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Yankee Boys in Japan: The Young Merchants of Yokohama

311 pages
Library of Alexandria
It was early in the afternoon of a July day. A warm sun beaming down with almost tropical fervency glinted through the open windows of an office in the foreign settlement of Yokohama, Japan. The room, a large one, furnished with desks and chairs, and the various equipments of such an apartment, contained a solitary occupant. He—it was a youth of not more than nineteen years of age—was leaning back in an easy, revolving chair, with his hands resting upon an account book laid open on a light bamboo desk. His face, as seen in the glare of the light, was peculiar. The expression was that termed old-fashioned by some. He had queer, puckered eyes, and many wrinkles here and there, but the chin was firm and resolute, and the forehead lofty—marks of intelligence and great shrewdness. There was something in the pose of the body, however, that did not denote either gracefulness or symmetry. Presently he arose from his chair and moved with a halting gait toward window opening into an outer court. Then it became evident that he was a cripple. One leg, the right, was shorter than its mate. There was also a droop in the shoulders that betokened a lack of physical strength, or many years of ill health. Notwithstanding this misfortune, the youth had a cheerful nature. As he glanced out into the court, with its huge-leafed palms, shady maples, and the ever-present bamboos, he whistled softly to himself. Presently the faint tinkling notes of a samisen—a native square-shaped banjo—came to his ears from a neighboring building. Then the rat-tat of the hourglass-shaped drum called tsuzumi joined in, and the air was filled with a weird melody. With something like a sigh, the young man turned back to his work. Bending over the book, he added up interminable columns of figures, jotting down the results upon a pad at his elbow. A stranger entering from the teeming street would have noted something amiss in this office. He would have seen that the half-dozen desks, with the exception of that being used by the solitary occupant, were thickly covered with dust. A delicate tracery of cobwebs held in its bondage the majority of the chairs. There were others festooning the row of books and pasteboard files upon a number of shelves lining the walls. Over in one corner was an open fireplace, looking grim and rusted, and above a lacquered side table swung a parrot cage, desolate and empty. It was a scene of disuse, and it had its meaning. It was the counting-room of John Manning, "Importer and Trader," as a tarnished gilt sign over the outer door informed the passerby. But the master of it, and of the huge warehouse back on the bay, had gone to his last rest many months before. He had been the sole owner of the business—which rumor said had fallen into decay—and when he went to join his helpmate, he left two sons to fight the battle of life. One, Grant Manning, we now see hard at work in the old office. The other, Nathaniel Manning, or "Nattie," as he was familiarly called by his associates, was at that moment on his way to the office to join his brother. Just fifteen years had John Manning conducted business as an importer and trader in the foreign quarter of Yokohama. At first his firm had prospered, but the coming of new people, and severe competition had finally almost forced the American to the wall.