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.