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.