THE BEGINNING OF THE CELEBRATION

En route_ to the “bluff” the boys came upon a curious procession. As
stated above, the whole town was enjoying a _matsura_, or festival. As
Nattie aptly remarked, it was the Fourth of July, Decoration Day and
Christmas thrown into one.

In the present case the spectacle was one calculated to make a foreigner
imagine himself in the interior of Africa. Approaching the _jinrikishas_
occupied by Grant and his companions was a bullock cart, upon which a
raised platform and scaffolding twenty feet high had been constructed.

The bullock and all were covered with paper decorations, green boughs
and artificial flowers. In front a girl with a grotesque mask danced and
postured, while a dozen musicians twanged impossible instruments and
kept up an incessant tattoo on drums.

On foot around the _bashi_, as the whole structure is called, were
twenty or thirty lads naked as to their legs, their faces chalked, their
funny little heads covered with straw hats a yard wide, and their
bodies clad in many-colored tunics, decked out with paper streamers and
flowers.

In front, on all sides, behind, and even under the wheels, were scores
of children marching to the tune of the band–if it could be so
called–much as the youths of America do in the processions, be it
circus or otherwise, in our country.

The boys forming the guard to the bullock cart marched step by step with
military precision, chanting at the top of their voices, and banging
upon the ground a long iron bar fitted with loose rings.

The colors, the songs, the dance and the clanging iron, formed together
a combination calculated to draw the attention of every person not deaf,
dumb and blind. To the boys it was a common sight, and they bade their
_karumayas_ hurry forward away from the din.

On reaching the field on the “bluff,” they found an immense throng
awaiting the commencement of ceremonies. The race track had been laid
out in fitting style, and innumerable booths, tents and _kiosks_ filled
two-thirds of the space.

The morning hours were to be devoted to ancient Japanese games, and the
time after tiffin to modern sports and matches, including the event of
the day, the wrestling. Mori Okuma–an athlete in both European and
native sports–was listed in a bout at Japanese fencing, so he left his
companions for a dressing-tent.

Nattie and Grant glanced over the vast concourse of people, and
exchanged bows with their many friends. The Americans and English in
foreign countries keep green in their memory the land of their birth,
and in all places where more than one foreigner can be found a club is
organized.

It is a sort of oasis in the desert of undesirable neighbors, and forms
a core around which cluster good fellowship and the habits and customs
of home. The Strangers’ Club in Yokohama had a membership of six
hundred, and they were well represented in the present assemblage.

Grant and Nattie were well-known members, and they counted their friends
by the hundred. In looking over the field the latter espied a group in
the grand stand which immediately attracted his attention. He pointed
them out to his brother.

“There is Mr. Black and the two German merchants,” he said. “They have
their heads together as if discussing some weighty problem. I wonder
where Ralph is? He is interested in athletics.”

“I’ll wager a _yen_ he is about somewhere. So the Germans are hobnobbing
with our esteemed enemy, eh? I’ll warrant we are the subject of
conversation. I don’t like the way Swartz and Bauer conduct business,
and I guess they know it. They can form an alliance if they wish to. We
needn’t lose any sleep over it.”

“There comes Ralph. He is looking in this direction. I wonder what he
thinks about the failure of his confederate, Willis Round, to injure us?
To the deuce with them, anyway! The fencing is about to commence.”

The clapping of hands and a prolonged cheer proclaimed the beginning of
the sports. The _yobidashi_, or caller-out, took his stand upon a
decorated box, and announced a bout at fencing between the ever-pleasant
and most worthy importing merchant, Mori Okuma, and the
greatly-to-be-admired doctor-at-law, Hashimoto Choye.

At the end of this ceremonious proclamation he introduced our friend and
his antagonist. Both were small in stature, and they presented rather a
comical appearance. Each was padded out of all proportions with folds of
felt and leather. Upon their heads were bonnet-shaped helmets of metal,
and each wore a jacket of lacquered pieces decidedly uncomfortable to
the eye.

At the word of command attendants rushed in with the weapons. These were
not broadswords, rapiers, nor cutlasses, but a curious instrument
composed of a number of strips of bamboo, skillfully wrought together
and bound. The end was covered with a soft skin bag, and the handle was
very much like that of an ordinary sword.

Armed with these the combatants faced each other, and at the sound of a
mellow bell fell to with the utmost ferocity. Slash, bang, whack, went
the weapons; the fencers darted here and there, feinted, prodded, cut
and parried, as if they had to secure a certain number of strikes before
the end of the bout.

It was all very funny to those unaccustomed to the Japanese style of
fencing, and the naval officers from the various warships in port roared
with laughter. To the natives it was evidently deeply interesting, and
they watched the rapid play of the weapons as we do the gyrations of our
favorite pitcher in the national game.

At the end of five minutes the game was declared finished. The umpire,
an official of the city government, decided in favor of Mori, and that
youth fled to the dressing-tent to escape the plaudits of the audience.
He received the congratulations of Grant and Nattie with evident
pleasure, however.

The next item on the programme was a novel race between trained storks.
Then came a creeping match between a score of native youngsters, and so
the morning passed with jugglery and racing and many sports of the
ancient island kingdom.

At noon tiffin was served to the club and its guests in a large
pavilion placed in the center of the grounds. The ceremonies recommenced
at two o’clock with a running match between a dozen trained athletes. Of
all the spectators, probably the happiest was Grant Manning.

Deprived of participation in the various sports by his deformity, he
seemed to take a greater interest from that very fact. He clapped his
hands and shouted with glee at every point, and was the first to
congratulate the winners as they left the track.

The time for the great event of the day finally arrived. At three the
master of ceremonies, clad in _kamishimo_, or ancient garb, mounted his
stand and announced in stentorian tones:

“The next event on the programme will be a contest in wrestling between
six gentlemen of this city. Those persons whose names are listed with
the secretary will report in the dressing-tent.”

“That calls me,” cried Nattie, gayly. “Boys, bring out your rabbits’
feet and your lucky coins.”




“You don’t know the name of your antagonist?” asked Mori.

“No; nor will I until we enter the ring. Small matter. I feel in fine
trim, and I intend to do the best I can. So long.”

“Luck with you, Nattie,” called out all within hearing, casting admiring
glances after the handsome, athletic lad.

Directly in front of the grand stand a ring had been constructed
something after the fashion of the old-time circus ring. The surface was
sprinkled with a soft, black sand, and the ground carefully leveled.
Overhead stretched a canopy of matting, supported by a number of bamboo
poles wrapped in red, white and blue bunting.

At the four corners of the arena were mats for the judges, and in the
center an umpire in gorgeous costume took his place. By permission of
the Nomino Sakune Jinsha Society, which controls the national game of
wrestling in the empire, their hereditary judges were to act in the
present match.

After Nattie disappeared in the dressing-tent a short delay occurred. As
usual, the audience indicated their impatience with shouts and calls,
and the ever-present small boy made shrill noises upon various quaint
instruments.

Suddenly a herald with a trumpet emerged from the tent, and the vast
concourse became quiet. He sounded a blast, the canvas flaps of two
openings were pulled aside, and two lads bare as to chest and with legs
clad in trunks bounded into the arena.

A murmur of surprise came from the audience; the antagonists faced each
other, and then glared a bitter defiance. From one entrance had come
Nattie Manning, and from the other–Ralph Black!