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.