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
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
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.

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“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.”