THE WRESTLING MATCH

Nattie’s several encounters with the younger member of the English firm
had been duly discussed in the club, and the discomfiture of the elder
merchant during his call upon Grant had been a toothsome morsel for the
gossipers of the city.

The enmity between the houses of Manning and Black was the common talk
among the foreigners of Yokohama. They were aware of the cause of the
trouble, and knew the suspicions concerning the payment of the
now-famous debt.

And when the opening of the flaps in the dressing-tent had disclosed the
youths destined to face each other for the supremacy of the wrestling
ring, a murmuring sound rolled through the concourse like the echoes of
a passing wind.

“It’s young Black and Nattie Manning!” cried more than one. “Whew! there
will be a warm tussle now.”

Over in one corner of the grand stand Grant and Mori sat in amazement.
The _dénouement_ was entirely unexpected to them. Not long did they
remain silent. Up sprang the lame youth, his kindly face glowing with
excitement. Mounting a vacant chair despite his infirmity, he shook a
bundle of English notes in the air, and shouted:

“Ten to one on my brother! Ten to one! ten to one! Twenty pounds even
that he secures the first two points! Whoop! where are the backers of
the other side? I’ll make it fifteen to one in five-pound notes. Who
will take the bet?”

In the meantime Mori had not been idle. Forcing his way directly to
where Mr. Black was sitting with the Germans, he shook a bag of coin in
the air, and dared them to place a wager with him. Following his example
came half a dozen American friends of the new firm, and presently the
grand stand resounded with the cries of eager bettors.

Down in the arena Nattie and Ralph stood confronting one another like
tigers in a forest jungle. The former’s face was set with determination.
He had long wished for just such an opportunity. It had come at last.

Ralph’s face wore a peculiar pallor. It was not fear, but rather that of
one who felt the courage of desperation. He well knew there was little
difference in physical strength between them, but he appeared to lack
the stamina of honesty and merit.

Both lads were in the pink of condition, and they formed a picture
appealing to the hearts of all lovers of athletics. There was not an
ounce of superfluous flesh on either. If anything, Ralph was slightly
taller, but Nattie’s arms gave promise of greater length and muscle.

Presently the din in the grand stand ceased. Wagers had been given and
taken on both sides with great freedom. Grant had collapsed into a chair
with his purse empty and his notebook covered with bets. Mori was still
seeking takers with great persistency.

A blast was sounded on the herald’s trumpet, and the eyes of the vast
audience were centered on the ring. The judges took their places, the
umpire hopped to the middle, and with a wave of his fan gave the signal.

Nattie and Ralph faced each other, eye to eye. Slowly sinking down until
their hands rested upon their knees, they waited for an opportunity to
grapple.

The silence was intense. The far-away echoes of a steamer’s whistle came
from the distant bay. A chant of voices sounding like the murmur of
humming-birds was wafted in from a neighboring temple. The hoarse
croaking of a black crow–the city’s scavenger–came from a circling
figure overhead.

A minute passed.

Nattie straightened. Ralph followed his example. Warily they approached
each other. Face to face, and eye to eye; intent upon every step, they
began to march sideways; always watching, always seeking for an opening.
Their hands twitched in readiness for a dash, a grip, a tug.

Each had his weight thrown slightly forward, and his shoulders slouched
a little, watching for an unwary move. Nattie feinted suddenly. His
right arm darted out, he touched Ralph’s shoulder, but the English youth
dodged, only to be grasped by the waist by his antagonist’s left hand.

There was a sharp tug, a whirl of the figures, then they broke away,
each still upon his feet. A vast sigh came from the audience, and Grant
chuckled almost deliriously.

The antagonists rested, still confronting each other. Ralph’s pallor had
given way to an angry flush. His lips moved as if muttering oaths.
Nattie remained cool and imperturbable. His was the advantage. Coolness
in combat is half the battle. Those in the audience that had risked
their money upon the merchant’s son began to regret their actions.

The match was not won, however.

At the end of five minutes a signal came from the umpire. Before the
flash of his brilliantly decorated fan had vanished from the eyes of
the audience, Nattie darted forward and clashed breast to breast against
Ralph.

The latter put forth his arms blindly, gropingly; secured a partial hold
of his opponent’s neck, essayed a backward lunge, but in the hasty
effort stumbled and suddenly found himself upon his back with the
scattering gusts of sand settling around him.

And then how the grand stand rang with cheers!

“First bout for Manning!”

“A fair fall, and a great one!”

High above the tumult of sounds echoed a shrill voice:

“Thirty to one on my brother! I offer it in sovereigns! Take it up if
you dare!”

The victor stood modestly bowing from side to side, but there was a
glitter of pride in his eyes which told of the pleasure he felt–doubly
a pleasure, because his antagonist was Ralph Black.

The latter had been assisted to his feet by the men appointed for the
purpose. He was trembling in every limb, but it was from rage, not
exhaustion. His breath came in short, quick gasps, and he glared at
Nattie as if meditating an assault.

Again the umpire’s fan gave the signal, and once more the combatants
faced each other for the second point. And now happened a grievous thing
for our heroes.




Nattie was not ordinarily self-assured. There was no room in his
character for conceit; but his triumph in the present case caused him to
make a very serious mistake.

He failed at this critical moment to bear in mind Moltke’s famous
advice: “He who would win in war must put himself in his enemy’s place.”
Flushed with his victory he entered into the second bout with a
carelessness that brought him to disaster in the twinkling of an eye.

Ralph Black, smarting under defeat, kept his wits about him, however,
and, adopting his opponent’s tactics, made a fierce rush at the instant
of the signal. Grasping Nattie by the waist, he forced him aside, and
then backward with irresistible force.

The result–the lad found himself occupying almost the same spot of
earth which bore Ralph’s former imprint. Now was the time for the
opposition to cheer, and that they did right royally. Counter shouts
came from the American faction, and again Grant and Mori’s voices arose
above the tumult inviting wagers.

Five minutes of rest, then came the time for the final and decisive
bout.

It was with very different feelings that Nattie passed to the center of
the ring now. His handsome face plainly bespoke humiliation, but there
was a flash of the eyes which also announced a grim and desperate
determination. It was like that of Ben Hur when he swept around the
arena with his chargers on the last circle.

Ralph was plainly elated. He paused long enough to wave one hand toward
a group of friends; then the twain faced for the last time. It was
evident from the outset that the bout would not last very long.

Warily, and with the utmost caution, the lads confronted each other.
Side by side they edged and retreated. A silence as of the tombs of
forgotten races fell upon the audience.

Suddenly–no man’s eyes were quick enough to see the start–Nattie
dropped almost on all fours at Ralph’s feet. He lunged forward, grasped
the English youth’s hips, then with a mighty effort which brought the
blood in a scarlet wave to his face, he surged upward, and, with a
crash, the merchant’s son lay a motionless heap in the center of the
arena!

And the match was won!