and a peculiar pallor of face,
entered first. He was followed by a stocky-built youth, clad in
fashionable garments. It was father and son, comprising the well-known
firm of importers and traders, Jesse Black & Company.

Ralph gave Grant a malicious glance and seemed particularly pleased at
something. The elder Black marched majestically to a seat near the
center of the desk, and, after brushing the dust from it, settled
himself with a grunt. All this with not a word.

The head of the firm glanced half contemptuously at the many evidences
of disuse surrounding him; then he drew from an inner pocket a bill with
several lines of writing upon it. This he handed to Grant.

"I suppose you know why I am here?" he asked, in a harsh voice.

"I believe I can guess," quietly replied the cripple.

"That bill will tell you. This estate owes me five thousand, six hundred
dollars, not counting later interest. I need the money. Can you pay it
to-day?"

"Mr. Black, you know I cannot. It is simply impossible. I am trying to
get affairs straightened up so that I can settle father's debts, but I
am not quite ready."

"Make him pay or threaten to sue," muttered Ralph, in a voice intended
for his father's ears.

Grant overheard the words, however. His eyes, generally so gentle,
flashed, and he turned sharply on the ill-favored youth.

"I am conducting this conversation with Mr. Black," he said, sternly. "I
understand why this note has been presented to-day. It is your doings.
Simply because you had a quarrel with my brother, and he threatened to
chastise you, you retaliate by demanding this money. If the truth was
known, the entire debt was paid by my father on the day of his death."

For a moment a silence death-like in its intensity followed this bold
speech. Father and son glared at Grant as if hardly believing their
ears. The elder merchant's pallor seemed to increase, and he furtively
moistened his lips with his tongue.

Ralph's face paled, and then flushed until the cords stood out in his
forehead. Clinching his fists he strode over to where the cripple was
standing near the bamboo desk.

"What's that you say?" he demanded, hoarsely. "Do you know what you
mean, you puny wretch? It is an accusation of fraud, that's what it is.
Retract those words, or I'll cram the lie down your throat."

If Grant had faults, cowardice was not one of them. He thoroughly
realized that he would be no match in a tussle with Ralph Black, but
that fact did not daunt his spirit.

"If you are coward enough to strike me, go ahead," he replied, calmly.
"I will retract nothing. I say that I fully believe my father paid your
debt on the day of his death. I know----"

He was interrupted by Ralph. Wild with rage, the youth reached out and
grasped Grant with his left hand, then he raised the other, and was on
the point of aiming a blow at him when the front door suddenly flew
back. Two young men stood in the opening.

There was an exclamation of amazement, which died away in a note of
wrath, then one of the newcomers darted forward, and in the twinkling of
an eye Master Ralph found himself lying under a tall desk considerably
confused and hurt, both bodily and in feelings.

Then Nattie, for it was he, turned on Mr. Black, who tried to speak, but
only stammering words came from his lips. The merchant had watched the
affair with dilated eyes. He remained motionless until he saw his son
stricken down; then, with a cry, he snatched up a heavy ruler lying upon
the bamboo desk.

As he raised it to strike at Nattie, the latter's companion, who had
hitherto remained in the doorway, ran forward and grasped his arm. There
was a brief struggle, in which both Nattie and the newcomer
participated, then the Blacks, father and son, found themselves forced
into the street.

[Illustration: "As Black raised the heavy ruler to strike at Nattie the
latter's companion ran forward and grasped his arm." (See page 22)]



CHAPTER III.

GRANT IS MYSTERIOUS.


The occupants of the office waited for a few moments to see if the
English merchant and his hopeful offspring cared to continue the
scrimmage, but no attempt was made to open the door. Nattie glanced
through the window, and saw them retreating up the street as fast as
they could walk.

"Well, did you ever see the beat of that?" he finally exclaimed, turning
back to his companions. "What is the meaning of it all, brother?"

Grant, who was still fuming with indignation, explained the affair in
detail. Presently he quieted down and concluded by saying, regretfully:

"I am very sorry it occurred. To have such a row in this office is
simply disgraceful. It also means an immediate suit for that debt, and
any amount of trouble."

"We'll see if it can't be prevented," replied Nattie, cheerfully. "This
is Mori Okuma, brother. You remember him."

The lame youth turned with outstretched hand and a smile of welcome to
his brother's friend. The young Japanese, whose modest garb and quiet
manner proclaimed the high-class native, responded cordially to the
greeting. He appeared to be not more than eighteen years of age. He had
the kindly eyes and gentle expression of his race.

"I am greatly obliged to you for your assistance," said Grant. "But I
must apologize for such a scene. It is unfortunate that you found this
generally respectable office the theatre for a brawl. Believe me, it was
entirely unsolicited on my part."

"Oh, Mori don't mind that," broke in Nattie, with a laugh. "I'll wager a
_yen_ it reminded him of old times. He was center rush in the Yale
football team, you know."

Mori smiled, and shook a warning finger at his friend.

"I must confess that it did me good to see that old scoundrel thrown
into the street," he said, naïvely. "I know him well. My father had
dealings with him several years ago. And the son is a savage, too. He
intended to strike you, the coward."

"I'll settle all scores with him one of these days," said Nattie,
grimly. Then he added, in a businesslike voice: "I have spoken to Mori
about the firm, brother. He thinks favorably of the idea, and is willing
to consult with us on the subject. Suppose you show him the books and
explain matters."

"I will do that with the greatest pleasure," replied Grant, smilingly.
"I presume my brother has told you about how we stand, Mr. Okuma?"

"Oh, bother formalities!" exclaimed Nattie, with characteristic
impatience. "Call him Mori. He is one of us."

The young Japanese bowed courteously.

"We are friends," he said, "and I hope we will soon be partners."

The lame youth fervently echoed the wish. Calling attention to the
balance sheet he had recently drawn up, he explained the items in
detail, proving each statement by ample documents. Mori listened
intelligently, nodding his approval from time to time.

Presently Nattie slipped out into the street, returning after a while
with a _musmee_, a native tea-house waitress. The girl, _petite_ and
graceful in her light-blue robe and voluminous _obi_, carried in her
hands a lacquered tray, upon which were three dainty cups and a pot of
tea.

Sinking to her knees near the desk, the _musmee_ placed the tray on the
floor, and proceeded to serve the fragrant liquid. Work was stopped to
partake of the usual afternoon refreshments, and the boys chatted on
various subjects for five or ten minutes.

Finally Nattie gave the _musmee_ a few _sen_ (Japanese cents) and
dismissed her. She performed several elaborate courtesies, and withdrew
as silently as she had come. The task of explaining the affairs of the
firm of John Manning was resumed.

"Now you understand everything," said Grant, half an hour later. "You
can see that with fresh capital we should carry on quite an extensive
business. The Black debt, which I explained to you, has crippled us so
that we will have to fail if we can't secure money. We believe it was
paid, but unfortunately, there are no traces of the receipt."

"I hardly think Mr. Black would hesitate to do anything for money,"
replied Mori, thoughtfully. "Your esteemed father undoubtedly settled
the debt."

"We have written contracts with the twelve American houses on this
list," continued Grant. "Then there is the chance of securing that order
from the government for the Maxim revolving cannon and the fifteen
million cartridges. We also have a standing order for lacquered ware
with four New York firms. In fact, we would have ample business for
eight months ahead."

"There's money in it, Mori," chimed in Nattie. "I can't explain things
like Grant, but I believe we can carry the majority of trade in this
city and Tokio. What do you think of it?"

"I am quite impressed," replied the Japanese youth, with a smile. "I
have no doubt that we can do an extensive business. You will pardon me
if I defer giving you an answer until to-morrow at this hour. As I
understand it, you wish me to invest twenty thousand _yen_ against your
experience and the orders on hand?"

"And our contracts," quickly replied Grant. "They are strictly
first-class."

"And the contracts," repeated Mori, bowing. "They are certainly
valuable. I think you can rely upon a favorable answer to-morrow. Until
then I will say _sayonara_."

"_Sayonara_. We will be here at four o'clock to-morrow afternoon," said
Nattie and Grant, seeing their new friend to the door.

"Now, I call that settled," exclaimed the former, tossing his helmet in
the air and adroitly catching it on the end of his cane. "I am certain
Mori will go in with us. He's a thoroughly good fellow, and can be
depended on."

Grant was not so demonstrative, but the happy expression on his face
spoke volumes. He bustled about the office, restoring the books to the
safe, closed the various windows, and then announced, cheerily:

"I think we deserve a little vacation, Nattie. Suppose we knock off now
and have an early dinner out at home. Then we can go to the theatre
to-night. Horikoshi Shu is going to play in the 'Forty-seven Ronins.'"

His brother shrugged his shoulders as if the latter prospect was not
entirely to his taste.

"I confess I can't see much in Japanese theatricals since my visit to
the States," he replied, "but we'll take it in. Dinner first, eh? Well,
come along."

Leaving the office to the care of a watchman, they walked down the
street toward the custom house. Grant recognized and bowed to a score of
persons within the few blocks. It was evident that he was well known in
the foreign mercantile circles of Yokohama.

"They will be surprised when they hear that we have resumed business,"
remarked Nattie, with a grin.

"It will be unpleasant news to some," replied his brother, dryly. "If we
have the success I anticipate I wouldn't be astonished if we found the
whole crew banded against us. Black & Company can influence the three
German houses and probably others."

Nattie snapped his fingers in the air in defiance. They presently came
to a _jinrikisha_ stand, and selecting two vehicles promising comfort,
were soon whirling away homeward. The distance to the suburb on the
heights where the Mannings lived was fully three _ris_, or more than six
miles, but the _karumayas_ made little of the task.

These men, the "cab horses" of Japan, clad in their short tunics, straw
sandals, and huge mushroom-shaped hats of the same material, possess
wonderful energy. They think nothing of a couple of miles at full speed,
and the apparently careless manner in which they tread their way
through mazes of crowded streets is awe-inspiring to the foreign
visitor.

It was an old story to Grant and Nattie, however, and they leaned back
against the soft cushions in comfort. After passing the custom house the
_karumayas_ turned into the Japanese town. Here the scene changed
instantly.

Here the broad roads dwindled to narrow lanes lined with quaint wooden
shops, apparently half paper-glazed windows. Broad banners bearing the
peculiar native characters fluttered in the breeze. Here and there could
be seen the efforts of an enterprising Japanese merchant to attract
trade by means of enormous signs done in comical English.

The _'rikishas_ whirled past crowded _sake_, or wine shops, with
red-painted tubs full of queer liquor; past crockery stores with stock
displayed on the floors; past tea houses from which came the everlasting
strains of the _samisen_ and _koto_; on, on, at full speed until at last
a broad open way was gained which led to the heights.

Espying a native newsboy trotting by with his tinkling bell attached to
his belt, Nattie called him, and purchased a copy of the English paper,
the Japan _Mail_.

"I'll see what Brinkley has to say about the trade," he smiled.
"To-day's work has interested me in the prices of tea, and machinery,
and cotton goods, and all of that class of truck. Hello! raw silk has
gone up several cents. Rice is stationary, and tea is a trifle cheaper."

"That's good," called out Grant from the other _'rikisha_. "I can see my
way to a good cargo for San Francisco if this deal with Mori comes to
pass. Any mention made of purchases?"

"Black & Company are down for a full cargo of woollen and cotton goods,
and the Berlin Importing Company advertise a thousand barrels of flour
by next steamer."

"We can beat them on prices. They have to buy through a middle man, and
we have a contract straight with Minneapolis. I'll see what----"

"Jove! here's something that touches me more than musty contracts,"
interrupted Nattie, eagerly scanning the paper. "The Committee on Sports
of the Strangers' Club intend to hold a grand celebration on the seventh
of July to celebrate the anniversary of Commodore Perry's arrival in the
Bay of Yeddo, and the first wedge in the opening of Japan to the
commerce of the foreign world. Subscriptions are asked."

"We will give five hundred dollars," promptly replied Grant. "In a case
like this we must not be backward."

"That's good policy. You hold up the honor of our house at that end,
and I'll see that we don't suffer in the field."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, there are to be athletic sports galore," chuckled Nattie, in high
glee. "A very novel programme is to be arranged. It will consist of
ancient Japanese games and modern European matches. There is to be a
grand wrestling contest among the foreign residents. That suits me clear
down to the ground. And the funny thing about it is that no one is to
know the name of his antagonist until he enters the ring."

"That will certainly add to the interest."

"I should say so. I am going to send my name in to the secretary
to-morrow. Let me see; this is the second of July. That means four days
for practice. I'll secure old Matsu Doi as a trainer. Whoop! there will
be loads of fun, and--what under the sun is the matter?"

Grant had arisen in his _'rikisha_ and was staring back at a
shabby-appearing native house they had just passed. For the purpose of
taking a short cut to the road leading up the bluff the _karumayas_ had
turned into a squalid part of the native town. The streets were narrow
and winding, the buildings lining them mere shells of unpainted wood.

"What is the matter?" repeated Nattie, stopping the carriage.

Instead of replying, Grant tumbled from his _jinrikisha_ with surprising
agility, and stepped behind a screen in front of a rice shop. Then he
beckoned to his mystified brother, and with a peremptory gesture ordered
the _karumayas_ to continue on up the street.



CHAPTER IV.

THE ATTACK OF THE RONINS.


"What on earth is the matter with you?" repeated Nattie, for the third
time. "What have you seen?"

"Sh-h-h! there he is now," replied Grant, peeping out from behind the
screen. "I thought as much."

The younger lad followed his brother's example, and peered forth. A few
rods down the crooked street was a small tea house which bore the worst
reputation of any in Yokohama. It was noted as being the resort for a
class of dissolute Samurai, or Ronins, as they are generally termed.

These men, relics of the Ancient Order of Warriors, are scattered over
the country in cities and towns. Some have finally exchanged the sword
for the scales or plowshare, but there are others wedded to a life of
arrogant ease, who have refused to work.

Too proud to beg, they are reduced to one recourse--thievery and
ruffianism. The strict police laws of Japan keep them in general
control, but many midnight robberies and assassinations are properly
laid to their door.

On glancing from his place of concealment, Nattie saw three men, whose
dress and air of fierce brutality proclaimed them as Ronins, emerge from
the tea house.

They were immediately followed by a stocky-built young man, clad in
English costume. It was Ralph Black. He cast a cautious glance up and
down the street, then set out at a rapid walk for the Bund, or foreign
settlement.

Nattie gave a low whistle of surprise.

"Well, I declare!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible he has fallen so low as
to frequent such a place?"

"I hardly think so," replied Grant.

"What was he doing in there, then?"

"I will tell you. He is out of sight now. Come, we'll catch up with the
_'rikishas_. When we were passing that tea house I chanced to look
through the window. Imagine my surprise when I saw Ralph engaged in
close conversation with a villainous-looking Ronin. It struck me at once
that something was up, so I motioned you to follow me from the
carriages. What do you think of it?"

"It is deuced queer."

"Ralph Black is unscrupulous. He hates both of us, and in my opinion he
wouldn't stop at anything to avenge himself."

"Then you think?"

"That he is arranging to have us assaulted some night by those
villainous Ronins," replied Grant, gravely.

Nattie halted, and, clinching his fists, glanced back as if minded to
return.

"If I thought so I'd settle it now," he said, angrily.

"Nonsense. What could you do in a row with three or four cutthroats? It
is only a supposition of mine. I would be sorry to believe that even
Ralph Black would conspire in such a cowardly manner. Still we should
keep an eye out during the next week or so, anyway. Here are the
_'rikishas_. Jump in, and we'll go home."

The balance of the trip to the bluff was made without incident. By the
time the Manning residence was reached the incident had been displaced
by something of apparent greater importance. Nattie's mind was filled
with thoughts of the triumphs he intended to win in the wrestling match
on the seventh of July, and Grant was equally well occupied in the
impending resurrection of the importing firm.

The home of the Mannings--that occupied by them in summer--was a typical
Japanese house. It was low and squat, consisted of one story only, and
the walls were of hard wood eked out with bamboo ornaments. The numerous
windows were glazed with oiled paper, and the roof was constructed of
tiles painted a dark red. The grounds surrounding the structure were
spacious, and in the rear stretched a garden abloom with richly-colored
native plants. Ancient trees, maple, weeping willow, and fir afforded
ample shade from the afternoon sun, and here and there were scattered
stone vases and Shinto images. A moderately-sized lake occupied the
center of the garden.

Ranging along the front of the house was a raised balcony to which led a
short flight of steps. Ascending to this, the boys removed their shoes,
exchanging them for straw sandals. Passing through an open door, they
entered the front room of the dwelling.

A servant clad in white garments immediately prostrated himself and
awaited the commands of his masters. Grant briefly ordered dinner served
at once. Other servants appeared, and by the shifting of a couple of
panels (Japanese walls are movable) the apartment was enlarged.

The floor was of matting--delicate stuffed wicker an inch thick, and of
spotless hue--and the entire room was devoid of either chair or table.
To an American boy the preparations for dinner would have been
surprising, to say the least. But Grant and Nattie were thoroughly
conversant with native styles, and the only emotion they displayed was
eager anticipation.

In lieu of tables were two little boxes about a foot square, the lids of
which were lifted and laid on the body of the box, with the inner
surface up. This was japanned red, and the sides of the box a soft
blue. Inside were stored rice bowl, vegetable dish, and chopstick case.

At the announcement of the meal, Grant and his brother seated themselves
upon the floor and prepared to partake of the food set before them with
equally as much appetite as if the feast had been spread in American
fashion.

Both boys had lived the most of their youthful lives in Japan, and they
had fallen into the quaint ways of the people with the adaptability of
the young. Mr. Manning had early taken unto himself the literal meaning
of the old saw, "When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do," and his
sons had dutifully followed his example.

After dinner the boys sat for a while on the front balcony, and then
prepared for the theatre. _Jinrikishas_ were summoned, and a rapid
journey made to the home of native acting in Yokohama.

The peculiarity of Japanese theatricals is that a play generally
commences in the morning, and lasts until late at night. For this reason
our heroes found the building comfortably filled with parties at that
moment eating their simple evening repast.

The theatre was a large square structure, situated in the center of a
small park. The interior was decorated with innumerable paper lanterns,
and covering the walls were enormous, gaudily-painted banners setting
forth in Japanese characters the fame of the performers.

The stage filled one entire side, and was equipped with a curtain
similar to those found in American theatres. There were no wings,
however, and no exit except through the auditorium. On the remaining
three sides were balconies, and near the ceiling was a familiar gallery
filled with the native small boys.

The floor was barren of chairs, being divided into square pens, each
holding four people. The partitions were one foot in height, and
elevated gangways traversed the theatre at intervals, permitting of the
passage of the audience to their respective boxes.

As usual in all Japanese structures, the spectators removed their shoes
at the entrance, being provided with sandals by the management for the
time being. The last act of the drama was commenced shortly after the
boys reached their inclosure, and it proceeded without intermission
until ten o'clock.

Grant and Nattie left ten minutes before the end for the purpose of
avoiding the crowd. There were a number of people in front of the
building and innumerable _'rikishas_ with their attendant _karumayas_.
As the boys emerged from the door they were accosted by two men dressed
as coolies. Each exhibited a comfortable carriage, and their services
were accepted without question.

"What shall it be, home?" asked Nattie, with a yawn.

"Yes, we may as well return. There is nothing going on in town" replied
Grant. "I have a little writing to do, anyway."

Stepping into his vehicle, he bade the man make good time to the bluff.
Both boys were preoccupied, and they paid little attention to the crowd
through which they passed. They also failed to see a signal given by one
of the supposed _karumayas_ to a group of three natives standing near
the corner of the theatre.

The easy swinging motion of the _jinrikishas_ lulled their occupants to
rest, and both Grant and his brother were on the verge of dozing before
a dozen blocks had been covered.

The night was dark, it being the hour before the appearance of a new
moon. Thick clouds also added to the obscurity, blotting out even the
feeble rays of the starry canopy. A feeling of rain was in the air.

Down in the quarter where lay the foreign settlement a soft glow came
from the electric lights. The deep-toned note of a steamer's whistle
sounded from the bay. The bell of a modern clock tolled the half hour,
and before the echoing clangor had died away the two _'rikishas_
carrying the boys came to a sudden stop.

Nattie aroused himself with a start and glanced around half angrily at
being disturbed. Before he could utter a protest or ask the reason for
the halt both coolies unceremoniously disappeared into a neighboring
house.

Grant had barely time to notice that they were in a narrow way devoid of
lanterns, when there came a rush of footsteps from behind, and three
dark figures made an attack upon the carriage.

There was a vicious whiz of a heavy sound, and the right edge of
Nattie's _'rikisha_ body was neatly lopped off. The crashing of wood
brought the boys to a realization of their position. They knew at once
that they were being attacked by thugs.

With an exclamation of excitement, Nattie leaped from his carriage.
Another spring, and he was close to Grant. Then, with incredible
quickness, the resolute lad produced a revolver from an inner pocket and
fired point-blank at the nearest Ronin.

[Illustration: "With incredible quickness, Nattie produced a revolver
from an inner pocket and fired point-blank, at the nearest Ronin."
(See page 40)]



CHAPTER V.

THE MAN WITH THE GLADSTONE BAG.


The extreme gloom and the excitement of the moment caused Nattie to aim
badly, and the bullet whizzed past the object for which it was intended,
striking the ground several paces away instead. The shot had one result,
however.

It caused the assailants to hesitate. One even started to retreat, but
he was checked by a guttural word from the evident leader. The slight
delay was instantly taken advantage of by the boys. Still holding his
weapon in readiness for use, Nattie hurriedly wheeled both _'rikishas_
between them and the Ronins.

Thus a barricade was formed behind which Grant and Nattie sought refuge
without loss of time. As yet, not a word had been exchanged. In fact,
the events had occurred in much less time than it takes to describe
them. Now Grant took occasion to remark in tones of deep conviction:

"This is Ralph Black's work, Nattie. It is the sequel to my discovery of
him in that low tea house this afternoon. He has bribed these cutthroats
to assault us."

"No doubt. But we can't stop to probe the why and wherefore now. They
intend to attack us again. It's a good job I brought this gun with me
to-night. I have six shots left, and I'll put them to use if--look out!
they are coming!"

While speaking, he noticed something stealthily advancing through the
darkness. He took rapid aim, but before he could pull the trigger he was
struck upon the shoulder by a stone which came from in front. The force
of the blow was sufficient to send him staggering against one of the
_'rikishas_. He dropped the revolver, but it was snatched up by Grant.

The lame youth instantly used it, firing hastily through the wheel of
one of the carriages. A shrill cry of pain came from the shadows, then a
loud shout sounded at the lower end of the street. Twinkling lights
appeared, and then echoing footsteps indicated that relief was at hand.

The thugs were not slow in realizing that retreat was advisable under
the circumstances. They gave the boys a parting volley of stones, then
all three disappeared into an adjacent house.

"Are you injured, brother?" anxiously asked Grant, bending over Nattie.

"No; a bruise, that's all. The police are coming at last, eh? They must
have heard the shots. What are you going to say about this affair? Will
you mention your suspicions?"

"No; it would be useless. We have no proof that he set these men upon
us. We must bide our time and watch the scamp. Hush! they are here."

A squad of Japanese police, carrying lanterns, dashed up at a run. Their
leader, a sub-lieutenant, wearing a uniform similar to that of a French
gendarme, flashed his light over the capsized _'rikishas_ and their late
occupants; then he asked the cause of the trouble in a respectful tone.

"We have been waylaid and attacked by three Ronins bent on robbery,"
replied Grant, in the native tongue. "We were on our way home from the
theatre and while passing through this street were set upon and almost
murdered."

"Which way did the scoundrels go?" hastily queried the lieutenant.

"Through that house. The _karumayas_ fled in that direction also."

Leaving two of his men with the boys, the leader started in pursuit of
the fugitives. No time was wasted in knocking for admission. One of the
policemen placed his shoulder to the door and forced it back without
much effort.

A moment later the sounds of crashing partitions and a glare of light
from within indicated that a strict search was being carried on. Grant
and Nattie waited a moment; then the latter said:

"Suppose we go home. We might hang around here for hours. If they catch
the rascals they can call for us at the house."

Grant favored the suggestion. He told one of the policemen to inform the
lieutenant of their address, then he and his brother secured a couple of
_'rikishas_ in an adjacent street, and were soon home once more. The
excitement of the night attack had driven sleep from them, so they
remained out upon the cool balcony and discussed the events of the day
until a late hour.

After viewing the situation from all sides, it was finally decided that
a waiting policy should prevail. To boldly accuse Ralph Black of such a
nefarious plot without stronger proof was out of the question.

"If any of the Ronins or the _karumayas_ are captured, they may be
induced to confess," said Grant. "In that case we can do something.
Otherwise, we will have to bide our time."

Both boys arose early on the following morning and started for the
office immediately after breakfast. They called in at the main police
station on their way downtown and learned that nothing had been seen of
the Ronins or _jinrikisha_ men.

The officer in charge promised to have the city scoured for the
wretches, and apologized profusely for the outrage. On reaching the
office, Grant called in several coolies and set them to work cleaning up
the interior. By noon the counting-room had lost its former appearance
of neglect. The desks and other furniture were dusted, the books put in
order, and everything arranged for immediate work.

At the "tiffin," or midday lunch hour, the brothers dropped in at a
well-known restaurant on Main Street. As they entered the front door a
youth arose hastily from a table in the center and disappeared through a
side entrance. It was Ralph Black.

"If that don't signify guilt, I'm a chicken," remarked Nattie, with a
grim smile. "He's a fool."

"All he needs is rope enough," replied Grant, in the same tone, "and he
will save us the trouble of hanging him. I suppose he was ashamed or
afraid to face us after last night's treacherous work."

On returning to the counting-room they found the young Japanese, Mori,
awaiting them. To say that he was cordially greeted is but half the
truth. There was an expression upon his face that promised success, and
Nattie wrung his hand until the genial native begged him to desist.

"My answer is ready," he announced, producing a bundle of papers. "I
suppose you are anxious to know what it is?"

"You don't need to tell us," chuckled Nattie, "I can read it in your
eyes. Shake, old boy! Success to the new firm!"

"You have guessed aright," said Mori. "And I echo with all my heart what
you say. Success to the new firm of Manning Brothers & Okuma. If you
will come with me to your consul we will ratify the contract without
loss of time."

Grant's eyes were moist as he shook hands with the young Japanese.

"You are indeed a friend," he exclaimed, fervently. "You will lose
nothing by it, I assure you. If hard work and constant application to
duty will bring us success, I will guarantee that part of it."

An hour later the newly-formed firm of importers and traders was an
acknowledged fact. In the presence of the American Consul as a witness,
Mori paid into the foreign bank the sum of twenty thousand dollars, and
Grant, as his late father's executor, turned over to the firm the
various contracts and the mortgages on the warehouse and office
building.

"The very first thing we must see about is that debt of Black &
Company," announced the lame youth. "It won't do to have the new firm
sued. We will call at their office now and pay it under a written
protest."

"Yes, and deposit their receipt in the bank," added Nattie, grimly.

"Nothing was found of the first receipt?" asked Mori, as they left the
consulate.

"Not a sign. I have searched through all the papers in the office, but
without result. There is some mystery about it. Father never was very
orderly in keeping documents, but it is hard to believe that he would
mislay a paper of that value."

"Who was in the office when your father--er--when the sad end came?"

"Three clerks under the charge of a bookkeeper named Willis Round. Mr.
Round was seated at a desk next to father's at the moment. I was in the
outer office."

"Was your father lying upon the floor when you were called?" asked Mori;
then he added, hastily: "Forgive me if I pain you, Grant. Perhaps we had
better allow the subject to drop."

"No, no. I see what you are driving at. You think that possibly Mr.
Round may have stolen the receipt?"

"Exactly. Take a case like that; a valuable paper and an unscrupulous
man within easy reach, and you can easily see what would happen. I don't
remember this Mr. Round. What kind of a man was he?"

"I never liked him," spoke up Nattie. "He had a sneaking face, and was
always grinning to himself, as if he had the laugh on other people. Then
I saw him kick a poor dog one day, and a man who would do that is not to
be trusted."

"I guess you are right," agreed Grant. "Come to think of it, I never
liked Mr. Round myself. He was a thorough bookkeeper though, and knew
his business."

"Where is he now?" asked Mori.

"I think he left for England. He was an Englishman, you know. After our
firm closed he waited around town for a while, then I heard somebody say
he returned to London."

The office of Black & Company was on the Bund, only a few squares from
the consulate, so the boys walked there instead of taking the
omnipresent _jinrikishas_. The building was a dingy structure of one
story, and bore the usual sign over the door.

As Grant and his companions entered the outer office a tall, thin man,
carrying a much-worn Gladstone bag, brushed past them and vanished down
the street. The lame youth glanced at the fellow's face, then he turned
to Nattie with a low whistle.

"There's a queer thing," he said. "If that man wore side whiskers, I
would wager anything that he was Mr. Willis Round himself."



CHAPTER VI.

MR. BLACK RECEIVES A SURPRISE.


"You don't say?" ejaculated the lad, stopping near the door. "Why,
perhaps it was. Wait, I'll follow him and see."

Before either Grant or Mori could offer an objection, Nattie darted from
the office into the street. There were several clerks in the
counting-room, and they eyed the newcomers curiously. At the far end of
the room was a door leading into the private office of the firm.

A hum of voices came from within. Grant waited a moment undecided what
to do, then he approached a clerk, and asked him to announce to Mr.
Black that Grant Manning wished to see him on important business. The
message produced immediate results.

The fellow had hardly disappeared when the senior member himself stalked
majestically into the outer apartment. Waving an official document in
one hand, he glowered at the lame youth and exclaimed, in a harsh voice:

"Your call will do you no good, sir. I have already instituted the suit.
I suppose you have come to beg for time, as usual?"

"You suppose wrong, sir," coldly replied Grant.

"Well, what is the object of this visit, then?"

"Please make out a receipt for the full amount of our debt."

Mr. Black's face expressed the liveliest amazement. The door leading to
the inner office creaked, and Ralph's familiar countenance appeared in
the opening. It was evident that he had been listening.

"W-h-hat did you say?" gasped the merchant.

"Please make out a receipt in full for the money owed to you by the firm
of Manning & Company," repeated Grant, calmly.

"Then you mean to pay it?"

"Yes."

"But how can you? It is over fifty-eight hundred dollars, boy."

"Five thousand, eight hundred and fifty dollars, in round numbers,"
replied the lame youth, in a businesslike voice. "The receipt, please. I
will draw you a check for the amount at once."

He drew a small book from his pocket, and proceeded to write the figures
as if such items were mere bagatelles in his business. Mori, who had
been an interested but silent spectator now stepped forward and
whispered a few words to Grant. The latter nodded, and said, again
addressing Mr. Black:

"By the way, sir, I think you had better accompany me to the American or
English consulate. In view of past happenings, I prefer to have a
reputable witness to this payment."

The merchant's face flushed a deep red, and then paled again. Before he
could reply, Ralph emerged from the inner office and advanced toward
Grant with his hands clinched and a threatening look upon his dark
countenance.

"What do you mean, you scoundrel?" he stormed. "Do you dare to insult my
father in his own office? I've a notion to----"

He broke off abruptly and lowered his hands. Mori had stepped before
Grant in a manner there was no mistaking. The young Japanese was small
of stature, but there was an air of muscular solidity about him which
spoke eloquently of athletic training.

"No threats, Ralph Black," he exclaimed, coolly. "We are here on a
matter of business with your father. Please remember that you have to
deal with me as well as Mr. Manning."

"What have you to do with it?" grated the youth. "Mind your own
business."

"That is exactly what I am doing," was the suave reply.

"Enough of this contention," suddenly exclaimed Mr. Black, with a
semblance of dignity. "Ralph, return to the inner office. I will soon
settle these upstarts. Simmons, a receipt for the debt owed us by
Manning."

The latter sentence was addressed to a clerk, who promptly came forward
with the required paper. Taking it, the merchant extended his hand for
the check. Grant hesitated and glanced at Mori. That youth nodded his
head, and whispered:

"We may as well waive the precaution of having it paid before the
consul. The receipt will answer the purpose. There are two of us, you
know."

"Well, do you intend to pay?" impatiently demanded Mr. Black.

The lame youth gave him the check without deigning to reply. The
merchant glanced at the amount, then he eyed the signature in evident
surprise.

"What does this mean?" he asked, harshly. "This is signed 'Manning
Brothers & Okuma.' What absurdity is this?"

"It means what it says, sir," answered Grant, a suspicion of triumph in
his voice. "I may as well tell you what Yokohama will know before night.
The importing and trading firm of Manning & Company has been revived.
Mr. Okuma here is a partner in the house, and we commence business at
once. You act as if you do not believe me, sir. Please satisfy yourself
by sending to the foreign bank."

As it happened, at that moment a clerk from the bank in question entered
the office with some papers. A brief question addressed to him by the
merchant brought instant proof of the lame youth's words. As if dazed,
Mr. Black gave him the receipt and entered the inner office without a
word. Grant and Mori left at once.

They looked up and down the street for Nattie, but he was not in sight.
After waiting for several moments at the corner they set out for the
counting-room. The young Japanese seemed preoccupied at first as if
buried in thought, but he finally turned to his companion and said:

"There is something about this business of the Black debt that I do not
understand. How is it you could find no trace of the payment at the bank
or among your canceled checks? It would surely be there."

"Why, I thought I had explained that to you," replied Grant. "The money
paid them by my father was in cash, not by check. I remember that on
that day we had received almost six thousand dollars in English gold
from the skipper of a sailing ship. The money was placed in the small
safe."

"And it was gone when you examined the safe after your father's death?"

"Exactly. That is why I am so positive the debt was paid. That fact and
the unfinished entry in father's book is proof enough."

"It certainly is," replied Mori, with conviction. "Well, something may
turn up in time to establish the fact. Here is the office. We will wait
until Nattie returns."

In the meantime an important scene had taken place in the counting-room
they had just left. After their departure, Mr. Black cleared his private
apartment of his secretary and closing the door leading to the outer
room, bade his son draw a chair up to the desk.

The merchant's face appeared grim and determined. He nervously arranged
a pile of papers before him, and then, with the air of a man who had
recently heard unpleasant news, he confronted Ralph.

"Did you hear what that crippled whelp said?" he asked.

"Yes," sullenly replied his son. "He's induced Mori Okuma to go in with
him, and they intend to commence business at once."

"Do you know what that means to us?"

"Another rival, I suppose. Well, we needn't be afraid of them."

"Zounds! you can be stupid at times, sir. We have every reason to be
alarmed at the formation of the new firm. If you paid more attention to
the affairs of Black & Company and less to running around with the
sports of Yokohama, you would be of more assistance to me."

"What is the matter now?" snarled the youth, arising from his chair.
"These rows are getting too frequent, and I won't stand it. I am no baby
to be reproved by you whenever you please. I won't----"

"Sit down!" thundered the merchant. "Don't be a fool." Then he added,
more mildly: "Remember that I am your father, Ralph. It is sometimes
necessary to reprove you as you must acknowledge. But enough of that
now. We have a more weighty subject to discuss. You evidently do not see
what this new firm means to us. I can explain in a few words. You have
doubtless heard rumors of trouble with China about Corea?"

"Yes, but that is an old tale. I heard it two years past."

"Well, there is more truth in it now than you believe. I have private
means of obtaining information. If I am not mistaken we will have war
before the end of the present year."

"What of it?"

The merchant held up his hands in evident disgust.

"It is easy to be seen that you have little of the instincts of a
merchant in you," he said, bitterly. "Hold! I do not intend to reprove
you. I will not waste the time. If you don't know, I will tell you that
war means the expenditure of money, and the purchase of arms and stores.
I know that the government is preparing for the coming conflict, and
that they need guns and ammunition and canned provisions."

"Why don't you try for the contracts then?"

"I intend to. As you may remember, that little affair of the fodder last
year for the cavalry horses has hurt my credit with the war department.
I think I still stand a show, however--if there are no other bidders."

"How about the German firms?"

"Their rivalry won't amount to anything, but if this Grant Manning comes
in he will secure the contracts without the shadow of a doubt. Why, he
is hand-in-glove with Secretary Yoshisada Udono, of the army. The
Japanese fool thinks Grant is the soul of honesty, and the cleverest
youth in Japan besides."

Ralph leaned forward in his chair, and pondered deeply for a moment.
Then, tapping the desk with his fingers, he said, slowly, and with
emphasis:

"I understand the case now. It means a matter of thousands of pounds to
us, and we must secure the contract, come what will. If these Manning
boys stand in our way we must break them, that's all. One thing, we have
a good ally in Willis Round. With him as----"

He was suddenly interrupted by a sound at the door. Before either could
move it was thrown open, admitting a tall, thin man, carrying a
much-worn Gladstone bag. Behind him and almost at his heels was Nattie
Manning, an expression of determination upon his handsome face.



CHAPTER VII.

NATTIE CARRIES HIS POINT.


When Nattie left his brother and Mori in the office of Black & Company,
it was with the determination to ascertain whether the tall, thin man
with the Gladstone bag was really the late bookkeeper, Willis Round.

If the lad had been asked why he was placing himself to so much trouble
for such a purpose he could not have answered.

There was no reason why Round should not return to Yokohama if he so
minded. And he had every right to remove his whiskers if he chose to do
so; and again, there was no law to prevent him from calling upon the
firm of Black & Company.

Still, in view of recent circumstances, it seemed suspicious to Nattie,
and he sped down the street with the firm resolve to prove the identity
at once. As the reader may have conjectured, the younger Manning brother
had a strong will of his own.

It was his claim, not uttered boastfully, that when he set a task unto
himself, he generally carried it out if the thing was possible. He
proved that characteristic in his nature in the present instance.

On reaching the corner of the next street, which happened to be the
broad thoroughfare running at right angles from the Bund, he caught
sight of his man in the door of a famous tea house much frequented by
the good people of Yokohama.

The fellow had paused, and was glancing back as if suspicious of being
followed. On seeing Nattie, he turned quickly and disappeared into the
tea house. When the lad reached the entrance, he found the front room
untenanted save by a group of waiter girls.

They greeted his appearance with the effusive welcome of their class,
but he brushed them aside with little ceremony and passed on into the
next apartment. This also was empty. The more imposing tea houses of
Japan are generally two-story structures, divided into a multitude of
small and large rooms.

The one in question contained no less than a round dozen on the ground
floor, and as many in the second story. There was no central hall, but
simply a series of public rooms extending from front to rear, with
private apartments opening on each side.

Nattie had visited the place times out of mind, and he knew that an exit
could be found in the rear which led through a small garden to a gate,
opening upon a back street. The fact caused the lad to hasten his steps.

While hurrying through the fourth apartment, he heard voices in a side
room. They were not familiar, but he halted at once. Suppose Round--if
it were he--should take it into his head to enter one of the private
apartments? He could easily remain concealed until a sufficient time had
elapsed, and then go his way unseen.

For a brief moment Nattie stood irresolute. If he remained to question
the _matsumas_ it would give the evident fugitive time to escape by the
rear gate. And if he hurried through the garden and out into the back
street, Round could leave by the main entrance.

"Confound it! I can't stay here twirling my thumbs," he exclaimed. "What
shall it be, back gate or a search through the blessed shanty? I'll
leave it to chance."

Thrusting a couple of fingers into a vest pocket, he extracted an
American quarter, and flipped it into the air.

"Heads, I search these rooms; tails, I go out the back gate," he
murmured, catching the descending coin with great dexterity.

"Tails it is. Here goes, and may I have luck," he added.

Hurrying through the remaining apartments, he vanished into the garden
just as a tall, thin man carrying a Gladstone bag cautiously opened a
side door near where Nattie had juggled the coin. There was a bland
smile upon the fellow's face, and he waved one hand airily after the
youth.

"Ta, ta, Master Manning," he muttered. "I am thankful to you for leaving
the decision to a piece of money. It was a close call for me, as I do
not care to have my identity guessed just at present. Now that the coast
is clear, I'll drop in on the Blacks again and tell them to be careful."

Making his way to the main entrance, he called a passing _'rikisha_ and
ordered the _karumaya_ to carry him to the Bund through various obscure
streets. In the meantime, Nattie had left the garden by way of the rear
gate. A hurried glance up and down the narrow thoroughfare resulted in
disappointment.

A search of adjacent streets produced nothing. Considerably crestfallen,
the lad returned to the tea house and questioned the head of the
establishment. He speedily learned to his chagrin that the man for whom
he had been searching had left the place not five minutes previously.

"Just my luck," he murmured, petulantly. "Here, Komatsu, give this to a
beggar; it's a hoodoo."

The affable manager accepted the ill-omened twenty-five cent piece with
many bows and subsequently placed it among his collection of rare coins,
with the inscription: "Yankee Hoodoo. Only one in Yokohama. Value, ten
_yen_."

It was with a very disconsolate face that Nattie left the tea house on
his way to the office of the new firm. He felt positive in his mind that
the thin man was really Willis Round, and the actions of the fellow in
slipping away so mysteriously tended to increase the lad's suspicions.

"If he cared to return to Yokohama, he could do so," he reasoned, while
walking down Main Street. "It's no person's business that I can see. And
if he desired to increase his ugliness by shaving off his whiskers it
was his own lookout. But what I don't like is the way he sneaked out of
Black's counting-room without speaking to us. He was certainly trying to
avoid recognition, and that's flat.

"I wonder what he had to do with that debt?" added the lad, after a
while. "He is mixed up with the Blacks in some way, and I'll wager the
connection bodes ill to some one. Perhaps it is to us."

He had reached this far in his reflections when he chanced to look down
a small alley leading from the main thoroughfare to a public garden. A
_jinrikisha_ was speeding past the outlet. The vehicle contained one
man, and in an instant Nattie recognized in him the subject of his
thoughts.

To cover the distance to the garden was a brief task for the lad's
nimble feet. As he emerged from the alley, however, he plumped into a
couple of American man-of-war's men. The collision carried one of them
into the gutter, but the other grasped wildly at his supposed
assailant's collar.

[Illustration: "Nattie plumped into a couple of American man-of-war's
men. The collision carried one of them into the gutter, but the other
grasped wildly at his supposed assailant's collar." (See page 64)]

He missed, but nothing daunted, the sailor started in pursuit, calling
out in a husky voice at every step. In his eagerness to catch up with
Willis Round, Nattie had continued his flight. The hubbub and outcry
behind him soon brought him to a halt, and he faced about just as
several policemen and a dozen foreigners and native citizens joined in
the chase.

What the outcome would have been is hard to say had not help arrived at
that opportune moment in the shape of a friend--a clerk at the
legation--who suddenly appeared in the doorway of a private residence
within a dozen feet of the lad.

"What is the matter, Manning?" hastily asked the newcomer.

As quick as a flash Nattie bounded past him, and closed the door just as
the infuriated sailor reached the spot.

"For goodness' sake, old fellow, get me out by the back way!" breathed
the lad. "I haven't time to explain now. I'll tell you all about it this
afternoon. I am following a man, and I mustn't lose him. Let me out by
the rear, please."

Considerably mystified, the clerk obeyed. A moment later Nattie was
again speeding down a street toward the Bund. As luck would have it, he
caught sight of his man at the next corner. The _jinrikisha_ had stopped
in front of Black & Company's office.

Hurrying ahead, the lad contrived to enter the door at the heels of the
fugitive. He stepped lightly across the counting-room, and was within a
foot of him when he threw open the door leading into the merchant's
private office.

At sight of them both Ralph and his father sprang to their feet. Totally
unsuspicious of the proximity of his pursuer, the tall, thin man tossed
his portmanteau upon a chair, and was on the point of greeting the
occupants of the office when he saw them looking behind him in evident
surprise.

He turned, gave Nattie one startled glance, then made an involuntary
movement as if contemplating flight. The lad barred the way, however.
Grinning triumphantly, he lifted his hat with a polite bow, and said:

"Why, this is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Round. I did not know you had
returned to Yokohama. How is everything in London?"

"What are you talking about?" growled the fellow. "I don't know you."

"Indeed! How poor your memory must be. You worked for my father as
confidential clerk and bookkeeper for many years. Surely you must
remember his son, Nattie Manning?"

The mocking tone caused Round to frown darkly. He saw that further
denial was useless. Curtly turning his back to Nattie, he stalked to a
chair and sat down. During this little byplay Ralph had been staring at
the intruder in a peculiarly malevolent manner.

"What do you want in here?" he demanded, at last. "This is our private
office, and we receive people by invitation only. Get out."

"With the greatest pleasure," sweetly replied Nattie. "I have secured
all that I desire. I wanted to satisfy myself as to that man's identity,
and I have succeeded. The removal of one's whiskers don't always form an
effectual disguise, you know. Ta! ta!"

He left the office with a triumphant smile, and quickly made his way to
the counting-room of the new firm. Grant and Mori were engrossed in
drawing up several tables of import orders, but they gave instant
attention to his story.

"It certainly proves one thing," remarked the lame youth. "Mr. Willis
Round attempted to visit Yokohama in disguise. Now what can be his
reason?"

Before either Nattie or Mori could reply, the front door was thrown
open, and the very man they were discussing stepped into the office.
There was an expression of cordial good nature upon his face, and he
advanced with one hand extended in a friendly attitude.



CHAPTER VIII.

ONE CONSPIRATOR DEFEATED.


"How do you do, Master Grant? I am pleased to see you," exclaimed the
newcomer. "And Master Nattie here is still the same good-looking lad as
of old. Is this the new member of the firm? The old company has called
in native blood, eh? Well, it is not a bad idea."

Disregarding the cold stare of surprise given him by Grant, the speaker
seated himself in a comfortable chair and gazed blandly around the
office. He was a man of extreme attenuation of features, and restless,
shifting eyes. He was modestly clad in a dark suit of English tweed, and
carried the conventional cane of bamboo.

For a moment there was an awkward silence, then Nattie laughed--a short,
curt laugh, which brought a perceptible flush to Round's sunken cheeks.

"So you are our old bookkeeper after all?" said the lad, with a sly wink
at Mori.

"Yes, I am inclined to believe so," replied the visitor, airily. "I have
an explanation to make about that little incident, my boy. D'ye see, I
returned from London by way of India yesterday morning. I had my reasons
for arriving incog., therefore I denied myself to you this afternoon.
As the cat is out of the bag now, I'll tell you all about it."

He paused and glanced at his auditors. Nothing daunted by their evident
coldness, he resumed, in the same light manner:

"I had a little deal on with the government here and certain people in
England, and I came over to push it through. Remembering the firm of
Black & Company, I went to them first. The interview was not
satisfactory, however. Hearing that you had resumed your father's
business. I lost no time in coming here. Am I right in believing that
you are open for valuable contracts?"

Both Nattie and Mori instinctively left the conversation to Grant. In a
matter of business, he was the proper person, they well knew. The lame
youth leaned back in his chair, and eyed the visitor with extreme
gravity.

"So you are here to do business with us, Mr. Round?" he asked, slowly.

"Yes."

"May I ask the nature of the contracts?"

The ex-bookkeeper arose to his feet and walked with catlike steps to the
front door. Opening it slightly, he peered forth. Then he repeated the
performance at the remaining doors and windows. Evidently satisfied, he
returned to the desk. Bending over, he said, in a stage whisper:

"Government."

"Yes, I know," exclaimed Grant, impatiently. "You said that before. But
for what class of articles?"

"Arms and ammunition, my boy. I have inside information. I know that
Japan will be at war with China before the end of the year. I also know
that the government intends to place an order for many millions of
cartridges and hundreds of thousands of rifles and revolvers within a
very short time."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. Now, I represent two firms--one English and one German, and we
wish to secure a resident agent in Japan. I can recommend you to them,
and I will on one condition."

"What is it?" asked Grant, drumming nervously upon the desk.

Nattie leaned forward in evident expectancy. He knew that the drumming
was an ominous sign on his brother's part, and that a climax was
impending.

"I wish to remain in Yokohama, and I desire a situation. If you will
give me the same position I formerly occupied in this office, I will
secure you the good will of my firms. What do you say?"

Grant selected a letter from a pile on the desk and glanced over it. He
smiled as if particularly well pleased at something, and then asked in a
suave voice:

"When did you leave London, Mr. Round?"

"Why--er--on the second of last month."

"And when did you reach that city after leaving my father's service?"

"What the deuce?--I mean, about two months later. Why do you ask these
questions?"

"Then you have been away from Japan for some time?"

"Of course. I could not be in London and in this country very well,"
replied Round, with a sickly smile.

"It is certainly strange," remarked Grant, reading the letter again.
"Have you a twin brother, sir?"

At this apparently preposterous query, the visitor lost his affability.

"No, I haven't," he almost shouted. "Mr. Manning, I did not come here to
lose valuable time in answering silly questions. I have made you a
proposition in good faith. Will you please give me a reply?"

"So you wish to enter our employ as bookkeeper?"

"Yes."

"And if we engage you we can become the agents of your English and
German firms in this matter of the government contracts?"

"Yes, yes."

Grant arose from his chair, and leaning one hand upon the desk, he
added, impressively:

"Will you also promise to clear up the mystery of the Black debt, Mr.
Round?"

Nattie and Mori, who were keenly watching the visitor's face, saw him
pale to the very lips. He essayed to speak, but the words refused to
come. Finally regaining his composure by a violent effort, he replied,
huskily:

"I don't understand you, Grant. What mystery do you mean?"

"You know very well, sir."

The lame youth's voice was sharp and cutting. Nervously wiping his face,
Mr. Round glanced down at the floor, then cast a furtive glance at his
companions. If ever guilt rested in a man's actions, it did then with
those of the ex-bookkeeper. He probably recognized the futility of his
chances, as he started to leave without further words. He was not to
escape so easily, however.

"You have not heard my answer to your proposition," called out Grant,
with sarcasm. "I'll tell you now that we would not have you in this
office if you paid us a bonus of a thousand pounds. You had better
return to your confederates, Black & Company, and inform them that their
effort to place a spy in this office has failed."

"You will regret these words," retorted Round, with a muttered oath.
"I'll show you that you are not so smart as you think."

"Have a care, sir," replied the lame youth. "Perhaps we will be able to
prove your connection with that debt swindle, and send you up for it."

"Bah! You are a fool to----"

He did not finish the sentence. At that juncture, Nattie, who had been
quietly edging his way across the office, bounded forward. There was a
brief struggle, a crash at the door, and suddenly the visitor found
himself in the street, considerably the worse for the encounter.

"That's the proper way to get rid of such callers," remarked the lad,
cheerfully. "Talk is all right in its place, but actions are necessary
at times. What a scoundrel he is!"

"He is a discovered villain," said Mori, quaintly. "In the expressive
language of the American street gamin, 'We are on to him.' He was
evidently sent here by the Blacks as a spy. By the way, what was in that
letter?"

Grant laughed, and tossed the document to the young Japanese.

"It was simply a bluff. I had an idea the man had not left the country,
so I pretended to read a letter giving that information. He bit
beautifully."

"One thing is certain," remarked Mori, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"We have made an implacable enemy."

"What's the difference?" chimed in Nattie. "The more the merrier. We
need not fear anything from Willis Round. He's a dead duck now."

"So Black & Company have wind of the impending contracts, eh?" mused
Grant. "I must run up and see Secretary Udono at once. I think I can
prove to him that we are worthy of the contracts. Nattie, take this
advertisement and have it inserted in all the foreign and native papers.
Tell them to place it on the first page in display type. We'll let the
world know that we are ready for business."

"I'll call on several old friends of my father in the morning and bid
for the next tea and rice crop," said Mori, jotting down the items in
his notebook. "How much can we use this quarter?"

"All we can secure," was the prompt reply. "I intend to cable our
American houses at once. The New York and San Francisco firms are good
for two shiploads at the very least. By the way, Nattie, while you are
out just drop in on Saigo Brothers and see what they have on hand in
lacquered novelties. Speak for a good order to go on the steamer of the
tenth."

During the next two hours the three members of the new firm were head
and ears in business. Grant was in his element, and Mori seemed to like
the routine also. But Nattie presently yawned, and left on his errands.
Outdoor life was evidently more to his taste.

In the press of work the incidents connected with the visit of Willis
Round were forgotten. Grant and Mori labored at the office until almost
midnight. After attending to the advertisements Nattie inspected the
company's "go down," or warehouse, and made preparations for the
receiving of tea.

The following day was spent in the same manner, and on the second
morning the purchases of the firm began to arrive. By noon Manning
Brothers & Okuma were the talk of Yokohama. Grant's popularity and
business reputation secured him a warm welcome in the trade.

A force of native clerks was installed in the office under charge of an
expert foreign bookkeeper. It was finally decided to assign the drumming
up of trade to Grant, and the interior buying and selling to Mori.
Nattie was to have charge of the shipping and the care of the warehouse.

The latter found time, however, to practice for the coming wrestling
match on the seventh of July. He had secured the services of a retired
wrestler, and was soon in great form. As can be expected, he awaited the
eventful day with growing impatience.



CHAPTER IX.

DISASTER THREATENS.


Grant Manning was a youth wise beyond his years. His continued ill
health and his physical frailty kept him from mixing with the lads of
his age. The seclusion drove him to self-communion and study. As a
general rule, persons suffering from physical deformity or lingering
sickness are compensated by an expansion of mind.

It is the proof of an immutable law. The blinding of one eye increases
the strength of the other. The deaf and dumb are gifted with a wonderful
sense of touch. Those with crippled legs are strong of arm. The
unfortunates with brains awry are endowed with muscles of power.

In Grant's case his intellect made amends for his deformity of body. He
loved commercial work, and the several years passed in the counting-room
under his father's _régime_ had made him a thorough master of the
business.

When orders commenced to find their way to the new firm he was in his
element. As I have stated before, he had many friends in Yokohama and
the capital, Tokio, and the native merchants made haste to open trade
with him. To aid this prosperity, was the fact that no stain rested
upon the firm of John Manning & Company.

The very name was synonymous with honesty, integrity and merit. Foreign
houses established in Eastern countries too often treat their customers
as uncivilized beings destined to be tricked in trade. John Manning had
never entertained such an unwise policy, and his sons now felt the
results.

The announcements in the various papers brought an avalanche of
contracts and orders. On the fourth day after the birth of the new firm,
Mori--who was really a shrewd, far-seeing youth--had secured the cream
of the tea and rice crop. He was also promised the first bid for silks.

On his part, Grant had secured a satisfactory interview with the
secretary of war in regard to the army contracts for arms and
ammunition. Business was literally booming, and every foreign importing
firm in Yokohama felt the new competition.

It is not to be supposed that they would permit the trade to slip away
without an effort to retain it. Not the least of those disturbed was the
firm of Black & Company, as can well be imagined. The merchant and Ralph
were wild with rage and despair. Orders from various English houses
were on file for early tea and rice, but the market was empty. Mori had
been the early bird.

"If this continues we will have to close our doors," exclaimed Mr.
Black, gloomily. "I could not buy a dozen boxes of tea this morning, and
we have an order of three hundred to leave by to-morrow's steamer. The
fiend take that crippled whelp! He is here, there, and everywhere, and
the natives in town are begging for his trade."

"He will make a pretty penny raising the prices too," replied his son,
in the same tone. "Why, he and that Japanese fool have made a regular
corner in rice."

"But he is not going to increase the price, if rumor speaks the truth.
Although he has control of the crop, he ships it to America at the old
rates."

"That is a shrewd move," acknowledged Ralph, reluctantly. "It will make
him solid with every firm in the United States. What is the matter with
all of the old merchants, eh? Fancy a man like you letting a boy get the
best of him in this manner. If I was the head of an established house
and had gray hairs like you I'd quit the business."

This brutal speech caused the merchant to flush angrily. He was on the
point of retorting, but he checked himself and remained buried in
thought for some time. His reflections were bitter. It was humiliating
to think that a firm of boys should step in and steal the trade from
men who had spent years in the business.

The brow of the merchant grew dark. He would not stand it. If fair means
could not avail, he would resort to foul. His conscience, long deadened
by trickery, formed no bar to his resolution. Striking the desk with his
open hand, he exclaimed:

"I will do it no matter what comes."

"What's up now, dad?" asked Ralph, with a show of interest. He added,
sneeringly: "Are you awakening from your 'Rip Van Winkle' sleep? Do you
think it is time to get up and circumvent those fools? Name your plan,
and I will give you my help with the greatest pleasure."

"You can assist me. We must destroy the credit of the new firm. They
have a working capital of only twelve or thirteen thousand dollars. I
learned this morning that they had given notes for ninety days for twice
that amount of money. It is also said that the firm of Takatsuna &
Company has sold them ten thousand dollars' worth of tea at sight. Grant
arranged for an overdraw with a native bank inside of an hour. Now if we
can get up a scare, Takatsuna will come down on the bank for his money,
and the bank will call on the Mannings for it."

"That is a great scheme," said Ralph, admiringly. "We will try it at
once."

"Go to Round's hotel and bring him here. In the meantime I will finish
the details, my son. If all goes well, that cripple and his brother will
be paupers before night."

"And we will be able to fill our orders by to-morrow at the latest. If
Manning Brothers & Okuma fail, the dealers will gladly come to us."

"I do not care a snap of a finger for the tea business," replied Mr.
Black, contemptuously. "It is that army contract I am after. I have been
told that Grant has had an interview with the secretary. Now, if we
don't kill the firm they will have the plum as sure as death. Bring
Round here without delay."

Ralph laughed as he walked to the door.

"Willis has been in the sulks since he failed to carry out our little
scheme of placing him in the Manning counting-room as a spy. He hates
them worse than ever. He will prove a valuable ally in the present
plan."

In the course of an hour he returned with the ex-bookkeeper. Before noon
strange rumors commenced to circulate among the foreign merchants and
the banks. By one o'clock the native houses were agog with the news. Men
met on the Bund and talked over the startling intelligence. At two a
representative from the firm of Takatsuna called at the office of
Manning Brothers & Okuma.

"I am very sorry," he said, "but my firm is in pressing need of money.
It is short notice, I acknowledge, but we must have the ten thousand
dollars you owe us for tea at once."

Grant looked surprised, but he politely sent the representative to the
Yokohama bank where the check had been negotiated. In half an hour an
urgent call came from the bank for the senior member of the firm. When
Grant returned to the office his face wore an anxious expression.

"Boys, our enemies are at work," he said. "It is said on 'Change that we
are pinched for funds. Black & Company are urging the native merchants
to ask for their bills. The bank paid Takatsuna their money, but the
directors want it refunded at once."

He had hardly ceased speaking before a knock sounded at the door of the
private office. Nattie opened it, giving admission to a portly Japanese.
The newcomer's dress was disordered, and he appeared wild with anxiety.
It was the president of the Yokohama bank.

At his heels were several merchants and half a dozen reporters. Ill news
travels fast. Regardless of ceremony, the visitors crowded into the
office. Grant's face became set, and his eyes glittered. Nattie appeared
highly amused. He saw the comical side of the invasion, not the
serious.

It was really a critical moment. In commercial circles there is nothing
more disastrous and credit-snapping than a run on a bank, or the failure
to promptly pay a bill. The standing of a new firm is always uncertain.
Like gold, it requires time and a trial in the fire of experience.

Grant realized the danger at once. As the newcomers surged into the
office, he arose from the desk and grasped the back of his chair with a
clutch of despair. His thoughts traveled fast. He saw the ruin of his
hopes, the success of his enemies; and he almost groaned aloud.

Outwardly he was calm, however. Politely greeting the president of the
bank, he asked the nature of his business. With feverish hands, the man
produced a paper, and requested the payment of the ten thousand dollars.

"Remember, my dear sir, I am first on the spot," he said.

The words were significant. It meant a call for money from all
creditors. It meant the swamping of their credit and absolute failure.
Preserving his calmness, Grant picked up the firm's check-book, and
glanced over the stubs.

Of the twenty thousand dollars paid in by Mori, but a trifle over
one-half remained. There were other creditors at the door. To pay one
meant a demand from the others. To refuse the payment of the bank's debt
was to be posted as insolvent. That meant ruin.

Sick at heart, Grant was on the point of adopting the latter course,
when there came a sudden and most unexpected change in the state of
affairs.



CHAPTER X.

MORI SHOWS HIS GENEROSITY.


During the scene in the private office of the firm Mori had remained
silent and apparently indifferent. Apparently only--those who knew him
best would have augured from the appearance of the two bright red spots
in his dark cheeks that he was intensely interested.

He watched the movements of the crowd at the door, he listened to the
demand of the bank president, and he noted Grant's struggle to appear
calm. Then just as the lame youth turned from the check-book to his
auditors with an announcement of their failure to pay trembling upon his
lips, the young Japanese introduced himself into the proceedings.

"What is the meaning of this, sir?" he asked the president, sharply.
"What do you wish?"

"I am here for my money," was the defiant reply. "I have presented the
note, and I await payment."

"Don't you think this is rather sudden?" asked Mori, with a suspicious
calmness in his voice. "It was negotiated but yesterday. Why this
haste?"

"I want my money," was the only answer vouchsafed.

"And you at the door," continued the Japanese youth, turning his gaze
in that direction. "Are you here for the same reason?"

Some one in the rear rank replied in the affirmative.

Mori's eyes flashed. Taking a private check-book from his pocket, he
rapidly wrote several lines therein, and, detaching a leaf, tossed it to
Grant.

"Pay them, every one," he said, carelessly. "You will find that
sufficient, I think."

The lame youth eagerly read the check, and then his face became suffused
with emotion. The amount called for was thirty thousand dollars! Mori
had placed his whole fortune to the firm's account! Afraid to trust his
voice, Grant hobbled over to the youthful native, and, in the presence
of the whole assemblage, threw his arms around him.

"God bless you!" he exclaimed. "You are a friend and a man."

"Nonsense," replied Mori, gently. "It is nothing. Pay these cattle off,
and put them down in your black book. Pay them in full and rid the
office of the mob for good. And, understand," he added, addressing the
bank president and his companions, "we will have no further dealings
with you. Hereafter we will trade with men not liable to scare at the
slightest rumor."

The official took the check extended him by Grant with a crestfallen
air. He saw that he had made a mistake and had lost the business of the
new firm. Too late he recalled the fact that he had really heard nothing
of moment. Rumors had been circulated, but try as he would, he could not
recollect their source.

The remaining creditors also suffered a revulsion of feeling. Some
attempted to slink away, but the three members of the firm singled them
out one by one, and compelled them to accept checks for the amount of
their bills.

In an hour eighteen thousand dollars had been paid out, but the credit
of the firm was saved. When the last man had been sent away Nattie and
Grant overwhelmed the clever young Japanese with congratulations and
heartfelt thanks. Mori's modesty equaled his generosity, and he
threatened them with immediate dissolution if they did not refrain.

"It is nothing, my friends," he exclaimed, for the hundredth time. "I am
only glad that I was able to furnish the money."

"You must withdraw the entire amount just as soon as it is available,"
insisted Grant. "We should hear from the American houses within five
weeks, and then we will return to the old basis."

"I would like to have a photograph of old Black's face when he hears
the news," said Nattie, with a grin. "Or, better still, overhear his
comments."

"It was a shrewd trick, but it failed, I am glad to say," remarked the
lame youth. "We must take advantage of the opportunity and clinch the
effect. Now is the time to set our credit upon a solid foundation."

Taking several sheets of paper, he scribbled half a dozen lines upon
them.

"Nattie, take these to the different newspaper offices, and have them
inserted in to-morrow's issues," he said. "Then drop in at the printing
office and tell Bates to work up a thousand posters to be displayed
about town. How does this sound?


     "'TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

     "'A despicable attempt having been made this day by certain
     interested parties to injure the credit of the undersigned firm,
     notice is hereby given that all outstanding bills will be settled
     in full at ten A. M. to-morrow. A reward of one thousand _yen_ is
     also offered for information leading to the conviction of the
     person or persons starting the slander.

     "'MANNING BROTHERS & OKUMA'"


"That is just the thing!" exclaimed Mori. "It could not be better. We'll
have the posters distributed broadcast over Yokohama and also Tokio.
Make it five instead of one thousand, Grant. Really, I believe that
little affair will do us a great deal of good. It is an excellent
advertisement."

Nattie hurried away to the printing office, and by night the two cities
were reading the posters. At ten o'clock the following morning fully two
score merchants had called upon the firm, but they came to ask for
trade, not to present bills.

The conspiracy had resolved itself into a boomerang, and the firm of
Manning Brothers & Okuma was more prosperous than ever. Black & Son were
correspondingly depressed. The failure of their latest scheme caused the
elder merchant much humiliation. At a meeting held in his office,
attended by Ralph and Mr. Round, it was resolved to stick at nothing to
defeat the enemy.

"It is war to the knife now," exclaimed the head of the firm, grinding
his teeth. "Something must be done before the first of next month, as
the army contracts will be awarded then."

"And that means a little trifle of twenty thousand pounds, eh?" replied
the ex-bookkeeper, softly rubbing his hands.

"Yes, one hundred thousand dollars. That is clear profit."

"Many a man would commit murder for less than that," mused Ralph,
absently stabbing the arm of his chair with a penknife.

Mr. Black gave his son a keen glance.

"Yes," he said, in a peculiar tone. "Whole families have been put out of
the way for as many cents. But," he added, hastily, "there is no such
question in our case. Ha! ha! the idea is simply preposterous!"

His companions echoed the laugh, but in a strained fashion. Ralph
continued to stare moodily at the floor. After a while Willis Round
announced that he had a proposition to make.

"You said a few moments ago that it was war to the knife now," he
commenced.

"Yes."

"It is to your interest to ruin the new firm before the awarding of the
army contracts, eh?"

"Certainly. If they are in business by the end of the present month they
will secure the valuable contracts without a doubt."

"What would you give if they were rendered unable to bid for them?"

The merchant stared at his questioner half contemptuously.

"Why do you ask? You do not think you could ruin them single-handed?" he
asked, banteringly.

"Never you mind," was the dogged reply. "Answer my question. What would
you give if the contracts were placed in your way?"

"Twenty per cent. of the profits and our assistance in any scheme you
may propose. Do you really mean to say that you have a plan promising
success?"

The merchant left his chair in his eagerness and approached the
ex-bookkeeper. Ralph showed a renewed interest also. Before replying,
Round cautiously opened the door leading into the counting-room. After
satisfying himself, he talked long and earnestly to his companions. At
the conclusion the faces of the merchant and his son were expressive of
the liveliest satisfaction. There was trouble still in store for the new
firm of Manning Brothers & Okuma.



CHAPTER XI.

NATTIE MAKES A DISCOVERY.


During the important and engrossing events of the past few days Nattie
had not forgotten the sport promised for the seventh of the month. He
was passionately fond of athletics, and he never let slip an opportunity
to participate in all that came his way.

Extensive preparations had been made for the celebration of the treaty
made by Commodore Perry in the year 1853. Not only the foreign residents
were to take part, but the natives themselves promised a great
_matsura_, or festival.

The committee of the Yokohama Club, under whose auspices it was to take
place, had secured the racing grounds upon the bluff. A varied programme
had been arranged to cover the entire day. The sports had been divided
into two parts, modern racing and games in the forenoon, and ancient
native ceremonies after tiffin.

The main feature of the latter was to be a grand wrestling match between
foreigners. To add to the interest, the competitors were to remain
unknown to each other until the moment of their appearance in the ring.

Nattie had given in his name among the first. The prize offered was a
valuable medal and a crown of laurel. For several days the lad had
devoted his idle hours to practice with a retired native wrestler. The
evening before the seventh he was in fine fettle.

As an added chance, however, he resolved to take one more lesson from
his instructor--a final bout to place him in good trim for the morrow.
The scene of the practice matches was in the large "go-down," or
warehouse, of the firm, located near a canal separating the bluff from
the native quarter.

The appointment for the evening was at nine, and shortly before that
hour Nattie left a tea house on his way to the place of destination. The
day had been sultry, and toward nightfall threatening clouds gathered
over the bay.

Rain promised, but that fact did not deter the lad. As his _'rikisha_
sped along the Bund he recalled the points already taught him by his
master in the art of wrestling, and he fancied the ringing of cheers and
the outburst of plaudits were already greeting him.

The Manning "go-down" was a large square structure of stone, with iron
shutters and massive doors. It was considered fireproof, and had as a
watchman a brawny Irishman recently paid off from a sailing ship. His
name was Patrick Cronin, and he claimed to be an American by
naturalization.

On reaching the entrance Nattie looked around for the fellow, but he was
not in sight. Taking a key from his pocket, he opened a narrow door
leading into a little corner office. As he passed inside there came a
wild gust of wind and a downpour of rain. The storm had burst.

"Good job I arrived in time," muttered the lad. "Whew! how it does pour
down. Looks as if it has started in for three or four hours at least. If
it keeps on I needn't expect old Yokoi. I wonder where Patrick is?"

He whistled shrilly and thumped upon the floor with his cane, but only
the echoes came to his ears. After a moment of thought he lighted a
lantern and sat down near a window opening upon a narrow alley running
between the building and the canal.

The absence of the watchman was certainly strange. It was his duty to
report at the "go-down" at six o'clock. In fact, Nattie had seen him
that very evening. The building was full of valuable silks, teas, and
lacquered ware, intended for shipment on the following day.

Thieves were rampant along the canal, several daring robberies having
occurred during the past week. Then again there was always the danger of
fire. As the lad sat in his chair and thought over the possible results
of the Irishman's dereliction, he grew thoroughly indignant.

"By George! he'll not work for us another day," he muttered, giving the
stick a vicious whirl. "I'll wager a _yen_ he is in some groggery at
this very moment drinking with a chance shipmate."

Going to the door he glanced out into the night. The rain was still
descending in torrents, and it was of that steadiness promising a
continuation. When Nattie returned to his seat it was with the
resolution to keep guard over the firm's property himself.

It meant a long and lonely watch with naught save the beating of the
rain, the dreary gloom of the interior, and the murmuring sounds from
the nearby bay for company. The lad had a stout heart, however, and he
settled himself for the vigil without more ado.

He found comfort in the anticipation of a scene with the recreant
watchman in the morning. He made up his mind even to refuse him
admission if he returned to the "go down" that night. The minutes
dragged slowly, and at last the watcher found himself nodding.

"Jove! this won't do," he exclaimed, springing from his chair. "I am as
bad as Patrick. The lantern is going out also. Wonder if I have any
matches in my pocket?"

He searched, but without favorable results. A hasty examination
revealed the unwelcome fact that the oil receptacle was empty. In
another moment the light flickered and died out, leaving the little
office in darkness.

Disturbed in spirit, Nattie went to the door, almost inclined to visit
some neighboring warehouse or shop for oil and matches. One glance at
the deluge still falling drove the idea from his head. He was without
umbrella or rain coat, and to venture for even a short distance would
mean a thorough drenching--something to be religiously avoided in Japan
during the summer season.

"Heigho! I am in for it, I suppose. Confound that Irishman! I would like
to punch his empty noddle for this. Here I am in the dark, condemned to
remain all night without sleep, and--by jingo!"

A very sudden and painful thought had occurred to the lad. The morrow
was the day upon which he was to shine as a wrestler! The seventh of
July; the day of sports in celebration of Commodore Perry's treaty.

"I'll be fit for athletics and wrestling matches if I stay around here
and lose my sleep!" murmured Nattie, ruefully. "Why, I'll be all played
out, and a five-year-old boy could throw me. But what in thunder can I
do? I can't leave and run the risk of the place catching fire. There's
more than twenty thousand dollars' worth of stuff in here, and it would
be just nuts to a thief to find himself among all those silks."

It was impossible to communicate with either Grant or Mori. The streets
in the warehouse district were unfrequented, and in such a violent storm
even the policemen would hie themselves to a convenient shelter.
Muttering maledictions upon the head of the absent watchman, Nattie
closed the door and returned to his seat near the window.

Occasional flashes of lightning illuminated the outside, and during one
of these the lad espied a man crossing the bridge at the corner of the
building. Thinking it might be some kindly person who would not disdain
to carry a message, he hurried to the door leading into the street.

As he opened it he heard voices. The newcomer had paused and was looking
back at the indistinct figure of a second man on the other side of the
canal. In the intervals of light Nattie observed the person nearest him
start back and evidently expostulate with his follower.

They were barely ten yards away, and by the aid of a brilliant flash of
lightning the lad noticed something familiar in the appearance of both
men. One was tall and thin, while the other had a short, stumpy form and
a rolling lurch as he wavered vaguely near the end of the bridge.

"Get back, man. What do you want to come out in this wet for when you
have a cozy nook in yon house? Go back, I say."

It was the attenuated individual who had spoken. He placed one hand upon
his companion's arm, but the fellow staggered away and replied:

"Got--hic--my dooty ter do. Oi'm too long away as 'tis, m' boy. Dash
ther--hic--rain. It ain't wetter in th' blooming ocean, knife me if
'tis."

"You are a fool to come out in it, I say. Return to the house, and I'll
join you presently. There are three more bottles of prime stuff in the
closet. Break one out and help yourself."

"But me dooty, man! It has never been said that--hic--Pat Cronin ever
went back on a job. Ask me shipmates. Why, they sing er song about me:


     "'So he seized th' capstan bar,
     Like a true honest tar,
     And in spite or tears and sighs
     Sung yo! heave ho!'"


"Shut up; you will have the police after us," expostulated the other.
"Do you intend to return to the house, or shall I lock up the bottles?
Answer me, yes or no?"

"Sure and Oi don't want to lose th' drink, but----"

"Yes, or no?"

"Ah, it's th' funny man ye are. He! he! he! Phwy don't yer git fat? If
Oi----"

"Then it is 'no,' eh? Well, here----"

"Hould an, me buck. Oi'll go back and take another swig. Then to me
dooty, yer understand. Here goes.


     "'So he seized th' (hic) capstan bar,
     Like a true honest tar,
     And in spite of----'"


The husky notes died away, a door slammed in one of a row of wooden
shanties across the bridge, and all was quiet. The tall, thin man
glanced keenly after his companion; then, slipping up to the Manning
"go-down," he examined the entrance. It was locked. Inserting a key he
soon gained admission. As he softly closed the door again he stood
within a pace of Nattie.

It had not taken the lad many seconds to catch the drift of affairs. He
knew full well that Patrick's tempter was no other than Willis Round,
the firm's ex-bookkeeper. His presence in that locality during a heavy
storm, his familiarity with the recreant watchman, the evident and
successful attempt to entice him away from his post, could have only one
meaning.

He had designs on the property of his enemies.

Long before Patrick had lurched back to the shanty Nattie had slipped
into the office. When he heard the key grating in the lock he was not
surprised; but he was considerably puzzled as to the best manner in
which he should treat the situation.

"If I only had my revolver I would bring the scoundrel to terms," he
muttered, regretfully. "I had to leave it home this night of all nights.
As it is, I haven't a solitary weapon. A bamboo cane wouldn't hurt a
fly. Ah, I'll try the lantern."

Creeping across the floor he secured the object just as the
ex-bookkeeper reached the door. Returning to his post, the lad waited
with rapidly beating heart.



CHAPTER XII.

THE STRUGGLE IN THE "GO-DOWN."


That Willis Round meant injury was plainly evident. But whether he came
as a thief or incendiary was yet to be ascertained. He knew the ground
well, so he lost little time in entering. After closing the door he
hesitated.

At his elbow stood the brave lad with lantern raised in readiness. At
the first sign of a light, or the scratch of a match, he meant to strike
with all the power of his arm. The lantern was a heavy iron affair, and
Willis Round was as near death at that moment as he probably had been
during his eventful career.

His knowledge of the "go-down's" interior saved him. After a brief pause
he started toward the main portion of the warehouse. At his heels crept
Nattie, silent, determined, resolute.

The main room of the warehouse was crowded with bales of silk, chests of
tea, and various boxes containing lacquered ware. These had been
arranged in an orderly manner with passageways extending between the
different piles.

In one thing the lad had an advantage; he was thoroughly conversant
with the arrangement of the goods, while Round had only a general
knowledge of the interior. The latter stumbled several times, but he
made no move to show a light.

Presently Nattie felt his curiosity aroused. What could be the man's
object? Was it theft of valuable silks or deliberate incendiarism? That
the fellow had a certain destination in view was made evident by his
actions.

During the day the place was lighted by large glazed windows at the ends
and on each side, but at night these were closed with iron shutters. In
the roof were several long skylights, and through them an occasional
glare came from the lightning, which still fitfully shot athwart the
sky.

It was by the aid of one of these that the lad finally saw the intruder
halt near a pile of tea chests. The flash lasted only an instant, but it
brought out in clear relief the attenuated figure of the scoundrel. He
was standing within reach of a number of boxes packed ready for shipment
on the morrow.

They were wrapped in straw matting, and nearby was a little heap of the
same material to be used on other chests. It was highly inflammable.
This fact recurred to the lad with startling significance, and he
involuntarily hurried forward.

Before he could realize his mistake he was within a step of Round. A
slight cough from the latter caused Nattie to abruptly check himself.
With a gasp of excitement he shrank back, and slipped behind a large
bale of silks.

The next moment a blinding flash of lightning revealed the interior of
the warehouse. Before it died away the plucky lad peered forth, but only
to find that a change had taken place in affairs. The ex-bookkeeper was
not in sight.

It was an unwelcome discovery, to say the least. With the enemy in view,
it was easy to keep track of his intentions. Now he might be retreating
to any part of the vast "go-down" where in temporary security he could
start a conflagration at his leisure.

"I must find him at all hazards," muttered Nattie, somewhat discomfited.
"Why didn't I bring matters to a point in the office? or why didn't I
strike him down while I had the chance a moment ago? I'll not fool any
more."

Grasping the iron lantern in readiness for instant use, he slipped
forward step by step. At every yard he paused and listened intently. The
silence was both oppressive and ominous. He would have given a great
deal if even a rustle or a sigh had reached his ears.

As time passed without incident the lad grew bolder. His anxiety
spurred him on. He hastened his movements and peered from side to side
in vain endeavor to pierce the gloom. Where had the man gone? Probably
he was even then preparing to strike the match that would ignite the
building.

Unable to endure longer the suspense, Nattie swung into a side aisle and
ran plump into some yielding object. There was a muttered cry of
surprise and terror; then, in the space of a second, the interior
resounded with shouts and blows and the hubbub of a struggle.

At the very start Nattie lost his only weapon. In the sudden and
unexpected collision the lantern was dashed from his hand. Before he
could recover it he felt two sinewy arms thrown about his middle, then
with a tug he was forced against a bale.

It required only a moment for the athletic lad to free himself. Long
training at sports and games came to his aid. Wriggling toward the
floor, he braced himself and gave a mighty upward heave. At the same
time, finding his arms released, he launched out with both clinched
fists.

There was a thud, a stifled cry, and then a pile of tea chests close at
hand fell downward with a loud crash. Quick to realize his opportunity,
Nattie slipped away and placed a large box between his antagonist and
himself.

The scrimmage had only served to increase his anxiety and anger. When he
regained his breath he called out, hotly:

"You confounded scoundrel, I'll capture you yet. I know you, Willis
Round, and if this night's work don't place you in prison it'll not be
my fault."

The words had hardly passed his lips when the lad was unceremoniously
brought to a realization of his mistake. There was a whiz and a crash
and a small box dropped to the floor within a foot of him. He lost no
time in shifting his position.

"Aha! two can play at that game," he muttered.

Picking up a similar object, he was on the point of throwing it
haphazard when he became aware of a loud knocking in the direction of
the door. Almost frantic with relief and joy, he dropped the missile and
started toward the spot.

Fortunately gaining the little apartment without mishap, he inserted his
key in the lock with trembling hands, and attempted to turn it. Just
then a maudlin voice came from outside:

"Phwere is the lock, Oi wonder? By the whiskers av St. Patrick, Oi
never saw such a night. Cronin, ye divil, yer fuller than Duffy's goat.
But ye are a good fellow.


     "'So Oi seized th' capstan bar,
     Like a true honest tar,
     And in spite----'


"Murther! Oi can't git in at all, at all. Oi'll go back to the bottle.
Me new friend has--hic--left me, but Oi have his whiskey. Here goes for
th' house once more."

Disgusted at the discovery that it was only the tipsy watchman, Nattie
had again made his way back into the "go-down" proper. As he crossed the
threshold of the door leading from the office, he heard the rattling of
iron.

The sound came from the far end. A second later there was a faint crash,
and a gust of wind swept through the vast apartment.

"He has opened a window. He is trying to escape."

Throwing all caution away, the lad recklessly dashed down the central
passageway. It did not take him long to reach the spot. The fury of the
storm caused the opened shutter to swing back and forth with a
melancholy grinding of the hinges.

Climbing upon the sill, Nattie slipped through the opening and dropped
outside. He had barely reached the ground when he was suddenly seized,
and, with a fierce effort, sent staggering across the walk separating
the building from the canal.

He made a frantic effort to save himself, but it was too late. With a
shrill cry trembling upon his lips, he felt himself falling through
space; then, with a loud splash, he struck the water's surface!



CHAPTER XIII.

WILLIS ROUND ESCAPES.


No man, or boy, for that matter, knows just what he can do until put to
the test. We may think we know the limit of our strength or endurance,
but we cannot prove it until an emergency arises. Then we are often
found mistaken in our previous surmises, and, need it be said, much to
our amazement.

Nature is a wise mother. She has provided in all a reserve force which
only needs the touch of an exigency to cause it to appear full powered.
A task is set before you--you cannot do it in your opinion; but you
try--and succeed. You are in peril; only a miracle of strength or
shrewdness will save you. Involuntarily you act, and, lo! the miracle
comes from your good right arm or your brain.

A lad learning to swim places a dozen yards as the extent of his powers.
He enters the water; is carried beyond his depth; swept away by an
undertow, and swims successfully the length of three city blocks. It was
his reserve force and the stimulating fear of death that brought him
safely to shore.

When Nattie Manning felt himself falling into the canal, sent there by
Willis Round's cunning arm, he realized only one emotion, and that was
rage--overpowering, consuming anger. He was wild with wrath to think
that he had been tricked by the ex-bookkeeper, and the flames of his
passion were not lessened by discomfiture.

It seemed that he had barely touched the water before he was out,
climbing hand over hand up the jagged stone side. To this day he does
not know how he emerged so quickly, or by what latent force of muscle he
dragged himself to the passageway.

He gained the spot, however, and, thoroughly saturated with water, set
out at the top of his speed after his assailant, whose shadowy figure
scurried along in front of him toward the bay. What the lad hoped to
accomplish he could not well tell himself, but he continued the pursuit
with the keen determination of a bloodhound.

A short distance back of the "go-down," a narrow street ran from the
bluff to the center of the city. It crossed the canal with the aid of a
low bridge, and was occupied by storehouses.

The storm was passing away. The rain had slackened perceptibly, and the
wind had died down to occasional puffs. In the south lightning could
still be seen, but it was the mere glowing of atmospheric heat.

In that part of Yokohama devoted to mercantile warehouses, the street
lamps were few and far between. There was one at the junction of the
bridge and passageway, however, and when Nattie dashed into its circle
of illumination, he suddenly found himself confronted by a uniformed
policeman.

The latter immediately stretched out his arms and brought the lad to a
halt. Then drawing his short-sword, he demanded in peremptory tones the
meaning of his haste. Seeing the futility of resisting the official,
Nattie hurriedly made known his identity, and explained the events of
the night.

Brief as was the delay, when the two started in pursuit of the fugitive,
enough time had been wasted to permit him to escape. A hasty search of
the neighborhood brought no results. Willis Round was out of reach.

"No matter," remarked the lad, at last. "I know him, and it won't be
difficult to apprehend the scoundrel."

Returning to the "go-down" with the officer, he closed the window and
then dispatched the man to the nearest messenger office with a note for
Grant. In due time the police official returned with assistance. Patrick
Cronin was found helplessly intoxicated in a nearby house, and
unceremoniously lugged away to jail.

The lame youth was prompt in his appearance on the scene. He brought
with him a servant of the family, who was installed as watchman until
the morrow. Relieved from his responsibility, Nattie accompanied his
brother home, and after explaining the affair in detail, proceeded to
take the rest he needed for the wrestling match of the next day.

On reporting at the office the following morning, he found Grant and
Mori still discussing Willis Round's actions. A report from the police
stated that nothing had been accomplished. The fugitive was still at
liberty, and in all probability had left the city.

"I'll wager a _yen_ he is speeding as fast as the train can carry him to
either Nagasaki or Kobe," remarked Mori. "He'll try to get a ship and
leave the country."

Grant shook his head doubtfully.

"In my opinion, he will not do that," he said. "There are too many
places in the interior where he can hide until this affair blows over."

"If the scoundrel ever shows his face in Yokohama I'll see that he is
placed behind the bars," exclaimed Nattie, vindictively. "He deserves
little mercy at our hands. If an all-wise Providence had not sent me to
the 'go-down' last night we would now be considerably out of pocket."

"What will we do with Patrick Cronin?"

"Discharge him; that's all. We can't prove any connection with Round.
The latter simply tempted him away from his duty with a bottle of
whiskey. It will be impossible to bring a criminal charge against the
Irishman."

"I will see that he remains in jail for a couple of weeks, anyway,"
decided Grant. "He deserves some punishment."

"When shall we close up?" asked Nattie, gayly. "This is a great holiday,
you know. We are due at the race track by ten."

"It's a quarter past nine now," replied the young Japanese, looking at
his watch. "Suppose we start at once?"

The suggestion was acted upon with alacrity. Leaving the office in
charge of a native watchman, the three youths took _jinrikishas_ and
proceeded to the "bluff," where the sports of the day were to take
place.

The storm of the preceding night had ended in delightful weather. The
tropical rays of the sun were tempered by a cooling breeze from the bay.
The air was glorious with briskness, and so clear that the majestic peak
of Fuji San seemed within touch.

The city was in gala attire. Banners of all nations were flaunting in
the breeze, but after the Japanese flag of the Rising Sun, the grand old
Stars and Stripes predominated. It could not be said that the firm of
Manning Brothers & Okuma had failed in patriotism.

Streaming from a lofty flagstaff on the roof was an immense American
ensign, and draping the _façade_ of the building were others intertwined
with the standard of the country. The streets were decorated with arches
and bunting, and every second native wore a little knot of red, white
and blue.

It was a unique celebration, from one point of view. Many years before,
the gallant Commodore Perry had sailed into the Bay of Yokohama with a
message of good will from the then President of the United States to the
ruler of Japan.

At that time the island kingdom was walled in by impassable bulwarks of
exclusiveness and hatred of foreigners. For thousands of years she had
calmly pursued her course of life, lost to civilization, and satisfied
with her reign of idols and depths of barbarism.

It required a strong hand to force a way to the central power, and time
waited until the Yankee commodore appeared with his fleet of ships.
Other nations had tried to pierce the barrier. England, France, Germany
made repeated attempts, but were repulsed.

The Dutch secured a foothold of trade, but on the most degrading terms.
Their representatives were compelled to approach the mikado and grovel
upon their knees with heads bowed in the dust. In this debasing attitude
were they greeted with the contempt they deserved, and as slaves to
Japan.

Much as Americans desired commercial relations with the country, they
would not accept them with humility. In the selection of an envoy the
United States could not have decided on a better man than Commodore
Perry, brother of the hero of Lake Erie.

Firm, implacable, intelligent, and generous withal, he was the fitting
choice. On reaching Japan he was met with refusals and evasions. He
persisted, and finally the august ruler sent a minor official to confer
with the foreigner.

"I am here as personal representative of the United States of America,
and I will see no one save the mikado himself, or his highest official,"
replied the bluff naval officer. "I have ten ships and two hundred guns,
and here I stay until I am received with the formalities due my
President."

He finally won the point, and after the usual delay, a treaty was made
between the two countries, to the amazement of the civilized world. This
was the entering wedge which resulted in the Japan of to-day. Lifted
from her barbarism, she has reached a high plane among nations. Small
wonder that her people celebrate the anniversary, and honor the memory
of the immortal Commodore Perry.

With apologies for this digression, I will again take up the thread of
the story.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE BEGINNING OF THE CELEBRATION.


_En route_ to the "bluff" the boys came upon a curious procession. As
stated above, the whole town was enjoying a _matsura_, or festival. As
Nattie aptly remarked, it was the Fourth of July, Decoration Day and
Christmas thrown into one.

In the present case the spectacle was one calculated to make a foreigner
imagine himself in the interior of Africa. Approaching the _jinrikishas_
occupied by Grant and his companions was a bullock cart, upon which a
raised platform and scaffolding twenty feet high had been constructed.

The bullock and all were covered with paper decorations, green boughs
and artificial flowers. In front a girl with a grotesque mask danced and
postured, while a dozen musicians twanged impossible instruments and
kept up an incessant tattoo on drums.

On foot around the _bashi_, as the whole structure is called, were
twenty or thirty lads naked as to their legs, their faces chalked, their
funny little heads covered with straw hats a yard wide, and their
bodies clad in many-colored tunics, decked out with paper streamers and
flowers.

In front, on all sides, behind, and even under the wheels, were scores
of children marching to the tune of the band--if it could be so
called--much as the youths of America do in the processions, be it
circus or otherwise, in our country.

The boys forming the guard to the bullock cart marched step by step with
military precision, chanting at the top of their voices, and banging
upon the ground a long iron bar fitted with loose rings.

The colors, the songs, the dance and the clanging iron, formed together
a combination calculated to draw the attention of every person not deaf,
dumb and blind. To the boys it was a common sight, and they bade their
_karumayas_ hurry forward away from the din.

On reaching the field on the "bluff," they found an immense throng
awaiting the commencement of ceremonies. The race track had been laid
out in fitting style, and innumerable booths, tents and _kiosks_ filled
two-thirds of the space.

The morning hours were to be devoted to ancient Japanese games, and the
time after tiffin to modern sports and matches, including the event of
the day, the wrestling. Mori Okuma--an athlete in both European and
native sports--was listed in a bout at Japanese fencing, so he left his
companions for a dressing-tent.

Nattie and Grant glanced over the vast concourse of people, and
exchanged bows with their many friends. The Americans and English in
foreign countries keep green in their memory the land of their birth,
and in all places where more than one foreigner can be found a club is
organized.

It is a sort of oasis in the desert of undesirable neighbors, and forms
a core around which cluster good fellowship and the habits and customs
of home. The Strangers' Club in Yokohama had a membership of six
hundred, and they were well represented in the present assemblage.

Grant and Nattie were well-known members, and they counted their friends
by the hundred. In looking over the field the latter espied a group in
the grand stand which immediately attracted his attention. He pointed
them out to his brother.

"There is Mr. Black and the two German merchants," he said. "They have
their heads together as if discussing some weighty problem. I wonder
where Ralph is? He is interested in athletics."

"I'll wager a _yen_ he is about somewhere. So the Germans are hobnobbing
with our esteemed enemy, eh? I'll warrant we are the subject of
conversation. I don't like the way Swartz and Bauer conduct business,
and I guess they know it. They can form an alliance if they wish to. We
needn't lose any sleep over it."

"There comes Ralph. He is looking in this direction. I wonder what he
thinks about the failure of his confederate, Willis Round, to injure us?
To the deuce with them, anyway! The fencing is about to commence."

The clapping of hands and a prolonged cheer proclaimed the beginning of
the sports. The _yobidashi_, or caller-out, took his stand upon a
decorated box, and announced a bout at fencing between the ever-pleasant
and most worthy importing merchant, Mori Okuma, and the
greatly-to-be-admired doctor-at-law, Hashimoto Choye.

At the end of this ceremonious proclamation he introduced our friend and
his antagonist. Both were small in stature, and they presented rather a
comical appearance. Each was padded out of all proportions with folds of
felt and leather. Upon their heads were bonnet-shaped helmets of metal,
and each wore a jacket of lacquered pieces decidedly uncomfortable to
the eye.

At the word of command attendants rushed in with the weapons. These were
not broadswords, rapiers, nor cutlasses, but a curious instrument
composed of a number of strips of bamboo, skillfully wrought together
and bound. The end was covered with a soft skin bag, and the handle was
very much like that of an ordinary sword.

Armed with these the combatants faced each other, and at the sound of a
mellow bell fell to with the utmost ferocity. Slash, bang, whack, went
the weapons; the fencers darted here and there, feinted, prodded, cut
and parried, as if they had to secure a certain number of strikes before
the end of the bout.

It was all very funny to those unaccustomed to the Japanese style of
fencing, and the naval officers from the various warships in port roared
with laughter. To the natives it was evidently deeply interesting, and
they watched the rapid play of the weapons as we do the gyrations of our
favorite pitcher in the national game.

At the end of five minutes the game was declared finished. The umpire,
an official of the city government, decided in favor of Mori, and that
youth fled to the dressing-tent to escape the plaudits of the audience.
He received the congratulations of Grant and Nattie with evident
pleasure, however.

The next item on the programme was a novel race between trained storks.
Then came a creeping match between a score of native youngsters, and so
the morning passed with jugglery and racing and many sports of the
ancient island kingdom.

At noon tiffin was served to the club and its guests in a large
pavilion placed in the center of the grounds. The ceremonies recommenced
at two o'clock with a running match between a dozen trained athletes. Of
all the spectators, probably the happiest was Grant Manning.

Deprived of participation in the various sports by his deformity, he
seemed to take a greater interest from that very fact. He clapped his
hands and shouted with glee at every point, and was the first to
congratulate the winners as they left the track.

The time for the great event of the day finally arrived. At three the
master of ceremonies, clad in _kamishimo_, or ancient garb, mounted his
stand and announced in stentorian tones:

"The next event on the programme will be a contest in wrestling between
six gentlemen of this city. Those persons whose names are listed with
the secretary will report in the dressing-tent."

"That calls me," cried Nattie, gayly. "Boys, bring out your rabbits'
feet and your lucky coins."

"You don't know the name of your antagonist?" asked Mori.

"No; nor will I until we enter the ring. Small matter. I feel in fine
trim, and I intend to do the best I can. So long."

"Luck with you, Nattie," called out all within hearing, casting admiring
glances after the handsome, athletic lad.

Directly in front of the grand stand a ring had been constructed
something after the fashion of the old-time circus ring. The surface was
sprinkled with a soft, black sand, and the ground carefully leveled.
Overhead stretched a canopy of matting, supported by a number of bamboo
poles wrapped in red, white and blue bunting.

At the four corners of the arena were mats for the judges, and in the
center an umpire in gorgeous costume took his place. By permission of
the Nomino Sakune Jinsha Society, which controls the national game of
wrestling in the empire, their hereditary judges were to act in the
present match.

After Nattie disappeared in the dressing-tent a short delay occurred. As
usual, the audience indicated their impatience with shouts and calls,
and the ever-present small boy made shrill noises upon various quaint
instruments.

Suddenly a herald with a trumpet emerged from the tent, and the vast
concourse became quiet. He sounded a blast, the canvas flaps of two
openings were pulled aside, and two lads bare as to chest and with legs
clad in trunks bounded into the arena.

A murmur of surprise came from the audience; the antagonists faced each
other, and then glared a bitter defiance. From one entrance had come
Nattie Manning, and from the other--Ralph Black!



CHAPTER XV.

THE WRESTLING MATCH.


Nattie's several encounters with the younger member of the English firm
had been duly discussed in the club, and the discomfiture of the elder
merchant during his call upon Grant had been a toothsome morsel for the
gossipers of the city.

The enmity between the houses of Manning and Black was the common talk
among the foreigners of Yokohama. They were aware of the cause of the
trouble, and knew the suspicions concerning the payment of the
now-famous debt.

And when the opening of the flaps in the dressing-tent had disclosed the
youths destined to face each other for the supremacy of the wrestling
ring, a murmuring sound rolled through the concourse like the echoes of
a passing wind.

"It's young Black and Nattie Manning!" cried more than one. "Whew! there
will be a warm tussle now."

Over in one corner of the grand stand Grant and Mori sat in amazement.
The _dénouement_ was entirely unexpected to them. Not long did they
remain silent. Up sprang the lame youth, his kindly face glowing with
excitement. Mounting a vacant chair despite his infirmity, he shook a
bundle of English notes in the air, and shouted:

"Ten to one on my brother! Ten to one! ten to one! Twenty pounds even
that he secures the first two points! Whoop! where are the backers of
the other side? I'll make it fifteen to one in five-pound notes. Who
will take the bet?"

In the meantime Mori had not been idle. Forcing his way directly to
where Mr. Black was sitting with the Germans, he shook a bag of coin in
the air, and dared them to place a wager with him. Following his example
came half a dozen American friends of the new firm, and presently the
grand stand resounded with the cries of eager bettors.

Down in the arena Nattie and Ralph stood confronting one another like
tigers in a forest jungle. The former's face was set with determination.
He had long wished for just such an opportunity. It had come at last.

Ralph's face wore a peculiar pallor. It was not fear, but rather that of
one who felt the courage of desperation. He well knew there was little
difference in physical strength between them, but he appeared to lack
the stamina of honesty and merit.

Both lads were in the pink of condition, and they formed a picture
appealing to the hearts of all lovers of athletics. There was not an
ounce of superfluous flesh on either. If anything, Ralph was slightly
taller, but Nattie's arms gave promise of greater length and muscle.

Presently the din in the grand stand ceased. Wagers had been given and
taken on both sides with great freedom. Grant had collapsed into a chair
with his purse empty and his notebook covered with bets. Mori was still
seeking takers with great persistency.

A blast was sounded on the herald's trumpet, and the eyes of the vast
audience were centered on the ring. The judges took their places, the
umpire hopped to the middle, and with a wave of his fan gave the signal.

Nattie and Ralph faced each other, eye to eye. Slowly sinking down until
their hands rested upon their knees, they waited for an opportunity to
grapple.

The silence was intense. The far-away echoes of a steamer's whistle came
from the distant bay. A chant of voices sounding like the murmur of
humming-birds was wafted in from a neighboring temple. The hoarse
croaking of a black crow--the city's scavenger--came from a circling
figure overhead.

A minute passed.

Nattie straightened. Ralph followed his example. Warily they approached
each other. Face to face, and eye to eye; intent upon every step, they
began to march sideways; always watching, always seeking for an opening.
Their hands twitched in readiness for a dash, a grip, a tug.

Each had his weight thrown slightly forward, and his shoulders slouched
a little, watching for an unwary move. Nattie feinted suddenly. His
right arm darted out, he touched Ralph's shoulder, but the English youth
dodged, only to be grasped by the waist by his antagonist's left hand.

There was a sharp tug, a whirl of the figures, then they broke away,
each still upon his feet. A vast sigh came from the audience, and Grant
chuckled almost deliriously.

The antagonists rested, still confronting each other. Ralph's pallor had
given way to an angry flush. His lips moved as if muttering oaths.
Nattie remained cool and imperturbable. His was the advantage. Coolness
in combat is half the battle. Those in the audience that had risked
their money upon the merchant's son began to regret their actions.

The match was not won, however.

At the end of five minutes a signal came from the umpire. Before the
flash of his brilliantly decorated fan had vanished from the eyes of
the audience, Nattie darted forward and clashed breast to breast against
Ralph.

The latter put forth his arms blindly, gropingly; secured a partial hold
of his opponent's neck, essayed a backward lunge, but in the hasty
effort stumbled and suddenly found himself upon his back with the
scattering gusts of sand settling around him.

And then how the grand stand rang with cheers!

"First bout for Manning!"

"A fair fall, and a great one!"

High above the tumult of sounds echoed a shrill voice:

"Thirty to one on my brother! I offer it in sovereigns! Take it up if
you dare!"

The victor stood modestly bowing from side to side, but there was a
glitter of pride in his eyes which told of the pleasure he felt--doubly
a pleasure, because his antagonist was Ralph Black.

The latter had been assisted to his feet by the men appointed for the
purpose. He was trembling in every limb, but it was from rage, not
exhaustion. His breath came in short, quick gasps, and he glared at
Nattie as if meditating an assault.

Again the umpire's fan gave the signal, and once more the combatants
faced each other for the second point. And now happened a grievous thing
for our heroes.

Nattie was not ordinarily self-assured. There was no room in his
character for conceit; but his triumph in the present case caused him to
make a very serious mistake.

He failed at this critical moment to bear in mind Moltke's famous
advice: "He who would win in war must put himself in his enemy's place."
Flushed with his victory he entered into the second bout with a
carelessness that brought him to disaster in the twinkling of an eye.

Ralph Black, smarting under defeat, kept his wits about him, however,
and, adopting his opponent's tactics, made a fierce rush at the instant
of the signal. Grasping Nattie by the waist, he forced him aside, and
then backward with irresistible force.

The result--the lad found himself occupying almost the same spot of
earth which bore Ralph's former imprint. Now was the time for the
opposition to cheer, and that they did right royally. Counter shouts
came from the American faction, and again Grant and Mori's voices arose
above the tumult inviting wagers.

Five minutes of rest, then came the time for the final and decisive
bout.

It was with very different feelings that Nattie passed to the center of
the ring now. His handsome face plainly bespoke humiliation, but there
was a flash of the eyes which also announced a grim and desperate
determination. It was like that of Ben Hur when he swept around the
arena with his chargers on the last circle.

Ralph was plainly elated. He paused long enough to wave one hand toward
a group of friends; then the twain faced for the last time. It was
evident from the outset that the bout would not last very long.

Warily, and with the utmost caution, the lads confronted each other.
Side by side they edged and retreated. A silence as of the tombs of
forgotten races fell upon the audience.

Suddenly--no man's eyes were quick enough to see the start--Nattie
dropped almost on all fours at Ralph's feet. He lunged forward, grasped
the English youth's hips, then with a mighty effort which brought the
blood in a scarlet wave to his face, he surged upward, and, with a
crash, the merchant's son lay a motionless heap in the center of the
arena!

And the match was won!



CHAPTER XVI.

AFTER THE VICTORY.


The match was won, and Nattie had come out victorious. There was an
instant of silence after the clever throw--silence like that which
precedes a storm--then the grounds rang with a tumult of applause.

With shouts and yells, with clapping of hands and piercing whistles the
vast audience proclaimed their appreciation. Men nearer the ring climbed
over the low railing and lifting the blushing lad to their shoulders,
formed the nucleus of a triumphal procession.

Around the arena they marched until at last Nattie struggled free by
main force. Retreating to the dressing-tent, he disappeared within its
shelter, followed by Grant and Mori. The latter were so filled with joy
that they could not find qualifying words in either language, so they
shouted alternately in Japanese and English.

In the meantime the defeated wrestler had been brought to a realization
of his discomfiture by his father and several surgeons. The fall had
stunned him, but no bones were broken. Leaning on his parent, he retired
to a _jinrikisha_ and left the field without changing his costume.

In the dressing-tent Nattie and his companions were holding gay
carnival over the victory. The little apartment was crowded with
Americans, both civilian and naval, and it soon became evident that the
triumph was being regarded as an international affair. It was a victory
of the American element over the English.

The difference between Nattie and Ralph had given way to something of
greater importance. Through some unexplained reason a strong
undercurrent of jealousy exists between members of the two countries in
foreign climes, and evidences crop to the surface at intervals.

It generally manifests itself in just such occasions as the present, and
from the moment Nattie and Ralph were matched together in the arena, the
American and English took sides with their respective countrymen.

The overwhelming importance of the first match detracted all interest
from those following, and the celebration was soon brought to a close.
Nattie and his companions finally escaped from the field. At Grant's
invitation a number of the Americans accompanied him to a well-known tea
house in the city where dinner was served in honor of the occasion.

Of course the victor was the lion of the feast, but he bore his honors
modestly. On being called upon for a speech he displayed greater
trepidation than when he confronted his antagonist in the arena. At
last yielding to the vociferous invitation, he arose from his chair and
said, bluntly:

"I am no hand to talk, my friends. In our firm my Brother Grant is my
mouthpiece. But I can say that I appreciate this honor, and that I am
almighty glad I defeated Ralph Black. I guess you know the reason why. I
thank you for your kindness."

Then he abruptly resumed his seat, amid the cheers of the party who
voted him a good fellow with the enthusiasm of such occasions. The
impromptu banquet came to an end in due time, and the coming of the
morrow found the boys again at work in the counting-room of Manning
Brothers & Okuma.

It was with a chuckle of great satisfaction that Grant counted up the
results of his wagers made in the grand stand. He checked off each item
with glee, and finally announced to his companions that he was three
hundred pounds ahead.

"I don't care a broken penny for the money," he said. "In fact, I intend
to turn it over to the hospital fund, but it's the fact of beating those
Englishmen that tickles me. Nattie, if you had permitted Ralph Black to
throw you in that last bout I would have disowned you and retired to a
Shinton monastery."

"My, what a fate I saved you from!" grinned his brother. "Fancy you a
monk with that hoppity-skip foot of yours. But how is Ralph? Have either
of you heard?"

"Some one told me this morning that he was feeling very sore--in
spirits," laughed Mori. "They say he took the early train for Kobe,
where he intends to stay until his humiliation has a chance to
disappear."

"I'll wager a _yen_ yesterday's work has not increased his liking for
us," carelessly remarked the lame youth. "What did you get out of his
father and those Germans, Mori? I saw you hovering about them with a bag
of coin. Did the old man do any betting?"

"Five hundred dollars. I gave him odds of seven to one. I also have the
German merchants, Swartz and Bauer, listed for a cool thousand. Whew!
won't they groan in bitterness of spirit when I send over for the
money?"

"I only regret one thing in the whole affair," said Nattie. "And that is
my confounded carelessness in permitting Ralph to throw me in the second
bout. It was a case of 'swell-head,' I suppose. The first throw was so
easy I thought all the rest would be like it. However, all's well that
ends well. The match is won, and the English will sing low for a time."

During the balance of the week the members of the new firm labored
early and late arranging their shipments of tea and silks. Each steamer
carried a consignment of goods to America, and in return came cargoes of
merchandise, flour, printed goods, machinery and wool.

The events of the past few days had advertised the firm to such an
extent that the volume of business became burdensome. In due course of
time the flood of money turned and began to flow back into the coffers.
Bills outstanding at short periods matured, and the bank account assumed
healthy proportions.

Mori was compelled to withdraw his last loan of thirty thousand dollars,
given at a most critical point in the firm's brief existence despite his
protest. At the end of the third week two extra warehouses were leased,
and the clerical force in the office doubled.

All this was very comforting to Grant and his associates, but there
still remained a more valuable prize. The rumors of war between China
and Japan, which had bubbled to the surface of the political caldron
many times during the past year, now began to attract public attention.

The government disclaimed any idea of impending war, but it quietly
proceeded with its preparations at the same time. It was known among the
merchants that a large order for arms and ammunition would be given out
on the first day of August, and the competition became very keen.

Through his personal friendship with the secretary of war, and the
integrity of the new firm, Grant was acknowledged as possessing the best
chance. There was one company, however, that had not given up hope of
securing the prize, and that was the firm of Black & Son.

The reader will doubtless remember the meeting held in the English
merchant's office between father and son and the ex-bookkeeper, Willis
Round. At that consultation the latter had disclosed a plan for the
defeat of Grant Manning.

The affair of the "go-down," when Round was foiled in his attempt to
start a conflagration, delayed the schemes of the conspirators, but the
near approach of the time for awarding the valuable contract, again
found them at work.

Mr. Black was the only one of the three present in Yokohama. Willis
Round was an exile for obvious reasons, and Ralph chose to absent
himself after the wrestling match on the seventh of July. By arrangement
the twain met in an interior village north of the capital, where they
schemed and plotted for the downfall of their enemies.

At the expiration of two weeks Patrick Cronin was released from jail
and advised by the authorities to leave the country. Thus everything
promised peace for our heroes, and the prosperity of honest labor fell
to their lot day by day.

All three were too shrewd to allow such a pleasant state of affairs to
lull their watchfulness. They knew that in war silence is ominous, and
that many a maneuver is projected under the veil of a temporary truce.
As it came to pass, however, something occurred that deceived even
Nattie's suspicious eye.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE TURNING UP OF A BAD PENNY AND ITS RESULTS.


Nattie's duties as warehouseman and shipper of the firm took him aboard
the shipping of the port day by day. When a consignment of tea or silk
was conveyed from the "go-down" in lighters to the steamers riding at
anchor in the bay, the lad would visit the vessels to see that the goods
were checked properly.

Also when the smaller coasting craft would arrive from other ports with
cargoes from the local agents of the firm, Nattie's duty carried him on
board to sign the receipts.

One morning while on the latter journey to a coaster from Kobe he was
surprised to see an old acquaintance among the crew. It was the recreant
watchman, Patrick Cronin.

Still harboring resentment for the fellow's actions on that memorable
night when Willis Round made his dastardly attempt to fire the "go-down"
with its valuable contents, Nattie passed him without recognition. After
attending to his business on board, he started to leave the little
steamer.

As he was preparing to descend to his cutter, he felt a touch upon his
shoulder. Turning, he saw Patrick with an expression of great humility
upon his rugged face.

"What is it?" asked Nattie, sharply.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but could Oi have a bit of a talk wid yer?"
replied the Irishman, pleadingly.

"Well, what do you wish to say? Make haste; I am in a hurry."

"Could yer step back here a bit where we won't be overheard, sir? It's
something of interest to yourself Oi have to say, sir. Maybe ye'll think
it's valuable information Oi have before Oi'm through."

Laughing incredulously, Nattie walked over to the break of the
forecastle, and bade his companion proceed with his yarn. He thought it
would prove to be a sly attempt to secure another position with the
firm, and he firmly intended to refuse the request.

"Now what is it?" he again demanded, impatiently.

"It's mad ye are at me, Oi suppose?"

"See here, Patrick Cronin, if you have anything to tell me, speak out.
My time is too valuable to waste just now. If you intend to ask for a
situation with the firm you had better save your breath. One experience
with you is enough."

Instead of becoming angry at this plain talk, Patrick set to chuckling
with good humor.

"Oi don't blame yer for being down on me," he said, with what seemed
very like a wink. "Oi should not have let that spalpane tempt me wid th'
drink. Oi have it in for him, and by th' same token that's why Oi'm now
talking to yer."

"Do you know where Willis Round is?" quickly asked Nattie.

"Maybe Oi do, and maybe Oi don't. It's for you to say, sir."

"For me to say? What have I to do with it?"

"Would yer like to capture him?" asked Patrick, cunningly.

Nattie thought a moment before replying. Would it really be worth the
candle to bring the ex-bookkeeper to justice? The chase might entail a
journey and some expense. But then would it not be advisable for the
sake of future peace to have Round behind prison bars?

"As long as he is at liberty," thought the lad, "we can expect trouble.
This chance of disarming him should not be neglected."

"Yes; I would very much like to capture the fellow," he added, aloud. "I
suppose you know where he is, or you would not mention the subject."

"I do know his whereabouts this blessed minute."

"Well?"

The Irishman leered significantly.

"Ah, you wish to sell the information, I suppose?" said Nattie, a light
breaking in upon him.

"It's wise ye are."

"Can you tell me exactly where he is, so that I can send and have him
arrested?"

"No, no. Ye mustn't send the police, sir. If ye want to capture the
spalpane ye must go yerself, or wid a friend. The boobies of officers
would spoil everything. If Oi give the man away Oi must be sure he will
be put in prison, as he'd kill me for informing on him."

"Oh, I see," said Nattie, contemptuously. "You wish to save your
precious skin. Well, if it is worth while I'll go for him myself, or
probably take Mori. Now where is he?"

"Is the information worth twenty pounds, sir?"

"No; decidedly not."

Patrick looked discomfited.

"But think of th' good Oi'm doing yer," he pleaded. "Mister Round is a
bad man, and he'll keep yer in a torment of suspense until ye put him
away. Won't ye make it twenty pounds, sir?"

"No."

"Then how much?"

"Half that is a big amount for the information."

"Call it twelve pounds, and it's a bargain."

"All right; but understand, you are not to get a cent until the man is
captured."

"Oh, Oi'll agree to that. Oi'll go wid yer if ye pay the fare."

"Very well. Now where is Willis Round?"

"He's stopping in Nagasaki."

"Nagasaki? What part?"

"That Oi'll show yer in due time. He's hid away in a place ye wouldn't
dream of lookin' into. When do you want to start, sir?"

"As soon as possible. We can leave on the evening train and reach there
by daylight. Get your discharge from the steamer and report to me at the
station about six o'clock."

"And who will ye take besides me, sir? It'll be just as well to have a
mate, as there's no telling what'll happen."

Nattie eyed the speaker keenly.

"So you think there will be no trouble in effecting the capture, eh?" he
said.

"No; but it's a good thing to be prepared in this worruld."

"There is more truth than poetry in that," was the grim reply. "I think
Mr. Okuma will accompany me. He intended to run down in that direction
before long, anyway. Now don't fail, Patrick. Be at the station at six."

The ex-watchman waved his hand in assent as the lad entered his boat,
then he retreated to the forecastle with an expression of great
satisfaction upon his face. During the balance of the morning he
proceeded about his work with evident good humor.

Shortly before noon he borrowed a piece of paper and an envelope from
the purser, and laboriously indited a letter with the stump of a lead
pencil. Sealing the epistle, he wrote upon the back:


     "MISTER JESSE BLACK, ESQ.,
           "The Bund, forninst Main Street,
                        "Yokohammer, Japan."


After regarding his work with complacency, he asked the captain for his
discharge. On being paid off, he went ashore and disappeared in the
direction of the general post office.

In the meantime Nattie had returned to the office, supremely unconscious
of Patrick's duplicity. He found Grant and Mori making up the invoices
for a cargo of lacquered ware. He explained his news at once.

"It's a good chance to strike Black & Son a blow they will be not
likely to forget in a hurry," he added, throwing himself into a chair.
"Perhaps we can get a confession from the fellow, also."

"You mean about that debt?" asked Mori.

"Yes. When he is compelled to face a five years' sentence for attempted
arson perhaps he'll 'split' on his confederates. In that case if it
turns out as we suspect, the English firm will be wiped out."

Grant shook his head doubtfully.

"I do not like the source of your information, Nattie," he said. "In my
opinion, Patrick Cronin is not to be trusted."

"Oh, he's all right. He has it in for Round for playing him such a
trick, and he is trying to get even. Then the twelve pounds is something
to him."

"We might run down to Nagasaki," thoughtfully remarked the Japanese
youth. "I intended to drum up trade in that direction, anyway. It will
be a nice little trip, even if nothing comes of it."

"Something tells me that it will be a wild-goose chase," replied Grant.
"You can try it, though. I can spare both of you for three or four days
about now. You need a vacation, anyway."

"What about yourself, brother?" asked Nattie, generously. "You have
worked harder than either of us. Why can't you come also?"

"What, and leave the business go to the dogs! Oh, no, my dear boy. What
would I do with a vacation? I am never happier than when I am pouring
over accounts in this office, believe me. Get away with you now. Run
home and pack up for your trip. But let me give you a bit of advice."

"What is it?"

"Take revolvers, and see that the cartridges are in good condition.
Also, don't go poking about the suburbs of Nagasaki without a squad of
police."

"One would think we are bound after a band of outlaws in the Indian
Territory at home," laughed Nattie. "Willis Round is not such a
formidable man as all that."

"No; but you don't know who else you may have to contend with. Another
thing: keep your eye on Patrick Cronin. Good-by."

On reaching the station that evening Mori and Nattie found the Irishman
awaiting their arrival. He was all smiles and good humor, and his rugged
face was as guileless as that of a new-born babe. Verily the human
countenance is not always an index to one's true nature.

"It's plazed Oi am to see yer, gentlemen," he said, suavely. "I did
think ye might be after changing yer minds. It's near train time now."

"We are here," replied Nattie, briefly. "Get into the car."

He purchased three tickets, for Nagasaki by way of Kobe and followed
them into the train. A moment later the long line of coaches left the
station and rolled rapidly on into the night.

After a brief stop at Kobe, which was reached shortly before daybreak,
the train resumed its course along the edge of the sea. A short distance
from the city the tracks were laid directly upon the coast, only a
parapet of stone separating the rails from the water's edge.

Feeling restless and unable to sleep, Nattie left his bed, and throwing
on his outer clothing, stepped out upon the platform. He was presently
joined by Mori, and the twain stood watching the flitting panorama.

A storm, which had been gathering in the south, presently broke, lashing
the broad surface of the sea into an expanse of towering waves. As the
gale increased in force, the caps of water began to break over the
parapet in salty spray.

"Whew! I guess we had better beat a retreat," exclaimed Mori, after
receiving an extra dash of moisture.

"Wait a moment," pleaded Nattie. "I hate to leave such a grand scene.
What a picture the angry seas make! My! that was a tremendous wave! It
actually shook the train."

"Murder and saints!" groaned a voice at his elbow. "Phwat is the matter,
sir? Is it going to sea we are in a train of cars? 'Tis the first time
Patrick Cronin ever traveled on a craft without masts or hull. Oi think
it do be dangerous along here, saving yer presence."

Before either Nattie or Mori could reply to the evidently truthful
remark, a line of water, curling upward in threatening crests, dashed
over the parapet and fairly deluged the platforms. It was with the
greatest difficulty the three could retain their hold.

Now thoroughly alarmed, they endeavored to enter the car. Suddenly the
speed of the train became lessened, then it stopped altogether. A moment
later the grinding of heavy driving wheels was heard, and the line of
coaches began to back up the track. It was a precaution taken too late.

Before the cars had obtained much headway a wall of glistening water was
hurled over the parapet with resistless force, sweeping everything
before it. Amid the shouts and screams of a hundred victims the coaches
and engine were tumbled haphazard from the track, piling up in a mass of
wreckage against the cliff.



CHAPTER XVIII.

EVIL TIDINGS.


To those who have not experienced the coming of sudden disaster, word
descriptions are feeble. It is easy to tell how this and that occurred;
to speak of the wails and cries of the injured; to try to depict the
scene in sturdy English, but the soul-thrilling terror, the horror, and
physical pain of the moment must be felt.

In the present case the accident was so entirely unexpected that the
very occurrence carried an added quota of dreadful dismay. The spot had
never been considered unsafe. At the time of construction eminent
engineers had decided that it would be perfectly feasible to lay the
rails close to the edge of the sea.

A stout parapet of stone afforded ample protection, in their opinion,
but they had not gauged the resistless power of old ocean. The coming of
a fierce south wind worked the mischief, and in much less time than is
required in the telling, the doomed train was cast a mass of wreckage
against the unyielding face of the cliff.

The first crash extinguished the lights, adding impenetrable darkness to
the scene. It found Nattie and Mori within touch of each other. They
instinctively grouped together; but a second and more violent wrench of
the coach sent them flying in different directions.

The instinct of life is strong in all. The drowning wretch's grasp at a
straw is only typical of what mortals will do to keep aglow the vital
spark.

Terror-stricken, and stunned from the force of the shock, Nattie still
fought desperately for existence. He felt the coach reeling beneath his
feet, he was tossed helplessly like a truss of hay from side to side,
and then almost at his elbow he heard a familiar voice shrieking:

"Mercy! mercy! The blessed saints have mercy upon a poor sinner. Oi'm
sorry for me misdeeds. Oi regret that Oi was even now going against the
law. Oi confess that Oi meant to lead them two young fellows away so
that----"

The words ended in a dreadful groan as the car gave a violent lurch,
then Nattie felt a shock of pain and he lost consciousness. When he came
to, it was to find the bright sun shining in his face.

It was several moments before he could recognize his surroundings. A
sound as of persons moaning in agony brought back the dreadful truth. He
found himself lying upon a stretcher, and near at hand were others, each
bearing a similar burden.

The temporary beds were stretched along the face of the cliff. A dozen
feet away was a huge mass of shattered coaches and the wreck of a
locomotive. A number of Japanese were still working amid the _débris_,
evidently in search of more victims of the disaster.

Nattie attempted to rise, but the movement caused him excruciating pain
in the left shoulder. A native, evidently a surgeon, was passing at the
moment, and noticing the action, he said, with a smile of encouragement:

"Just keep quiet, my lad. You are all right, merely a dislocation. Do
not worry, we will see that you are well taken care of."

"But my friend?" replied the boy, faintly. "His name is Mori Okuma, and
he was near me when the accident occurred. Can you tell me anything of
him? Is he safe?"

"Is he one of my countrymen, a youth like yourself, and clad in tweed?"

"Yes, yes."

"Well, I can relieve your anxiety," was the cheering reply. "He is
working like a trooper over there among the coaches. It was he who
rescued you and brought you here. Wait; I will call him."

A moment later Mori made his appearance, but how sadly changed was his
usually neat appearance. His hat was gone, his clothing torn and
disordered, and his face grimed with dust and dirt. He laughed cheerily,
however, on seeing Nattie, and made haste to congratulate him on his
escape.

"This is brave," he exclaimed. "You will soon be all right, old boy. No,
don't try to get up; your arm is dislocated at the shoulder, and perfect
quiet is absolutely necessary."

"But I can't lie here like a stick, Mori," groaned the lad. "What's a
dislocation, anyway? It shouldn't keep a fellow upon his back."

"You had better take the doctor's advice. The relief train will start
for Kobe before long, and once in a good hotel, you can move about. This
is a terrible accident. Fully twenty persons have lost their lives, and
as many more wounded."

"Have you seen anything of Patrick Cronin?"

"No, nothing. It is thought several bodies were carried out to sea when
the water rolled back after tearing away the parapet. His may be one of
them."

The Irishman's words, heard during the height of the turmoil, returned
to Nattie. He now saw the significance of the Irishman's cry.

"Something is up, Mori," he said, gravely, explaining the matter. "It
certainly seems as if Patrick was leading us on a wild-goose chase."

"That was Grant's impression, anyway. Did the fellow really use those
words?"

"Yes, and he evidently told the truth. He was in fear of death, and he
confessed aloud that he was leading us away so that something could
happen. At the interesting moment his voice died away to a groan, then I
lost consciousness."

"What do you think he could have meant?"

"It is something to do with the Blacks, I'll wager."

"But does he know them?"

"He is acquainted with Willis Round, and that is the same thing."

Mori seemed doubtful.

"You don't think he intended to lead us into a trap?" he asked,
incredulously.

"Hardly, but----"

"Grant?"

Nattie sat up in the stretcher despite the pain the effort caused him.

"Mori, we must communicate with him at once," he said. "There is no
telling what could happen while we are away. Confound it! I'll never
forgive myself if this should prove to be a ruse. Can you telegraph from
here?"

"No, we must wait until we reach Kobe. Now don't excite yourself, my
dear fellow. You will only work into a fever, and that will retard your
recovery. I really think we are mistaken. But even if it should prove
true, it won't mend matters by making yourself worse."

The lad fell back with a groan. He acknowledged the wisdom of Mori's
remark, and he remained quiet until the relief train finally carried him
with the balance of the survivors to the city they had recently left.
Mori hastened to the telegraph office after seeing his charge to a
hotel.

What Nattie suffered in spirit during the Japanese youth's absence can
only be measured by the great love he bore his crippled brother. The
very thought that something had happened to him was anguish. He knew
that Grant was bravery itself despite his physical disability, and that
he would not hesitate to confront his enemies single-handed.

When the turning of the door knob proclaimed Mori's return, Nattie
actually bounded from the bed and met him halfway. One glance at the
Japanese youth's face was enough. Evil news was written there with a
vivid brush. In one hand he held a telegram, which he gave to his
companion without a word.



CHAPTER XIX.

BAD NEWS CONFIRMED.


Nattie took the telegram with a sinking heart. He had already read
disquieting news in Mori's face, and for a moment he fumbled at the
paper as if almost afraid to open it. Finally mustering up courage, he
scanned the following words:


     "Message received. Grant cannot be found. He left office at usual
     time last night, but did not appear at his home. Have done nothing
     in the matter yet. Wire instructions. Sorry to hear of accident."


It was signed by the chief bookkeeper, a Scotchman, named Burr. He was a
typical representative of his race, canny, hard-headed, and thoroughly
reliable. Sentiment had no place in his nature, but he was as
impregnable in honesty as the crags of his own country.

Poor Nattie read the telegram a second, then a third time. The words
seemed burned into his brain. There could be only one meaning: Grant
Manning had met with disaster. But where, and how? And through whom? The
last question was easily answered.

"Mori," he said, with a trembling voice, "this is the work of the
Blacks and that scoundrel, Willis Round."

"Something may have happened, but we are not yet certain," gravely
replied the Japanese youth. "Surely Grant could take a day off without
our thinking the worse."

"You do not know my brother," answered the lad, steadfastly. "He hasn't
a bad habit in the world, and the sun is not more regular than he. No,
something has happened, and we must leave for Yokohama by the first
train."

"It is simply impossible for you to go," expostulated Mori. "The doctor
said you must not stir from bed for three days at the very least. I will
run down at once, but you must remain here."

"If the affair was reversed, Grant would break the bounds of his tomb to
come to me," Nattie replied, simply. "Send for a surgeon and ask him to
fix this shoulder for traveling. I want to leave within an hour."

The young Japanese threw up both hands in despair, but he left without
further words. In due time the man of medicine appeared and bandaged the
dislocated member. A few moments later Nattie and Mori boarded the train
for the north.

As the string of coaches whirled through valley and dell, past paddy
fields with their queer network of ridges and irrigating ditches; past
groups of open-eyed natives dressed in the quaint blue costumes of the
lower classes; through small clusters of thatched bamboo houses, each
with its quota of cheerful, laughing babies, tumbling about in the
patches of gardens much as the babies of other climes do, Nattie fell to
thinking of the great misfortune which had overtaken the firm.

"If something has happened to Grant--which may God forbid--it will be
greatly to the interest of Jesse Black," he said, turning to his
companion. "Everything points in their direction. The first question in
such a case is, who will it benefit?"

"You refer to the army contracts?"

"Yes. It means to the person securing them a profit of over one hundred
thousand dollars, and that is a prize valuable enough to tempt a more
scrupulous man than the English merchant."

"I think you are right. If Grant has been waylaid, or spirited away,
which is yet to be proven, we have something to work on. We will know
where to start the search."

Yokohama was reached by nightfall. Mori had telegraphed ahead, and they
found Mr. Burr, a tall, grave man with a sandy beard, awaiting them. He
expressed much sympathy for Nattie's condition, and then led the way to
the _jinrikishas_.

"I can explain matters better in the office," he said, in answer to an
eager question. "'Tis an uncou' night eenyway, and we'll do better under
shelter."

Compelled to restrain their impatience perforce, his companions sank
back in silence and watched the nimble feet of the _karumayas_ as they
trotted along the streets on the way to the Bund.

Turning suddenly into the broad, well-lighted main street, they overtook
a man pacing moodily toward the bay. As they dashed past, Nattie glanced
at him; then, with an imprecation, the lad stood up in his vehicle. A
twinge of pain in the disabled shoulder sent him back again.

Noting the action, Mori looked behind him, and just in time to see the
man slip into a convenient doorway. It was Mr. Black.

"Keep cool, Nattie," he called out. "Confronting him without proof won't
help us."

"But did you see how he acted when he caught sight of us?"

"Yes, and it meant guilt. He tried to dodge out of our sight."

On reaching the office, Mr. Burr led the way inside. Lighting the gas,
he placed chairs for his companions, and seated himself at his desk.

"Noo I will explain everything," he said, gravely. "But first tell me if
ye anticipate anything serious? Has Mr. Grant absented himself before?"

"Never," Nattie replied to the last question.

"Weel, then, the situation is thus: Last night he left here at the usual
hour and took a _'rikisha_ in front of the door. I was looking through
the window at the time, and I saw him disappear around the corner of
Main Street. I opened the office this morning at eight by the clock, and
prepared several papers and checks for his signature. Time passed and he
did na' show oop.

"At eleven I sent a messenger to the house on the 'bluff.' The boy
returned with the information from the servants that Mr. Grant had not
been home. Somewhat alarmed, I sent coolies through the town to all the
places where he might have called, but without results. I received your
telegram and answered it at once. And that's all I know."

The information was meager enough. Nattie and Mori exchanged glances of
apprehension. Their worst fears were realized. That some disaster had
happened to Grant was now evident. The former sprang to his feet and
started toward the door without a word.

"Where are you going?" asked the Japanese youth, hastily.

"To see Mr. Black," was the determined reply. "The villain is
responsible for this."

"But what proof can you present? Don't do anything rash, Nattie. We must
talk it over and consider the best plan to be followed. We must search
for a clew."

"And in the meantime they will kill him. Oh, Mori, I can't sit here and
parley words while my brother is in danger. I know Ralph Black and his
father. They would not hesitate at anything to make money. Even human
life would not stop them."

"That may be. Still, you surely can see that we must go slow in the
matter. Believe me, Grant's disappearance affects me even more than if
he was a near relative. I intend to enter heart and soul into the search
for him. Everything I possess, my fortune, all, is at his disposal. But
I must counsel patience."

The tears welled in Nattie's eyes. He tried to mutter his thanks, but
his emotion was too great. He extended his hand, and it was grasped by
the young native with fraternal will. The Scot had been eying them with
his habitual placidity. The opening of a crater under the office floor
would not have altered his calm demeanor.

"Weel, now," he said, slowly, "can you no explain matters to me? I am
groping about in the dark."

"You shall be told everything," replied Mori.

He speedily placed him in possession of all the facts. Mr. Burr listened
to the story without comment. At the conclusion he said, in his quiet
way:

"I am no great hand at detective work, but I can see as far thro' a
millstone as any mon with twa gude eyes. Mister Grant has been kidnaped,
and ye don't need to look farther than the Black's for a clew."

"That is my opinion exactly," exclaimed Nattie.

"I am with you both," said Mori, "but I still insist that we go slow in
accusing them. It stands to reason that to make a demand now would warn
the conspirators--for such they are--that we suspect them. We must work
on the quiet."

"You are right, sir," agreed Mr. Burr.

"What is your plan?" asked Nattie, with natural impatience.

"It is to place Mr. Burr in charge of the business at once, and for us
to start forth in search of possible clews. I will try to put a man in
the Black residence, and another in his office. We must hire a number of
private detectives--I know a dozen--and set them to work scouring the
city. The station master, the keeper of every road, the railway guards,
all must be closely questioned. And in the meantime, while I am posting
Mr. Burr, you must go home and keep as quiet as you can. Remember,
excitement will produce inflammation in that shoulder, and inflammation
means many days in bed."

The authoritative tone of the young Japanese had its effect. Grumbling
at his enforced idleness, Nattie left the office and proceeded to the
"bluff." Mori remained at the counting-room, and carefully drilled the
Scotchman in the business on hand.



CHAPTER XX.

THE MAN BEYOND THE HEDGE.


It was past midnight when he finally left with Mr. Burr, but the
intervening time had not been wasted. Orders, contracts and other
details for at least a week had been explained to the bookkeeper, and he
was given full powers to act as the firm's representative. After a final
word of caution, Mori parted with him at the door, and took a _'rikisha_
for the Manning residence. He found Nattie pacing the floor of the front
veranda. The lad greeted him impatiently.

"Have you heard anything?" he asked.

"Not a word. I have been busy at the office since you left. Everything
is arranged. Mr. Burr has taken charge, and he will conduct the business
until this thing is settled. We are lucky to have such a man in our
employ."

"Yes, yes; Burr is an honest fellow. But what do you intend to do now?"

"Still excited, I see," smiled Mori. He shook a warning finger at the
lad, and added, seriously: "Remember what I told you. If you continue in
this fashion I will call a doctor and have you taken to the hospital."

"I can't help it," replied Nattie, piteously. "I just can't keep still
while Grant is in danger. You don't know how anxious I am. Let me do
something to keep my mind occupied."

"If you promise to go to bed for the rest of the night I will give you
ten minutes now to discuss our plans. Do you agree?"

"Yes; but you intend to remain here until morning?"

"No, I cannot spare the time. I must have the detectives searching for
clews before daylight."

"Mori, you are a friend indeed. Some day I will show you how much I
appreciate your kindness."

"Nonsense! You would do as much if not more if the case was reversed.
Now for the plans. To commence, we are absolutely certain of one thing:
Patrick Cronin was in the scheme, and he was sent to get us out of the
way while Ralph and Willis Round attended to Grant."

"I am glad the Irishman met with his just deserts," exclaimed Nattie,
vindictively. "He is now food for fishes."

"Yes; a fitting fate. The accident cannot be considered an unmixed
catastrophe. If it had not occurred we would have gone on to Nagasaki,
and have lost much valuable time. As it is, we are comparatively early.
What we need now is a clew, and for that I intend to begin a search at
once."

"Would it do any good to notify the American Consul?"

"No; our best plan is to keep the affair as quiet as possible. We will
say nothing about it. If Grant is missed we can intimate that he has
gone away for a week.

"Now go to bed and sleep if you can," he added, preparing to leave. "I
will call shortly after breakfast and report progress."

With a friendly nod of his head he departed on his quest for detectives.
Nattie remained seated for a brief period, then he walked over to a
bell-pull, and summoned a servant. At his command the man brought him a
heavy cloak, and assisted him to don his shoes.

From a chest of drawers in an adjacent room the lad took a revolver.
After carefully examining the charges he thrust it into his pocket and
left the house.

The night was hot and sultry. Not a breath of wind stirred, and the
mellow rays of a full moon beamed down on ground and foliage, which
seemed to glow with the tropical heat. Notwithstanding the discomfort
Nattie drew his cloak about him and set out at a rapid walk down the
street leading past the Manning residence.

From out on the bay came the distant rattle of a steamer's winch. The
stillness was so oppressive that even the shrill notes of a boatswain's
whistle came to his ears. An owl hooted in a nearby maple; the
melancholy howl of a strolling dog sounded from below where the native
town was stretched out in irregular rows of bamboo houses.

The lad kept to the shady side of the road, and continued without
stopping until he reached a mansion built in the English style, some ten
or eleven blocks from his house. The building stood in the center of
extensive grounds, and was separated from the street by an ornamental
iron fence and a well-cultivated hedge.

It was evidently the home of a man of wealth. In fact, it was the
domicile of Mr. Black and his son Ralph. What was Nattie's object in
leaving the Manning residence in face of Mori's warning? What was his
object in paying a visit to his enemy at such an hour of the night?

Anxious, almost beside himself with worry, suffering severely from his
dislocated shoulder, and perhaps slightly under the influence of a
fever, the lad had yielded to his first impulse when alone, and set out
from home with no settled purpose.

On reaching the open air he thought of Jesse Black. The mansion was only
a short distance away; perhaps something could be learned by watching
it. The conjecture was father to the deed.

Selecting a spot shaded by a thick-foliaged tree, Nattie carefully
scanned the _façade_ of the building. It was of two stories, and
prominent bow-windows jutted out from each floor. The lower part was
dark, but a dim light shone through the curtains of the last window on
the right.

A bell down in the Bund struck twice; it was two o'clock. At the sound a
dark figure appeared at the window and thrust the shade aside. The
distance was not too great for Nattie to distinguish the man as the
English merchant.

Drawing himself up the lad shook his fist at the apparition. The action
brought his head above the hedge. Something moving on the other side
caught his eye, and he dodged back just as a man arose to his feet
within easy touch.

Breathless with amazement, Nattie crouched down, and parting the roots
of the hedge, peered through. The fellow was cautiously moving toward
the house. Something in his walk seemed familiar. Presently he reached a
spot where the moon's bright rays fell upon him.

A stifled cry of profound astonishment, not unmingled with terror, came
from the lad's lips, and he shrank back as if with the intention of
fleeing. He thought better of it, however, and watched with eager eyes.
A dozen times the man in the grounds halted and crouched to the earth,
but finally he reached the front entrance of the mansion.

A door was opened, and a hand was thrust forth with beckoning fingers.
The fellow hastily stepped inside and vanished from view, leaving Nattie
a-quiver with excitement. The dislocated shoulder, the pain, the fever,
all were forgotten in the importance of the discovery.

"That settles it," he muttered. "I am on the right track as sure as the
moon is shining. Now I must enter that house by hook or crook. But who
would believe that miracles could happen in this century? If that fellow
wasn't----"

He abruptly ceased speaking. The door in the front entrance suddenly
opened, and a huge dog was thrust down the stone steps. Nattie knew the
animal well. It was a ferocious brute Ralph had imported from England
that year.

As a watchdog it bore a well-merited reputation among the natives of
thieving propensities. It was dreaded because it thought more of a
direct application of sharp teeth than any amount of barking. Its
unexpected appearance on the scene altered matters considerably.

"Dog or no dog, I intend to find my way into that house before many
minutes," decided the lad. "It is an opportunity I cannot permit to
pass."

He drew out his revolver, but shook his head and restored it again to
his pocket. A shot would alarm the neighborhood and bring a squad of
police upon the scene. The brute must be silenced in some other manner.

Naturally apt and resourceful, it was not long before Nattie thought of
a plan. Cautiously edging away from the hedge until he had reached a
safe distance, he set out at a run toward home. Fortunately, the street
was free from police or pedestrians, and he finally gained the Manning
residence without being observed.

Slipping into the garden he whistled softly. A big-jointed, lanky pup
slouched up to him and fawned about his feet. Picking up the dog, he
started back with it under his right arm. The return to the English
merchant's house was made without mishap.

Reaching the hedge, Nattie lightly tossed the pup over into the yard. It
struck the ground with a yelp, and a second later a dark shadow streaked
across the lawn from the mansion. As the lad had anticipated, the dog he
had brought did not wait to be attacked, but started along the inner
side of the hedge with fear-given speed. In less than a moment pursuer
and pursued disappeared behind an outlying stable.

Chuckling at the success of his scheme, Nattie softly climbed the fence
and leaped into the yard. The lawn was bright with the rays of the moon,
but he walked across it without hesitation, finally reaching the house
near the left-hand corner.

As he expected, he found a side door unguarded save by a wire screen. A
swift slash with a strong pocket-knife gave an aperture through which
the lad forced his hand. To unfasten the latch was the work of a second,
and a brief space later he stood in a narrow hall leading to the main
corridor.



CHAPTER XXI.

A PRISONER.


On reaching the main stairway he heard voices overhead. The sound seemed
to come from a room opening into the hall above. Quickly removing his
shoes, the lad tied the strings together, and throwing them about his
neck, he ascended to the upper floor.

Fortunately, Nattie had visited the Black mansion in his earlier days
when he and Ralph were on terms of comparative intimacy. He knew the
general plan of the house, and the knowledge stood him in good stead
now.

The room from which the sound of voices came was a study used by the
English merchant himself. Next to it was a spare apartment filled with
odd pieces of furniture and what-not. In former days it was a guest
chamber, and the lad had occupied it one night while on a visit to the
merchant's son.

He remembered that a door, surmounted by a glass transom, led from the
study to the spare room, and that it would be an easy matter to see into
the former by that means.

He tried the knob, and found that it turned at his touch. A slight
rattle underneath proclaimed that a bunch of keys was swinging from the
lock. Closing the door behind him, he tiptoed across the apartment,
carefully avoiding the various articles of furniture.

To his great disappointment, he found that heavy folds of cloth had been
stretched across the transom, completely obstructing the view. To make
it worse, the voices were so faint that it was impossible for him to
distinguish more than an occasional word.

"Confound it! I have my labor for my pains!" he muttered. "It's a risky
thing, but I'll have to try the other door."

He had barely reached the hall when the talking in the next room became
louder, then he heard a rattling of the knob. The occupants were on the
point of leaving the study. To dart into the spare room was Nattie's
first action. Dropping behind a large dressing-case, he listened
intently.

"Well, I am thoroughly satisfied with your part of the affair so far,"
came to his eager ears in the English merchant's well-known voice. "It
was well planned in every respect. You had a narrow escape though."

A deep chuckle came from the speaker's companion.

"No suspicion attaches to me," continued Mr. Black. "I met the boys last
night, but I don't think they saw me."

"Oh, didn't we?" murmured Nattie.

"You can go now. Give this letter of instructions to my son, and tell
him to make all haste to the place mentioned. Return here with his
answer as quickly as you can. In this purse you will find ample funds to
meet all legitimate expenses. Legitimate expenses, you understand? If
you fall by the wayside in the manner I mentioned before you will not
get a _sen_ of the amount I promised you. Now--confound those rascally
servants of mine! they have left this room unlocked! I must discharge
the whole lot of them and get others."

Click! went the key in the door behind which Nattie crouched. He was a
prisoner!

The sound of footsteps came faintly to him; he heard the front entrance
open; then it closed again, and all was silent in the house. After
waiting a reasonable time he tried the knob, but it resisted his
efforts. Placing his right shoulder against the wood he attempted to
force the panel, but without avail.

"Whew! this is being caught in a trap certainly! A pretty fix I am in
now. And it is just the time to track that scoundrel. Mr. Black must
have been talking about poor Grant."

Rendered almost frantic by his position, Nattie threw himself against
the door with all his power. The only result was a deadly pain in the
injured shoulder. Almost ready to cry with chagrin and anguish, he sat
down upon a chair and gave himself up to bitter reflections.

Minutes passed, a clock in the study struck three; but still he sat
there a prey to conflicting emotions. He now saw that he had acted
foolishly. What had he learned? They had suspected the Blacks before,
and confirmation was not needed.

The discovery of the visitor's identity was something, but its
importance was more than counterbalanced by the disaster which had
befallen Nattie. The recent conversation in the hall indicated that the
merchant's companion would leave at once for a rendezvous to meet Ralph,
and possibly Grant.

"And here I am, fastened in like a disobedient child," groaned the lad.
"I must escape before daylight. If I am caught in here Mr. Black can
have me arrested on a charge of attempted burglary. It would be just
nuts to him."

The fear of delay, engendered by this new apprehension, spurred him to
renewed activity. He again examined the door, but speedily gave up the
attempt. Either a locksmith's tools or a heavy battering-ram would be
necessary to force it.

Creeping to the one window opening from the apartment, Nattie found
that he could raise it without much trouble. The generous rays of the
moon afforded ample light. By its aid he saw that a dense mass of
creeping vines almost covered that side of the mansion.

"By George! a chance at last!"

Cautiously crawling through the opening he clutched a thick stem and
tried to swing downward with his right hand. As he made the effort a
pain shot through his injured shoulder so intense that he almost
fainted. He repressed a cry with difficulty.

Weak and trembling, he managed to regain the window sill. Once in the
room he sank down upon the floor and battled with the greatest anguish
it had ever been his lot to feel.

To add to his suffering, came the conviction that he would be unable to
escape. He remembered the telltale slit he had made in the screen door.
When daylight arrived it would be discovered by the servants, and a
search instituted throughout the house.

"Well, it can't be helped," mused the lad. "If I am caught, I'm caught,
and that's all there is about it."

It is a difficult thing to philosophize when suffering with an intense
physical pain and in the throes of a growing fever. It was not long
before Nattie fell into a stupor.

He finally became conscious of an increasing light in the room, and
roused himself enough to glance from the window. Far in the distance
loomed the mighty volcano of Fuji San, appearing under the marvelous
touch of the morning sun like an inverted cone of many jewels.

A hum of voices sounded in the lower part of the house, but no one came
to disturb him. Rendered drowsy by fever, he fell into a deep slumber,
and when he awoke it was to hear the study clock strike nine. He had
slept fully five hours.

Considerably refreshed, Nattie started up to again search for a way to
effect his escape. The pain had left his shoulder, but he felt an
overpowering thirst. His mind was clear, however, and that was half the
battle.

"If I had more strength in my left arm I would try those vines once
more," he said to himself. "Things can't last this way forever. I
must--what's that?"

Footsteps sounded in the hall outside. They drew nearer, and at last
stopped in front of the spare-room door. A hand was laid upon the knob,
and keys rattled.

"We have searched every room but this," came in the smooth tones of the
English merchant. "Go inside, my man, and see if a burglar is hiding
among the furniture. Here, take this revolver; and don't fear to use it
if necessary."

Like a hunted animal at bay, the lad glared about him. Discovery seemed
certain. Over in one corner he espied a chest of drawers. It afforded
poor concealment, but it was the best at hand. To drag it away from the
wall was the work of a second. When the door was finally opened, Nattie
was crouched behind the piece of furniture.

He heard the soft steps of a pair of sandals; he heard chairs and
various articles moved about, then the searcher approached his corner.
Desperate and ready to fight for his liberty, he glanced up--and uttered
a half-stifled cry of amazement and joy!



CHAPTER XXII.

THE PURSUIT.


It is always the unexpected that happens. When Nattie glanced up from
his place of refuge behind the chest of drawers, he saw a young man clad
as a native servant looking down at him. There was the gayly colored
cloth tied around the head; the _kimono_, or outer garment cut away at
the neck, and the plain silk kerchief tied with a bow under the ear.

But the face was not that of a native _waallo_, or houseman; it was Mori
Okuma himself, the very last person on earth Nattie expected to find in
the spare room of the Black mansion.

The young Japanese started back in profound surprise, his eyes widened,
and he nearly called out; but a warning motion from the concealed
lad--who recovered his coolness with marvelous rapidity--checked him.

"It is I; Nattie!" came to his ears. "Take old Black away and return as
soon as possible. I have a clew; we must leave here immediately."

Regaining his composure with an effort, Mori continued his search among
the other articles of furniture.

"No one here, excellency," he said, at last.

"Then the scoundrel who cut that screen door has decamped," replied Mr.
Black, who had remained near the door with commendable precaution. "Go
down to the pantry and help the rest count the silver. By the way, what
is your name?"

"Kai Jin, excellency."

"Well, Kai, see that you behave yourself and you can remain in my
service. But if you are lazy or thievish, out you go."

His voice died away in muffled grumbling down the hall. Finally left to
himself, Nattie emerged from his hiding place and executed several
figures of a jig in the middle of the floor.

"Wonders will never cease," he muttered, with a chuckle of joy. "Fancy
finding Mori here, and just in the nick of time. He's a great lad. He
disguised himself and took service in the house. He would make a good
detective."

He was still pondering over the queer discovery when a noise at the door
indicated that some one was on the point of entering. A warning whisper
proclaimed that it was Mori.

The Japanese youth entered quickly and closed the heavy oaken portal
behind him. He was shaking with suppressed laughter. Running over to
Nattie, he grasped his hand and wrung it heartily.

"I ought to scold you for disobeying my orders, but really this is too
funny for anything," he said. "How under the sun did you get in here?"

"Easy enough; I walked in last night. How did you get in?"

"I am a member of his excellency's staff of servants. Ha, ha! I almost
laughed in his lean old face this morning when he engaged me. But
explain yourself, Nattie; I am dying to hear your news. You said you had
a clew."

"Hadn't we better get out of this house before we talk?"

"Plenty of time. Mr. Black has gone to the office, and the servants are
below stairs. When we are ready we can walk out through the front
entrance without a word to anybody."

Thus reassured, Nattie told how he had left home the preceding night and
the events that followed. When he came to the part relating to the man
beyond the hedge, the English merchant's midnight visitor, Mori started
at him in amazement.

"Impossible!" he exclaimed. "Why, he was killed in the accident near
Kobe."

"Not so. I saw the fellow's face almost as clearly as I see yours now.
It was Patrick Cronin, and I'll stake my life on that."

"Then the scoundrel escaped after all?"

"Yes; to receive his just dues at the hangman's hands, I suppose. But I
haven't told you of my clew. I overheard Black and Patrick talking out
in the hall there. It seems that Cronin has a letter which he is to
deliver without delay to Ralph at some rendezvous. That it relates to
Grant is certain. By following the Irishman we can find my brother."

"It will be easy enough," replied Mori, his eyes expressing his delight.
"The fellow won't try to hide his steps, as it were. He considers the
accident a good veil to his existence. Nattie, it was a lucky
inspiration, your coming here last night."

"Then I am forgiven for disobeying orders, eh?" smiled the lad.

"In this case, yes, but don't do it again. How is your shoulder?"

"First-chop, barring a little soreness. It will be all right in a day or
two. Come, let's leave here before we are discovered."

The exit from the building and grounds was made without mishap. The lads
hastily returned to the Manning residence, where Nattie ordered
breakfast served at once. On entering the garden, the lanky pup used by
him as a decoy to Ralph's watchdog came bounding from the rear. He had
evidently escaped without feeling the teeth of the larger animal.

The meal was dispatched in haste, then 'rikishas were taken to the Bund.
While Nattie waited in the firm's office, Mori utilized the central
police station in tracing Patrick Cronin. In less than an hour word came
that a man answering his description had been seen leaving the city on
horseback by way of the road leading to Tokio.

"That settles it!" exclaimed the Japanese youth. "We must take the train
for the capital at once. That is," he added, anxiously, "if you think
you are able to travel."

"I am fit for anything," promptly replied Nattie. "Come, we must not
lose a moment."

On their way to the station they stopped at the telegraph office and
wired the chief of police of Tokio a full description of Patrick. After
a consultation, they added:


     "Do not arrest the man, but have your best detective shadow him
     wherever he may go. All expenses will be met by us."


"To capture him now would destroy our only clew," said Nattie. "He might
confess to save himself, and then, again, he might not. If he should
remain silent we would have no means of finding Grant's whereabouts."

The nineteen miles to Japan's populous capital were covered in short
order. Brief as was the time, the lads were met at the depot by an
officer in civilian's clothes, who reported that their man had been seen
to take a train at Ueno, a small suburb on the outskirts of Tokio.

"We are doing excellently," chuckled Mori. "The fool thinks he is safe
and he travels openly. At this rate the chase will be as easy as falling
off a log, to use an Americanism."

"He has five hours' start. We must telegraph ahead to the conductor of
his train."

"And to every station."

"That has been done, sir," spoke up the police official. "The last word
received stated that he was still on board when the train passed
Motomiya."

"When can we leave?"

The man consulted a time-table patterned after those used in the United
States, and announced that an express would depart within twenty
minutes. Hurrying to a neighboring hotel, the lads ate "tiffin," and
returned in time to embark upon the second stage of the chase.

When the train steamed into a way station three hours later a railway
employee in gorgeous uniform approached them with a telegram. Hastily
opening the envelope, Nattie read, with keen disappointment:


     "HEADQUARTERS, Tokio.

     "Our detective reports that the man he had been following managed
     to evade him at Yowara, and has completely disappeared. Local
     police are searching the mountains."



CHAPTER XXIII.

PATRICK SHOWS HIS CLEVERNESS.


Nattie and Mori exchanged glances of dismay.

"Confound it! isn't that provoking?" exclaimed the latter. "That stupid
detective had to let him slip just when the chase commenced to be
interesting."

"Patrick must have suspected something, and he was sly enough to fool
his follower. Now what are we going to do?"

"Get off at Yowara and take up the search ourselves; that's all we can
do. Surely some one must have seen the Irishman. The very fact that he
is a foreigner should draw attention to him. Don't worry, old boy; we'll
find him before many hours have elapsed."

"I sincerely hope so," replied Nattie, gazing abstractedly through the
coach window.

After a moment of silence he said, suddenly:

"Perhaps Yowara is the rendezvous where he is to meet Ralph. Do you know
anything about the place?"

"No, except that it is a small town of seven or eight hundred
inhabitants. It is where people leave the railway for the mountain
regions of Northern Japan. In a remote part of the interior are three
volcanoes, one of them being Bandai-San, which is famous for its
eruptions."

"Bandai-San?" slowly repeated Nattie. "Isn't it at the base of that
volcano where those peculiar mud caves are found?"

Mori eyed his companion inquiringly.

"What are you driving at?" he asked.

"Just this: It struck me that Ralph and Willis Round would certainly try
to find a hiding place for Grant where they need not fear pursuit, or
inquisitiveness from the natives. I have heard that these caves are
avoided through superstitious reasons. Now why----"

"By the heathen gods, I believe you have guessed their secret!"
impulsively exclaimed Mori. "It is certainly plausible. A better hiding
place could not be found in all Japan. The natives will not enter the
caves under any consideration. They say they are occupied by the
mountain demons, and to prove it, tell of the awful noises to be heard
in the vicinity."

"Which are caused by internal convulsions of the volcano, I suppose?"

"No doubt. The mountain is generally on the verge of being shaken by
earthquakes, but it is some time since one occurred. It's a grewsome
place enough."

"We will search it thoroughly just the same," said Nattie, grimly.

On reaching Yowara, they found the recreant detective at the station. He
had recently returned from a trip through the surrounding country, but
had not discovered any trace of the Irishman. He appeared crestfallen
and penitent.

The boys wasted little time with him. Proceeding to the village hotel,
or tea house, they sent out messengers for three _jinrikishas_ and in
the course of an hour were ready to start into the interior.

The spare vehicle was loaded with canned food and other stores, as the
railroad town would be the last place where such articles could be
purchased. Each had brought a brace of good revolvers and plenty of
ammunition from Yokohama.

Mori personally selected the _karumayas_, or _'rikisha_ men, from a
crowd of applicants. He chose three stalwart coolies to pull the
carriages, and three _bettos_, or porters, to assist on mountainous
roads. One of the latter was a veritable giant in stature and evidently
of great strength.

He was called Sumo, or wrestler, by his companions, and seemed to
possess greater intelligence than the average members of his class. Mori
eyed him approvingly, and told Nattie that he would be of undoubted
assistance in case of trouble.

Before leaving the village, the Japanese youth bought a keen-edged
sword, similar to those worn by the ancient warriors, or _samurais_, and
presented it to Sumo, with the added stipulation that he would be
retained as a guard at increased pay.

The fellow shouted with delight, and speedily showed that he could
handle the weapon with some skill. Thus equipped, the party left the
railroad and set out for a village called Inawashiro, fifteen _ris_, or
thirty miles distant.

In Japan the coolie rule is twenty minutes' rest every two hours. Their
method of traveling is at a "dog trot," or long, swinging pace, which
covers the ground with incredible swiftness. Mori's skill in selecting
the _karumayas_ soon became apparent, the distance to the destination
being almost halved at the end of the first stretch.

The country through which the boys passed was flat and uninteresting,
the narrow road stretching across a broad expanse of paddy fields,
dotted with men, women and children knee-deep in the evil-smelling mud.

When a halt was called to rest and partake of refreshments, Mori
accosted a native coolie, a number of whom surrounded the party, and
asked if aught had been seen of a fiery-faced, red-whiskered foreigner
clad in the heavy clothing of the coast.

The man eyed his questioner stupidly, and shook his head. The sight of a
couple of copper _sen_, or cents, refreshed his memory. He had noticed a
short, squat foreigner (called _to-jin_) in the interior. He was mounted
upon a horse and had passed four hours before.

"Four hours?" echoed Mori, addressing Nattie. "Whew! he has a good
start. And on a horse, too. That is the reason we could get no trace of
him in the outskirts of Yowara. He must have left the train before it
stopped and skipped into the brush, where he managed to secure a mount.
He is certainly clever."

"But not enough to fool us," replied Nattie, complacently. "We will be
hot on his trail before he reaches the caves."

After the customary rest of twenty minutes, the party resumed the road.
As they proceeded the general contour of the country changed. The flat,
plain-like fields gave way to rolling woodlands and scattered hills. The
second hour brought them to the small village of Inawashiro.

Here was found a well-kept tea house, with spotless matted floor, two
feet above the ground, a quaint roof, and the attendance of a dozen
polite servants. Before the party had barely reached their resting
place, the entire inhabitants, men, women and children, thronged about
to feast their eyes upon a _to-jin_.

Inquiry developed the fact that Patrick had passed through the town not
quite two hours before. This was cheering news. They were gaining on
him. A brief lunch, and again to the road. Nattie and Mori examined
their revolvers after leaving the village. Sumo cut a sapling in twain
to prove his prowess.

At the end of the fourth mile a crossroad was reached. One, a broad,
well-kept thoroughfare, led due north, while the other, apparently
merely a path running over a hill in the distance, bore more to the
westward. Mori called a halt.

"Which shall we take?" he asked, scratching his head in perplexity.

"That is the question," replied Nattie, ruefully. "Confound it! we are
just as apt to take the wrong one as not. If we could run across some
person who has seen Patrick we would be all right."

"Here comes a _yamabushi_, excellency," spoke up Sumo, pointing his
claw-like finger up the path.

"It is a priest," exclaimed Mori, a moment later. "Perhaps he can
enlighten us."

Presently a tall, angular man emerged from the narrower road and slowly
approached them. He was clad in a peculiar robe embroidered with
mystical figures, and wore his hair in long plaits. In one hand was
carried a bamboo staff, with which he tapped the ground as he walked.

Mori saluted him respectfully.

"Peace be with you, my children," said the priest, mildly.

"May your days be long in good works, and your soul as lofty as Fuji
San," replied the Japanese youth, with equal politeness. "Pray tell us,
father, have you seen aught of a red-bearded foreigner traveling by
horse?"

"I passed him two _ris_ back. He was a barbarian, and beat his animal
with severity. Which is against the teachings of----"

The good man's words were lost in the distance. Nattie and Mori, with
their _'rikishas_ and attendants, darted past him and scurried up the
path at their utmost speed. It was scurvy repayment for the information,
but the news that Patrick had been seen within four miles acted as a
spur.

"Don't falter, men," called out Mori, urging the _karumayas_. "Ten _yen_
extra to each if you tarry not until I give the word. On ahead, Sumo;
watch for the foreigner. Be cautious and return when you sight him."

The gigantic _betto_ scurried up the path in advance and disappeared
past a clump of bushes. The _jinrikishas_ speeded as fast as their
pullers could trot. As the party darted by an overhanging mass of rock a
head was thrust forth from behind it.

The face of the man was broad and burned by the sun, and under the chin
was a tuft of reddish whisker. The eyes were sharp and piercing, and
they danced with triumphant glee as they peered after the cavalcade.

"Oh, ho! oh, ho! so it's ye, me bold Nattie? It's a good thing Oi
thought of taking a quiet look to see if Oi was being followed. It's a
bit of a trick Oi learned in India, and it'll prove to be the death of
ye, me boys. Oi'll just take another path to the rendezvous, and see if
we can't kind of waylay yez."



CHAPTER XXIV.

GRANT BEARDS THE LION.


It is now time to return to Grant Manning. It is well for the reader to
know how the lame youth became the innocent cause of all the trouble.
The night of the departure of Nattie and Mori on their trip to Nagasaki
found him through with his work at the usual hour.

He parted from Mr. Burr at the door, and taking a _'rikisha_, started
for home. While passing through Main Street near the tea house where
Nattie had played the memorable game of hide-and-seek with Willis Round,
he caught sight of his friend, the secretary to the war minister.

Grant was always ready to do business. Years spent in the counting-room
with his father had taught him the value of personal influence in
securing contracts. The expected order for arms and ammunition was too
valuable a prize for any chance to be neglected.

His acquaintance with the secretary was of long standing. It had
commenced at a private school in Tokio, which both Grant and the
Japanese had attended in earlier days. The boyish friendship had
survived the passing of time--that greatest strain upon youthful
ties--and when the native gained his present position in the war office,
he remembered the Mannings.

The greeting was cordial, and an adjournment was made to a private room
in the _chaya_ or tea house. There the friends talked at length over
matters in general, and Grant was given many valuable hints concerning
the army contract.

It was past eight o'clock when the conference ended. With mutual
_sayonaras_, or parting salutations, they separated at the door, and
Grant entered his waiting _jinrikisha_. Before the man could start the
vehicle a Japanese boy ran up, and with much bobbing of his quaint
little head, begged the favor of a word with the excellency.

"What is it, my lad?" asked the lame youth, kindly.

Between sobs and ready tears the boy explained that he was the son of
one Go-Daigo, a former porter in the warehouse under the _régime_ of the
elder Manning. He was now ill of a fever, penniless, and in dire
misfortune. Would the excellency condescend to visit him at his house in
a street hard by the Shinto temple?

"I am very sorry to hear of Go's misfortune," replied Grant, with
characteristic sympathy, "but wouldn't it answer the purpose if you take
this money," producing several _yen_, "and purchase food for him?
To-morrow you can call at the office and I'll see what I can do for
him."

The excellency's kindness was of the quality called "first-chop," but
the bedridden Go-Daigo was also suffering from remorse. He feared that
he would die, and he did not care to leave the world with a sin-burdened
soul. He knew a secret of value to the new firm. Would the excellency
call at once?

"A secret concerning the new firm?" echoed Grant, his thoughts instantly
reverting to the Englishman and his son. "It may be something of
importance. Lead the way, child; I will follow."

Ten minutes' travel through crooked streets brought the _'rikisha_ to a
typical native house a hundred yards from a large, red-tiled temple. The
youthful guide led the way to the door and opened it; then he vanished
through an alley between the buildings.

Grant passed on in, finding himself in an apartment unfurnished save by
a matting and several cheap rugs. A dim light burning in one corner
showed that the room was unoccupied. An opening screened by a gaudy bead
curtain pierced the farther partition.

Clapping his hands to give notice of his arrival, the lame youth awaited
the appearance of some one connected with the house. Hearing a slight
noise behind him, he turned in that direction. A couple of stalwart
natives advanced toward him from the outer door.

Before Grant could ask a question, one of them sprang upon him, and with
a vicious blow of a club, felled him to the floor. The assault was so
rapid and withal so entirely unexpected that the unfortunate victim had
no time to cry out, or offer resistance.

As he lay upon the matting, apparently lifeless, a youth stepped into
the room through the bead curtain. He bent over the prostrate form, and
after a brief examination, said, in Japanese:

"You know how to strike, Raiko. You have put him to sleep as easily as a
cradle does a drowsy child. He won't recover his senses for an hour at
least. Bring the cart and take him down to the landing. First, change
his clothes; you may be stopped by a policeman."

The coolie addressed, a stalwart native, with an evil, scarred face,
produced a number of garments from a chest, while his companion stripped
Grant of his handsome business suit. A few moments later he was roughly
clad in coarse shoes, tarry trousers, and an English jumper. A
neckkerchief and a woolen cap completed the transformation.

As thus attired the lame youth resembled nothing more than an English or
American deep-water sailor. To add to the disguise, the coolie
addressed as Raiko, rubbed grime upon the delicate white hands and face.

Then a two-wheeled cart was brought to the door, and the pseudo mariner
dumped in and trundled down toward the docks. The youth, he who had
given the orders, and who was, as the reader has probably guessed, no
other than Ralph Black, left the house by another entrance, well pleased
at the success of his stratagem.

Raiko and his cart were stopped by an inquisitive gendarme, but the
coolie had been primed with a ready excuse.

"Plenty _sake_; foreign devil," he said, sententiously. "He drunk; take
him down to ship for two _yen_."

The officer of the peace had seen many such cases in his career, and he
sauntered away to reflect on the peculiar habits of the foreigners from
beyond the water. On reaching the English _hatoba_, or dock, Raiko found
Ralph awaiting him.

The merchant's son was enveloped in a huge cloak, and he carefully
avoided the circles of light cast by the electric globes. At his command
Grant was unceremoniously dumped into a rowboat moored alongside the
pier, then he followed with the stalwart coolie.

Lying out in the bay was a coasting junk, with sails spread ready for
departure. Pulling alongside of this, poor Grant was lifted on board,
and ten minutes later the Japanese vessel was sailing down the Bay of
Tokio bound out.

As the ungainly craft passed Cape King, and slouched clumsily into the
tossing waters of the ocean, the lame youth groaned, raised his hands to
his aching head, and sat up. He glanced about him at the unfamiliar
scene, then struggled to his feet. The swaying deck caused him to reel
and then stagger to the low bulwark.

He thought he was dreaming. He looked at the white-capped waves
shimmering unsteadily under the moon's rays; the quaint, ribbed sails
looming above; the narrow stretch of deck ending in the high bow and
stern, and at the half-clad sailors watching him from the shadows.

He glanced down at his tarred trousers and coarse shoes, then he gave a
cry of despair. It was not an ugly nightmare. It was stern reality. His
enemies had triumphed; he had been abducted.

The proof of valor is the sudden test of a man's courage. The greatest
coward can face a peril if it is familiar to him. It is the unexpected
emergency--the blow from the dark; the onslaught from the rear--that
tries men's souls.

The consternation caused by a shifting of scenes such as had occurred to
Grant can be imagined. From an ordinary room in an ordinary native
house in Yokohama to the deck of a junk at sea, with all its weirdness
of detail to a landsman, is a decided change.

The lame youth could be excused if he had sunk to the deck bewildered
and in the agonies of terror. But he did nothing of the sort. As soon as
he could command the use of his legs, he promptly marched over to a
sailor grinning in the shadows of the mainmast, and catching him by the
arm, sternly ordered him to bring the captain.

"Be sharp about it, you dog," he added. "I will see the master of this
pirate or know the reason why."

Awed by his tone, the fellow slunk off and speedily produced the captain
of the junk. But with him came Ralph Black, smoking a cigar, and with an
insolent smile upon his sallow face.

"Ah! Grant, dear boy," he said, with a fine show of good fellowship; "I
see you have quite recovered from your little accident."

"Accident, you scoundrel!" exclaimed the lame youth. "What do you mean?
I demand an explanation of this outrage. Why am I dragged out here like
a drunken sailor? You must be crazy to think that you can perpetrate
such an injury in this century without being punished."

"I'll take the chances," replied Ralph, with a sneer. Then he added,
angrily: "Be careful how you call names, and remember once for all that
you are in my power, and if I say the word, these sailors will feed you
to the sharks. In fact, I really think it would be best, anyway."

"I always thought you off color, but I never believed you would prove to
be such a cold-blooded villain as you undoubtedly are. You and your
worthy father couldn't meet business rivals in the open field of
competition, but you needs must resort to violence and underhand
methods. I'll have the pleasure of seeing both of you behind the bars
before----"

With a snarl of rage, the merchant's son sprang upon the daring speaker.
Grasping him by the throat, he called loudly to the junk's captain:

"Over with him, Yoritomo! Help me throw him into the sea. Dead men tell
no tales!"



CHAPTER XXV.

A PLAN, AND ITS FAILURE.


The lower order of criminals are seldom courageous. Personal bravery is
not found in the same soul that harbors a disregard for laws human and
divine. The thief cornered in the dark will fight, but simply with the
desperation of a rat at bay.

It was to this natural law that Grant owed his life. Yoritomo, the
captain of the junk, was a scoundrel at heart, but he had a wholesome
regard for justice as meted out in Japan. A number of years spent on the
penal farms had taught him discrimination.

While there he had witnessed--and even assisted at--several executions
for murder, and the terror of the scene remained with him. A golden
bribe offered by the Blacks had purchased his services in the abduction
of Grant, but when Ralph, in his insane rage, called to him for
assistance in throwing the lame youth into the sea, he peremptorily
refused.

Instead, he called several sailors to his aid, and rescued Grant from
Ralph's grasp.

"I'll permit of no murder on my junk," he said in Japanese. "You have
paid me well to help you carry this fellow to the Bay of Sendai, and I
will do it, but no violence, sir."

"What do you mean, dog?" shouted the discomfited youth. "How dare you
interfere? If I wish to get rid of him I'll do so."

"Not on board this vessel," replied the captain, doggedly.

"I suppose you are afraid of your neck?" sneered Ralph.

"Yes, I am. I run enough danger as it is. How do we know that we were
not seen in Yokohama? My craft is engaged in trade along the coast, and
is well known. When your prisoner's absence is found out the authorities
will secure a list of all shipping leaving the port on such a date. I
will be suspected with the rest."

Ralph remained silent. A craven at heart, he would not have dared attack
one physically able to offer resistance. The picture drawn by the
captain was not pleasant. What if the truth should be discovered? It
would mean disgrace and a long term in prison. And he had just
contemplated a murder!

The punishment for such a crime is death. The youth shuddered at his
narrow escape. He scowled at his prisoner, then stalked aft to the mean
little cabin under the shadow of the wing-like sails.

Grant had been a silent spectator of the scene. When Ralph made the
violent attack on him, he struggled as best he could, but he was no
match for his athletic assailant, and would have undoubtedly succumbed
if it had not been for the timely aid of the captain.

The latter's unexpected action sent a ray of hope through the lame
youth. Possibly he could be bribed to further assist him! Grant was
philosopher enough to know that honor does not exist among thieves. The
bonds of fraternity found among honest men is unknown in the criminal
walks of life.

When Ralph left the deck Grant drew Yoritomo aside, and boldly proposed
a plan evolved at that moment by his fertile brain. He did not mince
words, but went to the point at once.

"Captain, a word with you," he said. "I wish to tell you that you are
making a bad mistake in being a party to this abduction. You probably
know the laws of your country, but you do not know that such crimes
against foreigners are punishable by death in many cases."

Yoritomo shifted uneasily, but made no reply.

"Do you know who I am?" continued Grant, impressively.

The captain shook his head.

"Indeed! You must belong to one of the lower provinces, then. Have you
ever heard of the firm of Manning & Company, dealers and importing
merchants?"

"Yes."

"Well, my name is Grant Manning, and I am now head of the firm. I am
also a personal friend of his excellency, Yoshisada Udono, of the War
Department, and of the Superintendent of Prisons in Tokio. Ah, I see
that you know what the latter means. You have been a prisoner in your
time, eh?"

"Yes, excellency."

The words were respectful, and the lame youth took hope. He followed up
his advantage.

"The young man who bribed you to assist in his nefarious plot is crazy.
No sane man would attempt such a desperate scheme nowadays. You are sure
to be discovered before many days. The detectives are even now after
you. I have relatives and friends who will move heaven and earth to
rescue me, or to secure revenge if aught happens to me. Discovery means
death to you. You are even now standing in the shadow of the gallows."

Grant had lowered his voice to an impressive whisper. The tone, the
surroundings, the situation had their effect upon the listener. He
trembled from head to foot. He fell upon his knees at his companion's
feet and begged for mercy.

"Oh, excellency," he pleaded, "I crave your pardon. I acknowledge that I
am guilty. Mr. Black offered me a large sum to help in your abduction. I
need the money, for I am very poor. I accepted, and now I lose my life."

"Not necessarily so," replied the lame youth, repressing a feeling of
exultation with difficulty. "If you will do as I say I will assure you
of a pardon, and promise you money in addition. What did the Blacks
agree to pay you?"

"Two hundred _yen_, excellency."

"And for that paltry sum, not equal to one hundred American dollars, you
have run such risks. You are a fool!"

"Yes, excellency."

"Now, I'll promise to see that you are not punished, and I will also
give you twice that amount if you head in to the nearest port and put me
ashore. What do you say?"

Yoritomo hesitated.

"Remember your fate when the authorities capture you, which they surely
will before long. Don't be a dolt, man. I will pay you double what the
Blacks promise, and assure you of a pardon besides."

"Can you pay me the money now?" asked the captain, cunningly.

He had evidently recovered from his fears--enough, anyway, to drive a
shrewd bargain.

"Part of it, and give you good security for the balance," replied Grant,
confidently.

He reached in the pocket where he generally kept his purse, but found it
empty. A hurried search disclosed the fact that his valuable gold watch
and a small diamond stud were also gone. He had been robbed.

"The confounded thieves!" he exclaimed. "They have completely stripped
me."

"Then you have no money?" asked Yoritomo, incredulously.

"No; I have been robbed by those people. I will give you my word that
I'll pay you the four hundred _yen_ the moment I set foot in Yokohama.
Or, if you wish, I'll write a note for the amount, and you can collect
it at any time."

"Have you anything to prove that you are Grant Manning?" queried the
captain, suspiciously.

Grant bit his lips in annoyance. The question boded ill for his chances
of escape. The hurried search through his pockets had shown him that he
had nothing left; not even a letter or a scrap of paper. He was
compelled to answer in the negative.

"I thought so," cried Yoritomo, scornfully. "You have tried to play a
pretty game, my brave youth, but it didn't work. You Grant Manning? Ha!
ha! ha! Mr. Black told me who you are. You are a rival in love, and he
is taking this means of getting rid of you. So you would try to wheedle
me with lies? I have a mind to let him throw you overboard as he
intended. Begone forward, or I'll tell my men to scourge you!"

"You are making a serious mistake," replied Grant, with dignity. "You
will live to repent your actions. I am----"

"Begone, I say!" interrupted the captain, menacingly. "Here, Tomo, Haki,
drive this fool forward!"

Sick at heart and almost discouraged, the lame youth limped toward the
bow. As he passed the mainmast a coolie slipped from behind it and
entered the cabin. It was Raiko, Ralph's man. He had overheard the
futile attempt, and proceeded forthwith to tell his master.



CHAPTER XXVI.

GRANT ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE.


During the rest of the voyage up the coast Grant was kept forward with
the sailors. Ralph carefully avoided him, and, in fact, seldom appeared
on deck.

Shortly before midnight on the second day out the prisoner was awakened
from a troubled sleep by the entrance of several men in his little
apartment forward. One of these was Raiko. Without a word of
explanation, the coolie seized Grant and with the aid of his companions,
bound him hand and foot.

An hour later the junk was brought to anchor and the sails furled. Then
a boat was lowered, and Grant, Ralph, and Raiko were rowed ashore by
members of the crew. As they left the craft, Yoritomo leaned over the
clumsy rail, and called out, sneeringly:

"How about that four hundred _yen_ and the free pardon? Your little plan
didn't work, eh? Farewell, excellency, Grant Manning!"

The prisoner maintained a dignified silence, but at heart he felt sore
and discouraged. While on the junk he considered himself almost safe
from violence, but Ralph's cowardly assault and the grim, evil face of
the coolie. Raiko, boded little good.

The night was clear, and a full moon cast its mellow rays over the
scene. The junk had anchored in an extensively landlocked bay. Across to
the right were several twinkling lights, proclaiming the presence of a
town. But where the boat had landed were simply clumps of bushes and
sandy dunes.

The little party set out at once for the interior. Grant's feet had been
loosened, but his hands still remained fastened. Raiko walked in
advance, and it soon became evident that he was familiar with the
country. At the end of the first hour a halt was made in a grove of
trees near a hill.

The coolie disappeared, leaving the prisoner in Ralph's care. After he
had gone Grant attempted to engage the merchant's son in conversation,
but without avail. He absolutely refused to speak. Presently Raiko
returned with three horses and another native.

The lame youth was lifted upon one and secured in such a manner that he
could not escape; then the others were mounted by the remaining members
of the party and the march resumed.

Raiko went first, as usual, then Ralph, leading the prisoner's steed,
and finally the new coolie bringing up the rear. It was a strange
procession, but there were none to witness it, the narrow paths followed
being entirely deserted.

Several hours passed in this manner. The moon sank behind the western
mountains, leaving the scene in darkness. Mile after mile was covered
without a halt. The aspect of the country changed from hill to plain,
from valley to heights. Rivers were forded, bridges crossed, and lakes
skirted, and still no word between the members of the cavalcade.

During all this time Grant had not remained idle. He was not a youth
prone to despair. The result of his conversation with the junk's captain
had certainly discouraged him for the moment, but with the vivacity of
youth he speedily recovered his spirits and set about for a way to
better his situation.

In the first place, he found that the jolting of his mount, which he had
railed against at the commencement, had actually loosened his bonds. His
arms had been tied behind him with a leather thong around the wrists and
elbows.

The discovery sent a thrill of hope through him. Working steadily, but
without making the slightest sound, he finally succeeded in freeing both
hands. The operation took some time, and it was not until after the
moon had disappeared that he completed the task.

Meanwhile, his mind had also moved rapidly. He formulated a plan. It was
nothing less than to wait for a favorable opportunity, and to make a
bold dash for freedom. Burdened as he was, with a deformed and feeble
frame, Grant was no coward, nor was he lacking in valor of spirit.

He knew that the attempt would be productive of danger. It would draw
the fire of his companions, and, moreover, lead to terrible risks to
life and limb, but he was perfectly willing to brave all if by so doing
he could effect his escape.

During the weary hours spent on board the junk he had thought over his
abduction and the events leading to it. The actions of the Blacks were
almost inexplicable. It had never occurred to him that they would resort
to such desperate measures.

He had read of such cases in books of romance treating of life in the
earlier centuries, but to believe that an English merchant in Japan
should carry off a business rival in the present day was almost beyond
his credulity.

"It is the last move of a man driven to the wall," he had concluded, and
not without a feeling of triumph, it must be confessed. "We have taken
the market from him, and simply because the market chose to come to us,
and we have beaten his firm and others in both the export and import
trades. And as a final straw, it seemed as if the valuable army
contracts would also come to us. Fool! he should have known that Nattie
and Mori could easily secure them even if I had dropped out of sight."

This was not so, and only his innate sense of modesty compelled him to
say it. Nattie and Mori, the Blacks, and all the foreign population of
Japan knew that only Grant could win the prize. His business tact, his
personal friendship with the powers at the head of the government, and
his well-known reputation for honesty were the virtues forming the
magnet that would attract the golden plum.

The outrageous assault of Ralph on board the junk had shown Grant how
desperate his enemies were. It hinted strongly at nothing short of
murder. No man, no matter how brave, can walk in the shadow of a
threatened death without inwardly wishing himself free from danger.

Grant was as others in the same situation. He was willing to face any
known peril to escape the unknown fate awaiting him at the end of the
journey. Then he had a natural desire to turn the tables on his enemies;
to cause their defeat and punishment, and not least of all, to reach
Tokio in time to secured the coveted army contracts.

As the night became darker the little party hovered together. As stated
before, Ralph was leading Grant's horse, and forming the rear of the
cavalcade was the new coolie. Raiko was almost out of sound ahead.

The lame youth felt in his pockets, and to his great joy found a
penknife which had been overlooked by the greedy coolie. Waiting until
they rode into a narrow valley running between high hills, the prisoner
softly reached forward and severed the leading thong. Then, with a
fierce tug of his hands, he caused his mount to wheel sharply.

This sudden action brought the horse ridden by Grant in collision with
that of the hindmost coolie. The shock unseated the fellow, who was
naturally unprepared, and he fell to the ground with a cry of terror.
Belaboring his steed with one hand, the prisoner dashed down the valley
like a whirlwind.

He had not gone fifty yards before he heard a prodigious clatter of
hoofs, then with a loud report a revolver was discharged behind him. The
bullet flew wide of the mark, as could be expected under the
circumstances, but it served its purpose just the same.

At the sound Grant's horse dashed sideways, stumbled over a hummock of
earth or rock, and with a crash, animal and rider fell in a heap
against the edge of rising ground. Fortunately, the lame youth escaped
injury, but the terrific fall partially stunned him, and he was unable
to resist when, a moment later, Ralph rode up and seized him.

Raiko followed close behind, and the other coolie limped up in time to
assist in rebinding the prisoner. After seeing him again seated upon the
horse, Ralph launched forth in a tirade of abuse, which he emphasized by
brutally striking the prisoner with his whip.

"Thought you would give us the slip, eh?" he cried. "You crippled puppy.
I've a good notion to beat you to death! We're having too much trouble
with you, anyway, and I think I will end it right here."

"You will receive full measure for this outrage some day, you coward,"
retorted Grant, whose discomfiture had made him careless of
consequences. "None but a brute would act as you are doing. No, I'll not
stop talking. I don't care a snap of my little finger for your threats.
Do what you please, but remember there will be a day of retribution."

The English youth evidently thought so, too, as he desisted, and
mounting, rode ahead with the leading strap attached to his saddle. This
time extra precautions were taken. Grant's legs were fastened by a
thong running under his horse, and his arms were securely bound.

The journey was continued without halt or incident until a gradual
lighting of the eastern sky proclaimed the advent of dawn. The first
rays of the sun found the cavalcade upon the summit of a verdure-crowned
hill. Down below, nestling in the center of an extensive valley, was the
shimmering waters of a large lake, and, looming massively on the farther
shore, could be seen the ruins of an ancient feudal castle.

"Thank goodness! the rendezvous at last!" exclaimed Ralph. "Now, to see
if Patrick is here before us."



CHAPTER XXVII.

IN FRONT OF THE OLD CASTLE.


In the meantime how had Nattie and his party fared in their pursuit of
the wily Irishman? It will be remembered that Sumo had gone ahead as a
scout, leaving the others to follow more at leisure. This was found
necessary by the increasing difficulty of drawing the _jinrikishas_
along the primitive path.

It had narrowed in places to such an extent that only by the most
careful efforts could the vehicles be taken past. The road became
obstructed with huge bowlders, fallen from the surrounding heights, and
finally the trunk of a large tree, shattered by lightning, was
encountered.

"We will have to leave the _'rikishas_ in charge of one of the men,"
answered Nattie, regretfully.

"It will handicap us considerably," replied Mori, in the same tone. "We
cannot expect to catch up with Patrick, mounted as he is. From the speed
he has been making, though, his animal must be tired out. I think--what
is up now?"

The question was called forth by a peculiar action on Nattie's part. The
lad had been standing intently eying the fallen monarch of the forest.
Suddenly he tossed his helmet into the air with a cry of joy.

"What fools we are!" he added. "Why, this tree has been here at least a
month."

"Well, what of it?"

"Mori, I am ashamed of you. Can't you see that a horse couldn't pass
here? Look at those limbs and that mass of foliage. If Patrick is ahead
of us he must have abandoned his horse. Where is the animal?"

"By Jove! you are right. The Irishman must have doubled on us after
meeting that priest. Idiots that we are to permit a man like that to
pull the wool over our eyes. We must go back and take the other road."

Before Nattie could reply, Sumo scrambled over the tree and advanced
toward them.

"Masters, the red-bearded foreigner has deceived us. I met a man half a
_ris_ up the path. He has been working there since daylight, and he says
no one has passed him except the priest."

"That settles it," exclaimed Mori.

"Come; we must return to the crossroad."

"I have also learned that this path and the main road meet about five
_ris_ beyond this hill," continued Sumo.

The coolie's information was indeed welcome, and little time was lost in
retracing their steps. On reaching the crossroad, however, darkness,
which had been threatening for some time, settled down. The coming of
night presented a serious obstacle to the continuation of the pursuit.

"I am afraid we must put up somewhere until morning," said Mori, as the
party halted.

Nattie instantly expostulated.

"We will never be able to trace Patrick," he insisted. "No, we must keep
on, darkness or no darkness."

"And run the risk of passing him during the night, eh? If he is cunning
enough to fool us once, he'll certainly try it again. No, our best plan
is to proceed to Invoro, a small village, a couple of miles from here,
and rest until daylight. Then we can resume the pursuit with some chance
of tracking the Irishman. Anyway, we are reasonably certain his
destination is the caves at the foot of Bandai-San."

Nattie was forced to acknowledge the wisdom of his companion's plan, but
it was with a heavy heart that he gave his consent. The trip to the
village was made without incident. Accommodations were secured at a
primitive tea house, and preparations made for spending the night.

Inquiry elicited the cheering news that a foreigner such as described
had passed through the town several hours previous. He had halted to
secure food for himself and horse, and had then continued his journey.

"We are still on the right track, you see," said Mori, to Nattie. "Don't
worry, old boy. This road leads to the volcano, and all we need do is to
set out at daybreak and go straight to the caves. I am so sure that we
will find Grant there that I have dispatched a messenger to the governor
of this district asking for the assistance of the rural police."

"I don't place much faith in them," replied Nattie, doubtfully. "I think
we had better proceed alone until we are thoroughly sure Ralph Black and
Grant are at the caves. Then we can send for reinforcements. A large
body of police would only give the alarm, and probably drive them
somewhere else in search of a hiding place."

"All right; I will leave word to hold the gendarmes here until we call
for them. Now try to get a little sleep. You will tire yourself out and
retard the recovery of that shoulder."

The lad protested that he could not close his eyes, but nature demanded
her meed of rest, and he slumbered soundly until the party was called at
the first signs of day. After a brief breakfast the chase was resumed,
all feeling remarkably refreshed by the night's rest.

"I feel like a new man," announced Mori, quaffing huge draughts of the
brisk morning air from his _'rikisha_. "I really believe I am good for a
dozen Patricks if it comes to a tussle."

"Which it is bound to do," replied Nattie, cheerily. "You can anticipate
a fight, old fellow. Ralph Black and Willis Round will not give up
without a struggle. Why, imagine what defeat means to them! They will be
compelled to leave the country immediately."

"If we permit them to," interposed the Japanese youth, meaningly. "Yes,
you are right. With their scheme ruined, the house of Black will tumble
like a mansion built of cards. If captured, they will be brought to
trial before the English Minister and probably sentenced to a long term
in prison. They must have been desperate to resort to such a plan."

"It's gold--bright, yellow gold, my dear boy," replied his companion,
sagely. "It is only another case of man selling his liberty, if not his
soul, for the almighty dollar. The hundred thousand _yen_ profit in
those army contracts proved too much for the Englishman. And I guess
personal revenge has something to do with it."

"No doubt. Still it is hard to believe that a sane man would take such
chances. I wonder what they expected to do after the awarding of the
contracts? They surely could not hope to keep Grant a prisoner for many
months?"

"I have thought it over, and I believe Mr. Black expected to clear out
after furnishing the arms and ammunition, if he secured the prize. He
felt that his business had dwindled after the organization of our firm,
and that he might as well retire with the money realized if he could. He
did not anticipate that we would discover his plot and pursue his son."

"Well, I am glad to say that he is mightily mistaken."

The invigorating air of the early morning hours caused the _jinrikisha_
men to race along the road at their utmost speed, and it was not long
before the party arrived at the spot where the path taken the night
before rejoined the main thoroughfare.

A short rest was taken, then, with renewed strength, the pursuit was
continued. At the end of an hour a lake was sighted some distance ahead.
It was a large body of water, evidently grandly situated in a basin
formed by three hills and a lofty mountain. Pointing to the latter,
which reared its conical head twelve thousand feet above the level of
the lake, Mori said, impressively:

"The volcano of Bandai-San."

"And at its base are the caves?" eagerly asked Nattie.

"Yes, the mud caves where we hope Ralph and Mr. Round have taken their
prisoner."

"What is that on the edge of the lake? It seems to be a ruin."

"That's the _shiro_, or old castle of Yamagata. By Jove! I had forgotten
that it was here. It is a feudal pile, and has a quaint history. I will
tell you something of it as we ride along. The road passes the
entrance."

Bidding the _karumayas_ run together, Mori continued:

"It was a stronghold of an ancient _daimio_, or prince. He ruled the
country around here for many years. He was very wealthy, and spent an
immense sum of money on the castle. You can see by its extent and the
material that it cost no small amount. The walls are of stone, some of
the blocks being forty feet long by ten feet in width, and many have a
thickness of an English yard.

"Those two lofty towers were once surmounted with huge fish made of
copper, and covered with plates of gold. You can imagine the temptation
to the peasants. One windy night a robber mounted an immense kite and
tried to fly to the top of the first tower for the purpose of stealing
the golden scales, but he was caught and boiled alive in oil."

"They had an extremely pleasant manner of executing people in Japan in
the early days," remarked Nattie, with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Yes, but during the same period, my boy, the English broke their
criminals on a wheel, and quartered them. It was six of one and half a
dozen of the other."

By this time the party had neared the ruined entrance to the castle.
Nattie's curiosity had been aroused by Mori's tale, and he leaned
forward to tell his _jinrikisha_ man to stop, when there came a
clattering of hoofs from the interior of the castle, and a cavalcade
rode out upon the broken drawbridge.

Hoarse cries of mutual surprise rang out, then both parties came to a
sudden halt facing each other. A wild shout of joy came from Nattie:

"Grant! Grant! I have found you at last!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

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.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.


Despite their position, Nattie and Mori were compelled to laugh. And
from within came a hoarse burst of merriment that fairly shook the air.

"Ha, ha! ho, ho! Look at the monkeys, will ye! Watch them run at the
sound of a shot. Worra! Patrick Cronin, did ye live to see the day when
forty men would scoot from the sight of yer face?"

The fellow's taunts were cut short in a manner unpleasant to his
feelings. While he was dancing about inside, crowing over his victory,
Mori crept behind his shelter and let drive with his pistol. The bullet
cut a hole in Patrick's sleeve, and sent him backward in hot haste.

Seeing their advantage, both Nattie and the young Japanese darted across
the drawbridge, reaching the shelter of the forest without mishap. There
they were joined by Sumo, who appeared thoroughly discomfited.

"I thought they would fight, masters," he explained. "But it seems they
would rather work in the paddy fields than face firearms. We are not all
like that. If you wish, I will face that red-bearded foreigner myself,
and I'll cut his comb for him, too."

"That is not necessary, Sumo," replied Nattie, with a smile. "We know
you are brave, but we won't put you to such a test. A man's strength is
as nothing before a leaden bullet."

"One good thing," said Mori, "we are away from that trap on the
drawbridge. Now we must arrange to capture the scoundrels. Sumo, who is
a good man to send to the nearest town for police?"

The porter recommended one of the _karumayas_, and the fellow was
immediately dispatched on a run with a written message to the chief
official of the province. This matter attended to, Nattie and the young
Japanese enlisted the services of a part of Sumo's former forces and
established a line of spies around the land side of the castle.

Several natives were sent to a small village on the shore of the lake
for boats, then the two youthful commanders established themselves
within hailing distance of the castle entrance. They could see Patrick
pacing up and down, still alert.

Nattie waved his white handkerchief as a flag of truce, and hailed him.

"What do yez want?" growled the fellow, angrily.

"Tell Ralph Black to come to the door."

"Not Oi. Oi'm no sarvant for the likes of yez."

"But I wish to speak with him, fool. It will be to his interest,
probably."

"I am here," suddenly replied a voice, and the merchant's son showed
himself through the portcullis. "What have you to say, Nattie Manning?"

"I want to tell you that you will save time and trouble by surrendering
my brother."

"You don't say!" sneered Ralph. "And suppose we don't look at it in that
light?"

"You are a fool, that's all."

"It is easy to call names out there."

"It would be still easier if I had you here."

"Let me explain matters a little, Ralph," spoke up Mori, quietly. "You
are in a bad box, and you know it. You and your father have committed a
serious crime against the law by abducting Grant, and you will suffer
for it."

"That's our lookout," was the reckless reply.

"We have arranged matters so that you cannot hope to escape," continued
the young Japanese. "We have sent a messenger to the authorities, and in
the course of a few hours a force of police will come to our assistance.
It will then be an easy matter to capture you."

"You think so?"

"We know it to be so."

"Don't be too sure, John."

Now, if there is anything on earth that will anger a native of Japan, it
is the appellation "John." It places them on the same level with the
Chinamen in America, who conduct the familiar and omnipresent laundry,
and, look you, the Japanese rightly consider themselves much above their
brother Asiatics.

Mori felt the insult keenly, but he was too much of a gentleman to
retort in kind. Nattie--hot-tempered, impulsive lad--could not restrain
himself.

"You cowardly brute!" he shouted, shaking his fist at Ralph. "I'd give
half of what I expect to own on this earth to have you before me for
five minutes."

The merchant's son paled with anger, but he discreetly ignored the
challenge.

"What would you do, blowhard?" he blustered. "You think yourself
something, but I can bring even you to your knees."

"We will see about that when the officers of the law arrive," replied
Nattie, grimly.

"As I said before, don't be too sure. I have not played all my cards."

Mori and Nattie exchanged glances. What could the fellow mean? Ralph
speedily informed them.

"Do you think I would tamely submit to arrest and go from here with the
certain knowledge that my destination would be a long term in a prison?"
he snarled. "Do you think I am a fool? I have a safeguard here in the
person of your puny, crippled brother."

Again Mori and Nattie asked themselves what the fellow meant. Was it
possible he would be villain enough to resort to personal violence. The
younger Manning paled at the very thought.

"What would you do?" he called out, and his voice was unsteady.

Ralph laughed, triumphantly.

"I see I have touched the right spot," he replied. "I'll tell you in a
very few words. If you do not permit us to go free from here and give
your solemn promise--I guess you had better put it in writing--that you
will not molest us for this, and also that you will withdraw from the
competition for those army contracts, I'll kill Grant Manning with my
own hands."

Nattie was very white when the English youth finished. His worst fears
were realized. That Ralph meant what he said he firmly believed. Not so
Mori.

"Don't pay any attention to his threats," whispered the latter. "He is
only trying what you Americans call a 'bluff.' He wouldn't dare do any
such thing. He thinks too much of his own neck, the precious scoundrel."

As if in refutation of his opinion, Ralph called out in determined
tones:

"I mean what I say. I would rather hang than live ten or fifteen years
in prison. I leave it to you. You can take your choice. I will give you
ten minutes to make up your minds, and if, at the end of that time, you
do not agree to my terms it'll be the last of your brother."

"Come away where we can talk without being under the eye of that
miserable villain," said Mori, gravely.

"Wait; I wish to try a last chance," replied Nattie. He added in a loud
voice: "In the castle, there. Willis Round, Cronin, do you intend to
abide by Ralph Black's murderous proposition?"

"That Oi do, and if he'd take my advice, he'd kill th' lot of yez,"
instantly replied the Irishman.

The ex-bookkeeper's answer was longer in coming, and it was not so
emphatic, but it was to the same effect. Nattie was turning away sadly
when he heard Grant's familiar voice saying, resolutely:

"Do not give in, brother. Wait for the police, and you can capture them.
Ralph won't----"

The sentence remained unfinished. The speaker's captors had evidently
interposed with effect. Nattie and Mori walked sadly to the edge of the
forest. They left Sumo in front of the entrance on watch.

"There isn't any use talking about it," said the former. "We must agree
to his terms. I wouldn't have a hair of Grant's head harmed for all the
contracts on earth. True, he may be lying, but it is better to run no
risks. What do you think about it?"

"I believe you are right. We will permit them to go free, but we'll wait
until the expiration of the time mentioned. Perhaps something will turn
up. I hate to see that scoundrel and his mates crowing over us."

"I have known Ralph Black a great many years, but I never thought he
would prove to be such a thoroughly heartless and desperate villain. As
a boy he was headstrong and willful. He delighted in cruelty to animals,
and was brutal to those weaker than himself, but I little dreamed he
would come to this."

"The boy was father to the man," replied Mori, philosophically. "He had
it in him from birth. It is hereditary; see what his father is. Well,
the time is almost up, and we might as well go and confess ourselves
beaten. Ugh! it is a bitter pill to swallow."

On rejoining Sumo they found that worthy moving uneasily about in front
of the entrance. They saw also that the space behind the portcullis was
empty. The tramping of horses came from within, but there were no signs
of Ralph or his companions.

"Where in the deuce have they gone?" exclaimed Nattie, anxiously.

"I do not know, excellency," replied the porter. "The funny man with the
fire hair and the youth went away from the door a few minutes ago. The
tall, thin man, ran up to them and said something in a voice full of
joy, then they all disappeared."

"Something is up," exclaimed Mori, then he hailed the castle in a loud
voice. There was no reply. Nattie repeated the summons, but with the
same result. Now thoroughly alarmed, he and the young Japanese advanced
to the portcullis and beat upon it with their weapons.

An echoing sound came from the gloomy interior, but that was all. Sumo
was instantly bidden to bring men with axes, and others were sent along
the shore of the lake to see if an attempt at escape had been made.

In due time the barrier at the entrance was broken away, and the two
lads, followed by their native allies, rushed past into the ruins. Over
in one corner of what had been the main yard were five horses tethered
to several posts. Stores and articles of clothing were scattered about,
but of the fugitive party there was no sign.

A hasty search was made of the different apartments; the remains of the
roof were examined; the outer walls inspected, but at last Nattie and
his companions were compelled to acknowledge themselves baffled. The
entire party, prisoner and all, had mysteriously disappeared.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE TRAGEDY IN THE TUNNEL.


Greatly puzzled, the lads searched the interior again and again. Not a
place large enough to accommodate even a dog was omitted. The towers
were mere shells, with here and there a huge beam of wood, all that was
left of the different floors.

A door opening upon the lake was found, but it had been impassable for
years. Masses of _débris_, encumbering the castle, were moved about, but
nothing was discovered until finally the giant, Sumo, while delving into
the darkest corner of the most remote apartment, suddenly stepped into a
hole, and narrowly saved himself by grasping at the edge.

His cries brought the whole party helter-skelter into the room. A torch
of resinous pine was lighted, and the mystery revealed. The hole was the
jagged entrance to a tunnel, the bottom of which was dimly visible in
the rays cast by the flickering light.

"It is a secret exit from the castle," cried Nattie. "Quick! bring other
torches; we must follow at once."

"I thought we would find something of the kind," remarked Mori, no less
excited. "All these old _shiros_ have such outlets. It is fortunate we
have found this so easily. The other party cannot be very far in
advance."

There was much running about, but finally a start was made with an ample
supply of torches. Sumo was the only native that could be induced to
accompany the lads, the others hanging back in superstitious terror.

Word was left with one of the _'rikisha_ men to hold the police at the
castle until word arrived, then Nattie and Mori eagerly descended into
the cavity, Sumo bringing up the rear with the sticks of pine and his
ancient sword.

A few crumbling steps led to the bottom, which was about twelve or
thirteen feet from the floor. A little heap of dust at the lower level
bore the imprints of several feet. It was proof enough that the
fugitives had entered the tunnel.

A couple of yards from the entrance the excavation made a sharp descent.
The floor was thick with slime, and moisture dripped from overhead. The
tunnel became smaller and smaller and traces of masonry were found.

"We are passing under the moat," said Mori, elevating his torch. "Ugh!
what a dreadful place this is."

Nattie made no reply. He walked ahead steadily, and ever kept his eyes
in advance, as if eager to catch sight of the fugitives. Huge rats
peered at the party from sheltered nooks, or darted across their path,
as if careless of molestation. The silence was intense; the solitude
painful.

Presently the air became foul. It was thick and heavy with an odor like
that of a tomb. On turning a corner they suddenly came upon a row of
human skeletons stretched out in an orderly manner upon the floor. It
was a ghastly spectacle, and brought a terrified cry from Sumo. He
stopped and appeared unwilling to cross the bones.

"Come on, or remain alone," said Nattie, grimly.

The giant porter promptly followed them, but his huge frame shook with
superstitious fear. At the end of five minutes, a brief halt was made.
The tunnel was filled with a dark, moldy air, difficult to breathe.
Gasping and coughing, Mori turned an inquiring eye to his friend.

"We must not turn back," replied the lad. "They passed through here, and
we can also. Come; we are losing time. See, the torches are burning out.
If we do not hasten we will be left in darkness."

The very possibility of such a dread occurrence sent the trio on almost
at a run. To be left in darkness in the tunnel, with its ghastly
tenants, was terrifying to contemplate. Sumo magnified the horrors a
hundredfold through his ignorance, and his plight was pitiful to see.

On, on; the torches flickering; grotesque shadows surrounding them; the
atmosphere becoming more dank and difficult to breathe with each passing
moment. Huge rodents pattering before, their sharp, piercing eyes
gleaming like the optics of fleeing demons; a dripping of water here and
puddles of foul scum there.

Only one thing strengthened the little party as they sped along, and
that was the knowledge that other humans had passed through the same
horrors but a few brief moments before.

"How much farther?" gasped Mori, for the tenth time.

"How much farther?" echoed Sumo, with a groan.

"Heart up," replied Nattie, redoubling his speed. "We must be almost
there. Don't give up. Remember Ralph and the others took the same
journey. Are they more brave than we?"

"You are right, my boy. We must persist; the end cannot be far away."

They had already traveled a distance at least equal to two city blocks.
The tunnel had made various turns, but as yet they had not encountered
any side excavations. This was fortunate, as it permitted them to
continue ahead without any doubt as to the proper passage.

Presently, to the unspeakable delight of all three, the air became less
foul.

"We are almost there," cried Nattie, cheerily. "Courage, courage!"

It was time. The torches, mere pine slivers, had burned away until only
a few inches remained. They had started with an ample supply, but while
passing the ghastly array of skeletons, Sumo had dropped the reserve
bundle in his terror.

Suddenly the one carried by Mori gave out; then Nattie's gave a feeble
splutter and expired. Presently, however, the floor in the tunnel began
to brighten, and finally, on turning a corner, a feeble speck of light
became perceptible in the distance.

"The end, thank God!" shouted Mori.

The echoes of his voice had hardly died away when a most dreadful thing
happened. Without the slightest warning to herald its approach there
came a terrific rending shock. It seemed as if the very bowels of the
earth had collapsed in one great crash.

Nattie and Mori and Sumo were thrown to the ground with violent force,
and there they lay mercifully deprived of consciousness, while around
them the walls and roof and floor of the tunnel heaved and pitched in
the throes of an earthquake.

The disturbance only lasted a moment, but it was some time before the
little party recovered. Nattie was the first to stagger to his feet.
The torch had gone out, leaving an impenetrable darkness. The welcoming
light--the light proclaiming the exit from the tunnel--had disappeared.

The lad was bewildered, almost daft, and small wonder. He lurched about
until at last he stumbled and fell across Mori. The shock brought the
young Japanese to his senses. Then Sumo scrambled to his feet.

Panic-stricken, they started to run. Slipping, staggering, sorely
bruising themselves against the sides of the passage, they fled in
overwhelming terror. A yard, ten yards, a hundred yards, and then they
brought up with a crash against an impenetrable barrier of rock and
earth.

The exit was closed!



CHAPTER XXXI.

RALPH SECURES REINFORCEMENTS.


"The exit is closed!"

The cry came simultaneously from all three. Shrill and with a terrible
weight of despair it echoed through the tunnel. Then came a weird
crooning. It was the death-song of Sumo's people.

Mori stopped him with a fierce command, saying, harshly:

"Silence, dog! Would you add to our misery? Silence, I say!"

The result of civilization now became apparent. The first natural
feeling of terror passed, the reaction came, and both Nattie and the
young Japanese were able to discuss their situation with more or less
calmness.

"This is dreadful, simply dreadful," said the latter; "but we must face
it and see what can be done to save ourselves."

"What was it, an earthquake?"

"Yes, but not much of a shock. We felt it down here; above ground it was
simply a wave of minor strength."

"But others may come, masters," exclaimed the porter, with chattering
teeth.

"You are right. We must hasten back the way we came. The shock has
barred our passage in this direction; only the castle exit remains to
us."

There was little time lost in commencing the retreat. Grasping hands the
three staggered along the tunnel floor, walking, running, and even
crawling at times. The dust that had filled the excavation immediately
after the earthquake soon settled, and the breathing became easier.

Presently Nattie stopped.

"What is the matter?" anxiously asked Mori.

"Grant--what of him?" replied the lad, pitifully. "Do you think they
succeeded in leaving before the shock came?"

"Undoubtedly. We saw the exit, and had almost gained it. They had at
least ten minutes' start. Don't worry; Grant is safe."

Reassured, Nattie resumed the flight with his companions. In due time
they came to the crypt occupied by the skeletons, but Sumo never
faltered. That terror had paled before a greater.

A foreboding that another barrier might be encountered brought a pallor
to the cheeks of the fugitives. The fear was fortunately without
foundation. The passage remained clear, and in due course of time they
reached the bottom of the steps leading to the castle floor.

Weary, worn out, their clothing disordered and torn, and with the fear
of death still lingering in their faces, the three painfully scrambled
into the air and flung themselves, gasping for breath, upon the stone
pavement of the inner yard of the _shiro_.

The place was deserted. The coolies and _'rikisha_ men had evidently
fled at the first signs of the earthquake. Presently a confused murmur
of voices from the outside indicated that they were still within easy
call.

After a brief moment of rest Nattie staggered to his feet, and, followed
by his companions, emerged upon the drawbridge. Their appearance was
received with shouts of astonishment and awe. To the superstitious eyes
of the natives, they were as beings of another world.

That any mortal could survive the clutches of the _jishin_, or
earthquake, while in its domains underground was not possible. With one
accord the terrified natives fled for the forest.

They were speedily brought to a halt by Mori, who was in no mood for
foolishness. Rushing after them, he grasped the nearest and fiercely
ordered him to bring food and _sake_, the mild wine of the country.

"Fools; what think you?" he exclaimed. "We are not ghosts. We have
escaped from the tunnel through the aid of a merciful Providence. We are
exhausted, and require meat and drink."

With many ejaculations of awe and amazement the _karumayas_ obeyed.
Before eating, Mori, Nattie and Sumo removed the tattered remnants of
their clothing, and bathed themselves in the cool waters of the lake.
Then a few mouthfuls of food were taken.

The wine put new life in the lads. Refreshed and invigorated, they
prepared for the pursuit. It was decided without caution that the caves
must be reached without delay.

"I am positive it is their destination," said Nattie.

"Undoubtedly. We will follow the scoundrels with the aid of their own
horses. Sumo, you and two others come with us. The rest can wait for the
arrival of the police. Forward!"

After the party had ridden a short distance, Mori was seen to cast many
anxious glances toward the mighty peak of Bandai-San. It was in plain
view, apparently on the other shore of the lake, and its sloping reaches
spoke eloquently of the ages in which the flow of molten lava had
created the majestic mountain.

"What is the matter?" asked Nattie.

"I don't like the looks of the old fellow this morning," replied the
young Japanese. "Do you see that misty vapor hovering over the summit.
That means activity of the volcano. Mark my words, it is on the eve of
an eruption."

"Yes, Bandai-San is awaking from his long sleep," put in Sumo.

"That earthquake must have had something to do with it," said Nattie.

"No doubt. It may be the forerunner of a strong disturbance."

As they rode on, the curious cloud became more pronounced. Fearing the
recurrence of a shock, the party avoided the shelter of trees, and kept
to the open as much as possible.

After leaving the neighborhood of the lake a road was encountered, so
bad that it was necessary to walk the horses. At last it degenerated
into a mere path among the narrow paddy fields. A collection of rude
huts hardly numerous enough to deserve the title of village was reached
after a while.

Singularly enough, there were no inhabitants visible. Not the slightest
signs of life could be seen save the still smoking embers of a fire
outside of one of the houses. This apparent air of desertion was
rendered all the more strange because of the intense interest generally
created among the natives by the cavalcade.

"Find out what is the matter, Sumo," directed Mori.

The giant cantered up to one of the huts and rapped lustily upon the
wall with his sword. Presently a head was thrust through a hole in the
thatch, but it immediately disappeared on seeing the warlike porter.

"Come out of that," Sumo shouted, authoritatively. "Give my masters some
information, or I'll burn your hut about your ears. Out, I say!"

There was a moment of delay, then a shrinking, half-clad Japanese coolie
crept from the door and cast himself at Sumo's feet. He was evidently
greatly terrified. He wailed aloud, and refused to raise his head from
the dust. Impatient at the delay, Mori and Nattie rode up and commanded
the wretch to speak.

"Did a party composed of foreigners and several coolies with a prisoner
pass through here recently?" asked the former.

"Yes, excellency," stammered the man. "There were seven in all. They
stopped here, and compelled twenty of our best men to accompany them.
They made them carry reaping-hooks and almost all the provisions in
town. They took my store of rice for the winter."

"Whew! Ralph intends to prepare for a siege," exclaimed Nattie. "What a
fool he is! Men and provisions, eh? What can he hope to do against the
authorities?"

"Did they state their destination?" Mori asked the native.

"No, but they went in that direction," he replied, pointing beyond
Bandai-San.

"That's the way to the caves," muttered Nattie, then he added, aloud:
"How long have they been gone?"

"Not twenty minutes, excellency. Look! you can see the dust still
lingering above the bushes upon that hill. They are not to the base of
the mountain yet."

After tossing the man a couple of _yen_, to repay him for the loss of
his rice, Nattie put spurs to his horse and led the way up the path.
Presently the party reached a species of tableland, near the summit of
an almost inaccessible hill which rose near the base of the volcano.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE FLASHING OF THE SWORDS.


The spot seemed wild and desolate, there being no evidence of
cultivation or of human habitation. On one side extended numerous deep
ravines, which gave an air of solemnity to the scene. The narrow,
seldom-used path turned sharply to the left in a direction away from
their destination.

A halt was called upon a natural platform overgrown with brambles. Sumo,
who had some knowledge of woodcraft, leaped from his horse and examined
the brush.

"They have passed here, masters," he announced. "I find little threads
hanging to the thorns; and the grass is trampled in places."

"We must proceed with caution," said Mori, restraining Nattie, who had
already started. "Remember, Ralph has a number of men with him, and he
is liable to ambuscade us."

"I will go on ahead," volunteered the giant porter, swinging his massive
sword vindictively. "You follow slowly. If I see anything I will make
the sound of a wild crow."

"Don't lose any time in your scouting," said Nattie, impatiently.
"Confound them, they'll get away from us yet."

Leaving his horse in charge of one of the coolies, Sumo slipped through
the brush and disappeared down one of the ravines. After looking to
their weapons, the rest silently followed. They had barely traveled a
hundred yards when the harsh cry of a wild crow came to their ears; then
before the echoes had died away, the fierce clashing of steel thrilled
the air.

"He has been attacked," shouted Nattie, putting his horse to the bushes.
"Quick, we have them now!"

With the rest at his back, he dashed down a gentle slope into the head
of the ravine. Passing a large clump of trees they came upon a most
thrilling scene. Two hundred yards from the hill the valley narrowed to
a space not wider than a city sidewalk.

The "gut" was formed by a huge mass of earth, which had fallen from the
heights overhead. The bottom was evidently the dry bed of a mountain
stream, and innumerable bowlders and jagged pieces of flint were
scattered here and there, rendering walking difficult.

The scenery was an afterthought. That which instantly attracted the
attention of Nattie and Mori was the figure of a native almost as large
as Sumo standing at the beginning of the narrow passage. The fellow was
armed with a sword, which he shook vindictively at the party.

Several feet away stood the giant porter, calmly whetting the huge
weapon given him by Mori. Farther up the ravine stood the Irishman,
Patrick Cronin. The man grinned impudently on seeing the newcomers, then
he turned and disappeared behind a mass of underbrush.

"After him!' shouted Nattie, riding headlong into the valley.

"Hold!"

The abrupt warning came from Sumo. He had strode in the way with one
hand raised.

"What do you mean?" demanded Mori. And as he spoke he leveled his
revolver at the challenging figure standing in the middle of the "gut."

"Don't shoot him, excellency," exclaimed Sumo, imploringly. "That is
Raiko, the thug. I knew him in Yokohama. He did me an injury once. Now,
I claim satisfaction."

"What nonsense is this?" shouted Nattie. "Would you delay us, man?"

"It will not take long," replied Sumo, with a scowl directed toward
Raiko. "I'll promise you his head in the song of a stork. See! I
commence."

He sprang forward, and with great agility threw himself upon Raiko. The
latter uttered a shrill cry, seemingly of exultation and defiance, and
in the twinkling of an eye the ancient enemies were engaged in what
evidently promised to be mortal combat.

Human nature is not proof against the thrill and excitement of war. Much
as we deplore fighting, there is something in the clash of arms that
fascinates us. From the glorious spectacle of marshaled armies to the
duel between individuals, there is a charm not to be resisted by mankind
of any degree.

Nattie and Mori were not different in that respect from other lads. They
were both truthful, honest, manly boys, with a just knowledge of right
and wrong, but deep down in their hearts was a little of the old leaven
with which we are still afflicted more or less.

For the moment they forgot their quest and watched the fight with eager
eyes. The two combatants were equally matched. If anything, Sumo was
slightly taller, but Raiko made up for the discrepancy in a greater
breadth of shoulders.

Both were armed with the heavy two-edged sword formerly used by the
ancient _daimios_, and they were fairly skilled in the practice. Raiko
had the advantage in position. Where he had taken his stand was a spot
elevated a foot or more above the rest of the ravine. Sumo, however,
had greater room in which to swing his weapon, and in case of pressure
he had the ravine at his back.

At the first onslaught the play was furious, and the rocks rang with the
clash of steel. Cut, slash, went the swords. Backward and forward sprang
the antagonists. Now to the right, now to the left, dodging, leaping,
advancing, and retreating.

In the midst of it all came the hissing murmur of strained voices.
Tongues were going as well as arms--words keen with venom; phrases
sharpened with hate played their part in the fierce duel.

Presently the fury of the combat had slackened. Nature was calling a
halt. Of the two, Raiko had suffered the most. He was bleeding in a
dozen places. But Sumo had not entirely escaped. A broad, raw wound on
his right thigh showed where his antagonist's sword had tasted blood.

Like two bucks weary with strife, the twain backed away from one another
and, leaning upon their weapons, glared with unabated hatred. The
respite was momentary. Ere Nattie and Mori could speak they were at it
again.

"Dog! Robber of the lame!" shouted Sumo, aiming a shrewd blow at his
enemy. "Your career is ended. Now for a taste of revenge. Remember the
night at the _matsura_? Remember the cowardly thrust thou gavest my
brother?"

"Yes; and I have one such for thee, worm!" retorted Raiko. "Thou bulk of
nothingness, I'll send thee to the offal heap to-day, and--ugh! ugh!"

With a harsh cry, almost inhuman in its intensity, he fell against the
side of the ravine, sent there by a terrible downward blow from Sumo's
triumphant sword. Leaping upon his prostrate enemy, the giant porter
gave a sweep of the weapon, then he stood erect with Raiko's gory head
in his grasp!



CHAPTER XXXIII.

"GRANT! BROTHER, IS IT YOU?"


The scene was tragic. A ray from the afternoon sun glinted down through
a rift in the foliage, bringing out in bold relief the warrior figure of
the giant. Thus he stood for a moment, evidently tasting his triumph to
the full, then, with a contemptuous laugh, he tossed the head of his
fallen foe upon the prostrate trunk.

"Send me to the offal heap, thou braggart?" he exclaimed. "Where art
thou now, Raiko? It was a lie to be answered with the rest of thy sins
at the foot of the throne of Buddha. Poof! that was an easy fight. Now I
try conclusions with the fiery-bearded foreigner."

Turning, he sped up the ravine and vanished from sight, leaving Nattie
and Mori eying one another in astonishment.

"What a bloodthirsty wretch it is!" said the latter.

"Civilization is merely skin deep in some," dryly replied his companion.
"This is a sorry spectacle even in the interior of your country. Don't
you think we should feel ashamed?"

"I don't know but that you are right," was the naïve reply. "But,
confound it all, Nattie, Sumo had great provocation, and, remember, he
fought in our interests."

"Then we will forgive him. I'll harbor a little contempt for myself for
some time, though. Let somebody bury the body, or take it to the nearest
village. Come; we have lost too much time as it is."

"Sumo is as rash as he is brave," remarked Mori, as he rode along at his
friend's side. "If he don't watch out, Patrick will nab him."

While trotting across a rocky shelf, Nattie chanced to look up toward
the cone of the nearby volcano. To his surprise, he saw that the vapory
mist had given way to a dense volume of pitch-black smoke. Little
tongues of flame shot athwart the column at intervals, and hovering over
the summit was a cloud of ashes glinting dully in the sun.

"That looks threatening," he exclaimed, calling Mori's attention to it.

"By Jove, Bandai-San is in eruption," was the instant reply. "It is the
first time in my memory, too." Then he added, gravely: "Nattie, this
comes at a bad time." "Why?"

"If there should be a flow of lava--which is highly probable--our stay
in this neighborhood will be dangerous."

"Does it ever reach this far?"

"No; but we must pass near the base of the mountain on our way to the
caves."

"And the other party?"

"They will be placed in peril also."

"Then we must catch them before they reach there," exclaimed Nattie,
urging his horse forward. "I don't care a snap for Ralph or his crew,
but Grant----"

"Sh-h-h! Some one is coming down the ravine."

A dull noise, like the scrambling of naked feet over the gravel and
rocky soil of the dry river bed, came to their ears. It increased until
at last it became evident that a considerable body of men were
approaching.

"Quick! out of the way!" exclaimed Nattie, turning sharply to the right.

Reining in his steed behind an overhanging mass of earth, he drew his
revolver and waited in silence.

Mori soon joined him. They had barely concealed themselves when a score
of half-naked natives dashed past, uttering cries of alarm as they ran.

They were apparently wild with terror. The cause was speedily explained.
While hurrying down the ravine more than one would pause and cast
fearful glances toward the smoking crater of old Bandai-San. The
impending eruption was the secret of their flight.

"It is the body of villagers taken away by Ralph," said Mori. "Their
terror of the volcano has proved stronger than their fear of the
foreigners. Good! I am glad they have abandoned him. Now he won't have
such an overwhelming force."

"Did you notice whether the two other coolies were with them? I mean
those who were with Ralph at the castle?"

"I think I did see one. Humph! you can rest assured that very few
natives will remain in the neighborhood when a volcano is spouting fire.
I even wonder that Sumo----"

As if the name carried the magic power of conjuring, it was barely
uttered when the bushes on the left slope of the ravine parted and the
giant porter strode into view.

"Hail, masters," he said, stopping and wiping his perspiring face.

"Where have you been? What have you seen?" asked Nattie and Mori, in a
breath.

"I was in chase of the devil with the red beard."

"Did you see him?"

Sumo laughed grimly.

"Yes, as the hunter sees the hawk in its flight," he replied. "Red-beard
is swift in his pace when danger threatens."

"Did you see the others?" eagerly asked Nattie.

"No, but I followed them close to the mud caves. Poof! they are fools.
Know they not that the demon of the mountain, old 'Jishin' himself,
lives there? And now is his hunting time. See! Bandai-San is angry. He
sends forth fire and smoke. Presently the river that runs molten red
will flow down the mountainside."

"Are you afraid?" rather contemptuously asked Nattie.

"Not of mortal, master; but it is no shame to bow to the wrath of the
gods. Whither go you?"

"In search of my brother," was the terse reply, and the lad set spurs to
his horse.

"You shall not go alone," spoke up Mori, riding after him.

Sumo glanced after their retreating forms, then he cast his eyes upward
to where the smoke over the crater was assuming a ruddy tinge. It was
enough. Tossing up his arms, he started off at a long trot and vanished
over the bit of tableland at the head of the ravine. His superstitious
fears had proved the victor.

"Mori, you are a friend indeed," said Nattie, when the young Japanese
rejoined him. "But I cannot permit you to run unnecessary risks for our
sake. Return while you have the chance."

"Not much," was the hearty reply. "Where you go I go. You insult me. Do
you think I would leave you and Grant in the lurch? Not if ten thousand
volcanoes were to erupt. Tut! tut! that will do. Not another word."

"I will say this, old fellow," gratefully. "You will never regret your
actions on this trip. We will find some way to repay you."

On up the valley rode the two friends, side by side. Presently a place
was reached where it became necessary to leave the horses and continue
on foot. Shortly after they had dismounted there came a deep rumbling
noise and the earth trembled beneath their feet.

Pale but resolute, they strode along. There was a smell of sulphur in
the air; the leaves of the scrubby trees were coated with impalpable
gray ashes, and a sifting cloud of powdery fragments fell upon them.

Suddenly, while passing around an abrupt bend in the ravine, they saw
ahead of them the figure of a youth limping in their direction. Nattie
gave the newcomer one startled glance, then he rushed forward, crying:

"Grant! Brother, is it you?"



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE MYSTERIOUS FORCES OF NATURE.


It was Grant. Hobbling along as fast as his crippled limbs could carry
him, he threw himself into his brother's arms, and for a moment they
forgot all else in the emotion of their greeting. Then Mori came in for
his well-earned share.

The amount of handshaking and incoherent expressions that followed was
wonderful. Mutual explanations were demanded and given with hearty good
will. The lame youth told briefly his experiences on board the junk,
then he added:

"After we left that dreadful tunnel running from the castle I almost
gave up hope. I felt instinctively that you were underground when that
first earthquake shock came, and I was awfully worried."

"We escaped, as you can see," said Nattie, with a happy grin.

"If not you are pretty lively ghosts," said Grant, in the same vein;
then he continued: "That brute Ralph hurried us along the mountain for a
while. Then we stopped at a village and compelled some of the poor
natives to accompany us. I tell you, Ralph Black must be crazy. None
but a lunatic would hope to escape from the law for such an outrage.
Fancy him thinking he could take me to a cave in the mountain and keep
off the lawful forces of the country."

"It is past belief," remarked Mori. "But tell us, how did you manage to
escape?"

"I am coming to that. But hadn't we better leave this neighborhood?
Ralph and Patrick are liable to follow me at any moment."

"Where is Willis Round?" quickly asked Nattie, noting the omission of
the bookkeeper's name.

Grant smiled.

"We needn't fear anything from him," he said.

"Is he dead?"

"No; he helped me to escape."

"What!"

"It is a fact. Wait; I'll tell you. After we arrived in the vicinity of
the caves--which are dreadful places, by the way--Round slipped up to me
and began to talk about matters in general. Before he had said many
words I saw his object. He was trying to 'hedge,' as they call it in
racing parlance."

"To crawl out of the scrape, eh?"

"Yes; I led him on, and he presently asked me point-blank if I would
promise to save him from punishment if he should help me to escape. I
replied that I would do what I could for him, but I would promise
nothing. He was content with that, and after a while he succeeded in
cutting the thongs binding my hands.

"Shortly after, while we were hurrying through a dense copse I slipped
behind and ran as fast as I could on the back trail. It was a risky
piece of business, as Ralph had threatened to shoot me if I made another
attempt to escape."

"And the villain would do it, too," said Nattie.

"I believe he would. The boy is crazy--clean stark crazy. None but a
lunatic would do as he has done."

"They must see their mistake now," remarked Mori, grimly.

"They do. Willis Round is nearly frightened to death. Patrick still
remains obstinate and advises a general slaughter of all, but I think he
is weakening. The natives they took from the village deserted on account
of the threatening eruption of the volcano."

All three glanced up to the summit of Bandai-San. The smoke and flame
had increased in volume. It was a terrifying sight and instinctively the
little party moved toward the head of the ravine.

They had walked only a short distance when a tremor shook the earth,
sending a mass of dirt and rocks tumbling down the side of the valley.
Then, in the twinkling of an eye, a thick cloud of ashes was showered
upon them.

Now thoroughly frightened, the boys set out at a run, Nattie and Mori
assisting the crippled youth, one on each side. Suddenly a dull shock,
like the explosion of a mine, almost knocked them prostrate, and
directly in front they saw the earth fly from a conical hole in the side
of the ravine with the impetus of a hundred-ton gun.

When the dust and _débris_ settled, they beheld a small crater, probably
fifteen feet in width, occupying a spot a dozen yards above the dry bed
of the stream. It was only a small affair as craters go, but the
mysterious operation of the natural volcanic forces sent a thrill
through the lads, and they scrambled to their feet with but one intent,
and that was to leave the place as quickly as possible.

"Come!" hoarsely exclaimed Mori, turning a face pallid with dread to his
companions. "We haven't a moment to lose. If an eruption should occur
and the lava flow down this side of the mountain nothing could save us
from a horrible death."

"Is it as bad as that?" gasped Nattie, glancing fearfully toward the
volcano.

The answer came not in words. Suddenly, and with terrific force a
thunderous report rent the air. Darkness darker than midnight fell upon
the scene as if a pall had descended upon them from the heavens. A
blinding shower of hot ashes and sand rained in torrents, then--then
while the three lads groveled with their faces in the dust the earth
rocked and rocked, and rocked again.

Presently--was it a moment or an eternity?--a strange hissing noise
became apparent. Multiply the escaping steam from an overcharged boiler
ten thousand times and you would only have a faint idea of the terrible
noise that filled the air to the exclusion of all other sounds.

For the space of many seconds the earth continued to undulate like the
surface of the sea. Explosion after explosion came in rapid succession,
each seeming greater than its predecessor, until at last one came that
shook the earth to its foundations.

To the three lads prone in the little ravine it was as if the end of the
world had come. They lost all thought of time or place. They remained
bowed down before the majestic forces of nature, incapable of moving, or
speaking, or even thinking.

In time the dread convulsions ceased. Ill with a nausea like that of the
sea, Grant and Nattie and Mori finally scrambled to their feet and
attempted to run. It was a futile effort. Their trembling limbs refused
to carry them, and they sank back once more.

Let not the reader think it cowardice. No more brave and sturdy youths
than Nattie and Mori could be found in all Japan. And Grant--if feeble
in frame and prone to disease physically, his soul was absolutely
fearless in the common happenings of life.

Only those who have experienced the awful feeling incidental to one of
those terrible convulsions of nature called earthquakes can testify as
to its effect on the human mind. It is the most mysterious, and the most
dreadful force known to man. The writer speaks from experience, having
narrowly escaped with his life from one encountered while on a journey
through a Central American republic.

It came without warning, and in its duration of not more than eight
seconds--think of it!--leveled hundreds of houses and claimed a score of
human lives. Its immediate effect was as if the earth was slipping away
and one's grasp lost on all things mundane.



CHAPTER XXXV.

RETRIBUTION!


It was some time before the boys could again regain their feet. As the
minutes slipped past without a recurrence of the shocks their courage
and self-confidence returned. They did not stop to discuss the matter,
but promptly obeyed their first instinct, which was to leave the
accursed spot without delay.

They had barely started down the ravine with tottering limbs when
Nattie, who was in the rear heard a hoarse cry behind him. It was not
human. It was harsh and gurgling, like the scream of a wild fowl in the
clutches of a giant eagle.

The lad paused and glanced back, then he cried out in horror. His
companions instantly turned and looked in the direction indicated by his
outstretched hand. Approaching them at a staggering walk was the almost
unrecognizable figure of a tall, thin man.

His clothing hung in charred tatters from a frame that seemed bent and
distorted, evidently from some great calamity; the hat was gone, the
hair burned away, and caking the lower limbs as high as the knees was a
mass of grayish, slimy mud.

As he advanced in a series of tremulous lurches he stretched forth his
hands in piteous supplication. Presently he fell to the ground and lay
there writhing like a wounded animal. The boys ran to his side. They
gave him one glance, then recoiled in horrified amazement.

"Heavens above!" cried Grant; "it is Willis Round!"

The poor wretch at their feet twisted around and revealed a scarred,
marked face with sightless eyes. After great effort, he whispered,
hoarsely:

"Water! water! Give me water!"

Luckily, Nattie carried a canteen-shaped bottle of the precious fluid.
Bending over, he placed it to the sufferer's lips. With what joy and
relief did he drink! The draught placed new life in him. He presently
gasped:

"Who is--is here? Is it Grant--Grant Manning?"

"Yes, it is I," quickly replied the lame youth. "Can I do anything for
you? Ha! why do I ask such a question? Quick, Nattie, Mori; we must take
him to the nearest town. He needs medical attendance at once."

"It is too late," groaned Round. "I am a dead man. The end of the world
is at hand, and I am caught in sin. The others----"

"What of them?" asked Grant, eagerly.

"They are gone."

"Dead?"

"Yes; the volcano was shattered by the eruption, the liquid mud and
earth--ugh!--rolled down to the caves. I saw it in time and almost
succeeded in--in escaping. But Ralph and Patrick were buried under
thousands--ugh!--of tons of molten earth."

For the first time since the convulsion the boys glanced up at the peak
of Bandai-San. To their awe they saw that its shape had been totally
changed. Instead of the graceful cone with its dimple of a crater, it
now seemed shorn of half its height. The summit was simply a jagged edge
of cliff-like reaches.

[1]In plain view to the left was a peculiar river, almost black in
color, and evidently rolling down the steep slope of the mountainside
like the waters of a cascade. Dense clouds of steam hovered over it, and
plainly apparent in the air were strange, weird sounds impossible to
describe.

The grewsome sight brought back the first feeling of terror, and for a
moment the lads eyed one another in doubt. The desire to flee soon
passed away, however, and they again turned their attention to the
prostrate wretch.

A change was coming over him. It needed no medical skill to tell that
the man was dying. Nattie gave him more water, and others made a couch
of their coats, but that was all. Willis Round was beyond mortal aid. In
the course of half an hour he gave a gasp, half arose upon his elbow and
then fell back lifeless.

He was buried where he had died. Scooping a shallow grave in the soft
earth he was placed tenderly within and left to his last rest. As they
hurried away from the spot a strange silence fell upon Grant and his
companions.

One brief hour before they had been eager in their denunciations of
Ralph Black and his fellow conspirators. Now all that was changed. An
awful fate had overtaken them in the very midst of their sins. In the
presence of the dread retribution all animosity was forgotten. Their
death was from the awful hand of Nature, and their tomb under thousands
of tons of Mother Earth!

With all possible speed the boys left the eventful ravine. The horses
tethered near the spot of tableland had disappeared, evidently stampeded
by the convulsions. In due time the village from which Ralph had taken
his reinforcements was reached. It was entirely deserted.

At a small town beyond the castle of Yamagata, reached late in the
afternoon, Sumo was found with other natives more brave than their
fellows. The giant porter became wild with delight and ran forth to
meet the tired wayfarers.

"Welcome! thrice welcome!" he shouted, bowing his huge bulk almost to
the ground. "And thou escaped from old 'Jishin' after all? Glad am I,
excellencies; glad am I! But where are the fugitives? And where is the
foreigner, old Red-Beard?"

"They are dead," gravely replied Mori. "They were killed by the
eruption. Get us meat and drink at once, coward. I am minded to punish
you for your desertion, dog."

Sumo shrugged his shoulders philosophically.

"As thou will, little master," he replied. "Punish if it be in thy
heart. I would have fought for thee if mortal enemies threatened, but
what is my puny arm to that of the underground demon?"

"I do not blame you for running away, Sumo," spoke up Nattie, with an
involuntary shudder. "It was an awful experience, and one I have no
desire to meet again."

"Amen!" fervently exclaimed Grant.

That afternoon and night the boys rested. At daybreak on the following
day they started for the nearest railway station, in _jinrikishas_. As
reports came in from the country nearest to the other slope of
Bandai-San the terrible nature of the calamity became apparent.

Whole towns had been swept away by the dreadful sea of molten mud
thrown from the crater. Thousands had been injured, and a thousand lost.
Many miles of land had been ruined. The destruction was almost
irreparable.

At Tokio the boys purchased new outfits. They remained a few hours in
the capital, and then left for Yokohama. At Nattie's personal request,
Sumo had accompanied them. It was the lad's intention to install the
giant as a factotum of the firm in the counting-room. It was late in the
morning when they steamed into the railway station. As they left the
train, Mori turned to Grant with a cry of dismay.

"By Jove! do you know what day this is?" he asked, excitedly.

"No--that is--it's----"

"The first of August, and the bids for those army contracts are to be
opened at noon!"

FOOTNOTE:

[1] An actual occurrence. On the sixteenth of July, 1888, the volcano of
Bandai-San, in Northern Japan, exploded, killing a thousand people. The
mountain was almost rent asunder, one-third being turned into liquid
mud!



CHAPTER XXXVI.

CONCLUSION.


"The army contracts!" echoed Grant. "Why, bless my soul, you are right!
This is the day set by the war department for opening them."

All three lads instinctively glanced at the station clock.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Nattie; "it's after eleven!"

"In less than an hour the board will sit, and at Tokio--twenty miles
away!" Mori cried. "We have lost the chance after all."

"Not without a struggle," firmly replied the lame youth. "There's Mr.
Burr over there. He is here to meet us. Nattie, take him to the nearest
stationer, and purchase three or four quires of official paper, pen and
ink. Be back in five minutes. Mori, come with me."

While Nattie, too bewildered to speak, hurried away on his errand, Grant
grasped the Japanese youth's arm, and almost ran to the station master's
office. They found the official seated at his desk.

"What time does the next train leave for the capital?" asked Grant.

"At eleven-thirty, sir."

"Too late. How long will it take you to start a special train?"

The railway employee stared at his questioner in surprise.

"A special train for Tokio?" he asked.

"Yes."

"We couldn't have it ready under twenty minutes. Why, what----"

"Never mind the reason, sir," interrupted Grant, impatiently. "I must be
in Tokio before twelve o'clock."

"It is impossible, sir."

"Not at all. It must be done. Where is the engine that brought the train
in a few moments ago?"

"It is still in the station, but it will go to the running sheds before
long."

"I must have that engine," exclaimed Grant, with determination. "I will
pay you five hundred _yen_ for an hour's use of it. I will also give a
bonus of fifty _yen_ each to the engineer and fireman."

Five minutes later a powerful locomotive left the station, bearing the
party. A small table had been secured, and hard at work upon it was Mr.
Burr, writing for dear life as Grant dictated.

The line was clear, telegraphic orders having been sent to that effect
from Yokohama, and the intricate mass of iron flew upon its journey at
the rate of seventy miles an hour.

It was a strange spectacle, and one never before witnessed in all Japan.
To the engineer and fireman, native born, it was a novelty indeed, and
they cast many curious glances at the group upon the tender.

As the miles were covered at terrific speed, the ponderous engine swayed
and rocked like a ship in distress. But amid the lurching and tossing of
the fabric, Grant stood imperturbably droning word after word, sentence
upon sentence, while the canny Scot jotted them down as best he could.

The document was a lengthy one, full of circumlocution and dreary
phrases, but at the end of twelve minutes, when the outskirts of Tokio
came in sight, it was finished. The three members of the firm affixed
their names just as the panting engine came to a sudden stop in the
railway station of the capital.

_Jinrikishas_ with fleet _karumayas_ had been ordered by telegraph. The
distance to the war department was at least a mile. Springing into the
vehicles, the party were carried swiftly through the streets, a promise
of ten times the usual fare having lent wings to the men's feet.

A clock observed midway indicated a quarter of twelve.

"On, on, men!" cried Grant, imploringly. "Fifty _yen_ each if you do it
before the stroke of twelve."

The promise was as a whip to a spirited horse. From lagging steps the
_karumayas_ bounded into a run. Down the narrow streets they darted,
past gardens, through thoroughfares crowded with pedestrians; on, on,
until at last, with a final spurt, the four _jinrikishas_ came to a halt
in front of the Japanese war office.

Leaving Mr. Burr to settle with the coolies--who had well earned their
pay--Grant dashed into the building just as the first stroke of a
sonorous bell overhead proclaimed the hour of noon.

As he passed through the entrance he noticed a door at the right bearing
upon its panels in Japanese, "War Department. Office of the Army Board."
It was standing slightly ajar, and from the interior came a confused
murmur of voices.

Something prompted Grant and his companions to stop and peer through.
Seated at a large desk were several officers in uniform and other
gentlemen in civilian's clothes. In the center was Yoshisada Udono,
Grant's friend. Occupying chairs in the main portion of the room were
the German merchants of Yokohama, Swartz and Bauer, and Ralph's father,
Jesse Black.

The warning bell had reached the seventh stroke!

Arising to his feet with a triumphant smile upon his lean, suave face,
the English merchant advanced to the desk and laid thereon a packet. As
he turned to resume his seat there was a noise at the door, and the lame
youth marched in with calm dignity.

"Ah, I see I am just in time," he said, with a pleasant smile. "Mr.
Udono, will you please accept our bid for the contracts?"

"Certainly, Grant, with the greatest pleasure," quickly replied the
secretary. "Where have you been? I actually thought you would be----"

He was interrupted by a snarl of mingled stupefaction and rage. Mr.
Black, who had been staring open mouthed at the lads, sprang forward,
and shouted:

"It is too late! It is past the time. The hour of twelve----"

"Has not struck yet," quietly interrupted Grant. "Listen! ten, eleven,
twelve! I was three seconds to the good."

If ever baffled fury sat enthroned on a man's countenance it did then
upon that of the English merchant. He was speechless with anger and
disappointment. Shaking his fist in Grant's face, he stammered and
choked in a futile effort to berate him.

"Mr. Black, a word with you," suddenly said Nattie, stepping up.

The lad's tone was full of meaning. He turned and added to his brother
and Mori:

"Let us leave for some quiet place and have it over with. You know we
have a sad duty to perform."

"What, what's that?" asked the merchant, in alarm, recovering his
speech. "My son Ralph! What of him? Don't tell me he is injured."

"Come with us," replied Grant, evasively.

Leaving Mori to make a brief explanation to Mr. Udono, Nattie and he
took the Englishman into a side room and there told the story of his
son's awful end.

It is a strange commentary on human nature that even the vilest beast
contains a well of tenderness. The hand that slays in cruel sport can
also caress with fond affection. The African mother has her maternal
love; the foulest rogue a word of kindness.

Mr. Black was an unscrupulous man. He was a scoundrel at heart, but
there was an oasis in the desert of his immoral nature. It was his love
for his son Ralph. The news of his offspring's death came as a terrible
blow. His grief was pitiful.

The spectacle of a strong man weeping in agony of spirit swept away all
thoughts of punishment. Grant exchanged glances with his brother, and
then said, sadly, but with firmness:

"Mr. Black, we know everything. We know fully your connection with the
foul plot to abduct me, but we are content with our triumph over you. We
could have you arrested and sent to prison for a term of years, but we
will be merciful. You can go forth in freedom, but on certain
conditions."

The miserable man stood listening with bowed head.

"You must leave Japan at once," continued Grant, "and also make
restitution of the money overpaid to you on account of our father's
debt. That debt was paid to you before his death, and you know it."

"No, Grant, your father did not pay me," replied Mr. Black, brokenly.

"Then you still deny it!" exclaimed the lame youth, his voice growing
hard.

"I will explain. I received part of the money, but not from your father.
The day Mr. Manning died in his office I received a call from Willis
Round. He said that he had taken the fifty-six hundred dollars in gold
from the safe, and would divide with me if I would promise to back him
up in pushing the firm to the wall. It was his idea to purchase the good
will of the business at a forced sale and start in for himself. I--I
consented, but our plans have failed."

"Through no fault of yours," said Nattie, _sotto voce_.

"Do you agree to the conditions?" asked Grant.

"Yes, I will do as you say," replied the disgraced merchant. "I will
repay you and leave this country at once. I am content to do so. Oh,
Ralph, my son, my son!"

He tottered from the room, and that was the last the lads saw of him. On
the following day a messenger brought to them in their office at
Yokohama a package of money containing the amount previously paid to Mr.
Black.

Before the end of the week he had settled up his affairs and left Japan.
It was heard later that he had returned to England, where he went into
retirement with the money saved from his business. It is to be hoped he
sought repentance for his misdeeds.

In these o'er-true tales it is a pleasure to part with some characters,
but painful to bid farewell to others. A writer has his likes and
dislikes, even in his own literature. It is said that the immortal
Dickens cried when he penned the description of Little Nell's death in
the "Old Curiosity Shop," and that his heart stirred with a curious
anger as he chronicled the villainies of Bill Sykes in another story.

It is probably for a similar reason that I do not like to write the
words that will put an end for all time to Grant and Nattie and Mori. We
have spent many pleasant half hours together. It has been a pleasure to
depict their honesty, and manliness, and truth, to watch their brave
struggle against misfortune, and at last to record their final triumph.

They will succeed in life--integrity and moral worth always do. They
secured the famous contract, and made a legitimate profit from it. That
was before the recent war between China and Japan. They invested their
increased capital, and are now, at the present date, on the fair road to
fortune.

Mr. Burr is the manager of their Yokohama house. Mori is in general
charge of the business in Japan, and Grant and Nattie are now traveling
in the United States visiting their relatives and quietly keeping an eye
out for the trade.

Sumo is established in the main office as porter and messenger. He
sports a gorgeous uniform and is ever relating to the small boys of the
neighborhood his memorable fight with Raiko, the thug, at the foot of
old Bandai-San.

And now, in the language of those gentle people, the Japanese, I will
say "_Sayonara!_"


THE END.


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