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.