THE ATTACK OF THE RONINS

“What on earth is the matter with you?” repeated Nattie, for the third
time. “What have you seen?”

“Sh-h-h! there he is now,” replied Grant, peeping out from behind the
screen. “I thought as much.”

The younger lad followed his brother’s example, and peered forth. A few
rods down the crooked street was a small tea house which bore the worst
reputation of any in Yokohama. It was noted as being the resort for a
class of dissolute Samurai, or Ronins, as they are generally termed.

These men, relics of the Ancient Order of Warriors, are scattered over
the country in cities and towns. Some have finally exchanged the sword
for the scales or plowshare, but there are others wedded to a life of
arrogant ease, who have refused to work.

Too proud to beg, they are reduced to one recourse–thievery and
ruffianism. The strict police laws of Japan keep them in general
control, but many midnight robberies and assassinations are properly
laid to their door.

On glancing from his place of concealment, Nattie saw three men, whose
dress and air of fierce brutality proclaimed them as Ronins, emerge from
the tea house.

They were immediately followed by a stocky-built young man, clad in
English costume. It was Ralph Black. He cast a cautious glance up and
down the street, then set out at a rapid walk for the Bund, or foreign
settlement.

Nattie gave a low whistle of surprise.

“Well, I declare!” he exclaimed. “Is it possible he has fallen so low as
to frequent such a place?”

“I hardly think so,” replied Grant.

“What was he doing in there, then?”

“I will tell you. He is out of sight now. Come, we’ll catch up with the
_’rikishas_. When we were passing that tea house I chanced to look
through the window. Imagine my surprise when I saw Ralph engaged in
close conversation with a villainous-looking Ronin. It struck me at once
that something was up, so I motioned you to follow me from the
carriages. What do you think of it?”

“It is deuced queer.”

“Ralph Black is unscrupulous. He hates both of us, and in my opinion he
wouldn’t stop at anything to avenge himself.”

“Then you think?”

“That he is arranging to have us assaulted some night by those
villainous Ronins,” replied Grant, gravely.

Nattie halted, and, clinching his fists, glanced back as if minded to
return.

“If I thought so I’d settle it now,” he said, angrily.

“Nonsense. What could you do in a row with three or four cutthroats? It
is only a supposition of mine. I would be sorry to believe that even
Ralph Black would conspire in such a cowardly manner. Still we should
keep an eye out during the next week or so, anyway. Here are the
_’rikishas_. Jump in, and we’ll go home.”

The balance of the trip to the bluff was made without incident. By the
time the Manning residence was reached the incident had been displaced
by something of apparent greater importance. Nattie’s mind was filled
with thoughts of the triumphs he intended to win in the wrestling match
on the seventh of July, and Grant was equally well occupied in the
impending resurrection of the importing firm.

The home of the Mannings–that occupied by them in summer–was a typical
Japanese house. It was low and squat, consisted of one story only, and
the walls were of hard wood eked out with bamboo ornaments. The numerous
windows were glazed with oiled paper, and the roof was constructed of
tiles painted a dark red. The grounds surrounding the structure were
spacious, and in the rear stretched a garden abloom with richly-colored
native plants. Ancient trees, maple, weeping willow, and fir afforded
ample shade from the afternoon sun, and here and there were scattered
stone vases and Shinto images. A moderately-sized lake occupied the
center of the garden.

Ranging along the front of the house was a raised balcony to which led a
short flight of steps. Ascending to this, the boys removed their shoes,
exchanging them for straw sandals. Passing through an open door, they
entered the front room of the dwelling.

A servant clad in white garments immediately prostrated himself and
awaited the commands of his masters. Grant briefly ordered dinner served
at once. Other servants appeared, and by the shifting of a couple of
panels (Japanese walls are movable) the apartment was enlarged.

The floor was of matting–delicate stuffed wicker an inch thick, and of
spotless hue–and the entire room was devoid of either chair or table.
To an American boy the preparations for dinner would have been
surprising, to say the least. But Grant and Nattie were thoroughly
conversant with native styles, and the only emotion they displayed was
eager anticipation.

In lieu of tables were two little boxes about a foot square, the lids of
which were lifted and laid on the body of the box, with the inner
surface up. This was japanned red, and the sides of the box a soft
blue. Inside were stored rice bowl, vegetable dish, and chopstick case.

At the announcement of the meal, Grant and his brother seated themselves
upon the floor and prepared to partake of the food set before them with
equally as much appetite as if the feast had been spread in American
fashion.

Both boys had lived the most of their youthful lives in Japan, and they
had fallen into the quaint ways of the people with the adaptability of
the young. Mr. Manning had early taken unto himself the literal meaning
of the old saw, “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and his
sons had dutifully followed his example.

After dinner the boys sat for a while on the front balcony, and then
prepared for the theatre. _Jinrikishas_ were summoned, and a rapid
journey made to the home of native acting in Yokohama.

The peculiarity of Japanese theatricals is that a play generally
commences in the morning, and lasts until late at night. For this reason
our heroes found the building comfortably filled with parties at that
moment eating their simple evening repast.

The theatre was a large square structure, situated in the center of a
small park. The interior was decorated with innumerable paper lanterns,
and covering the walls were enormous, gaudily-painted banners setting
forth in Japanese characters the fame of the performers.




The stage filled one entire side, and was equipped with a curtain
similar to those found in American theatres. There were no wings,
however, and no exit except through the auditorium. On the remaining
three sides were balconies, and near the ceiling was a familiar gallery
filled with the native small boys.

The floor was barren of chairs, being divided into square pens, each
holding four people. The partitions were one foot in height, and
elevated gangways traversed the theatre at intervals, permitting of the
passage of the audience to their respective boxes.

As usual in all Japanese structures, the spectators removed their shoes
at the entrance, being provided with sandals by the management for the
time being. The last act of the drama was commenced shortly after the
boys reached their inclosure, and it proceeded without intermission
until ten o’clock.

Grant and Nattie left ten minutes before the end for the purpose of
avoiding the crowd. There were a number of people in front of the
building and innumerable _’rikishas_ with their attendant _karumayas_.
As the boys emerged from the door they were accosted by two men dressed
as coolies. Each exhibited a comfortable carriage, and their services
were accepted without question.

“What shall it be, home?” asked Nattie, with a yawn.

“Yes, we may as well return. There is nothing going on in town” replied
Grant. “I have a little writing to do, anyway.”

Stepping into his vehicle, he bade the man make good time to the bluff.
Both boys were preoccupied, and they paid little attention to the crowd
through which they passed. They also failed to see a signal given by one
of the supposed _karumayas_ to a group of three natives standing near
the corner of the theatre.

The easy swinging motion of the _jinrikishas_ lulled their occupants to
rest, and both Grant and his brother were on the verge of dozing before
a dozen blocks had been covered.

The night was dark, it being the hour before the appearance of a new
moon. Thick clouds also added to the obscurity, blotting out even the
feeble rays of the starry canopy. A feeling of rain was in the air.

Down in the quarter where lay the foreign settlement a soft glow came
from the electric lights. The deep-toned note of a steamer’s whistle
sounded from the bay. The bell of a modern clock tolled the half hour,
and before the echoing clangor had died away the two _’rikishas_
carrying the boys came to a sudden stop.

Nattie aroused himself with a start and glanced around half angrily at
being disturbed. Before he could utter a protest or ask the reason for
the halt both coolies unceremoniously disappeared into a neighboring
house.

Grant had barely time to notice that they were in a narrow way devoid of
lanterns, when there came a rush of footsteps from behind, and three
dark figures made an attack upon the carriage.

There was a vicious whiz of a heavy sound, and the right edge of
Nattie’s _’rikisha_ body was neatly lopped off. The crashing of wood
brought the boys to a realization of their position. They knew at once
that they were being attacked by thugs.

With an exclamation of excitement, Nattie leaped from his carriage.
Another spring, and he was close to Grant. Then, with incredible
quickness, the resolute lad produced a revolver from an inner pocket and
fired point-blank at the nearest Ronin.