YUKIO MATSURO is one of the cleverest jiu-jits’ men alive. He’s about fifty years old now, but you’d never know it to look at him. He’s a black-haired slim, little chap with a smooth, silent step and the grace of a cat. He talks with a gentle soothing voice; he has the hands of a woman; but he’s got the nerve of ten men. I’ve seen him give a deadly hunting knife to a two hundred pounder and tell him to come and kill him, and I’ve seen him take the knife away so fast when it was in mid-air on the downstroke that you couldn’t figure out how he did it if you didn’t know the trick; and what’s more, that particular trick is finished with the big man on the floor and Yukio’s foot on his throat.
But this story starts one night in Fareborough, about a hundred miles from the city where Matsuro lived.
It was about nine o’clock. Fareborough is a small -town, and at nine o’clock it is quiet and its streets nearly deserted. At any rate, there was no one within hearing distance of what was going on in a certain field in the eastern part of the town.
Had anyone passed, he would have heard the thump and clout of fists, the gasp of short breaths becoming shorter, and now and then a half-stifled cry of pain; the thrashing of rushing feet in the grass; the terrific impact of body against body; oaths and vain protests.
It was a fight between two men; a grim, brutal fight for one; a hysterical, fearful one for the other; and if the latter had not finally staggered away from his opponent and turned to run in a drunken, weak stride across the field, leaving the victor bawling vile names after him, it is possible that he might not have lived to see the next day, so cruel was the attack of the one who remained behind, gloating over his savage victory and the inglorious retreat of his foe.
The man who remained behind was a big man. His name was Aleck Smith. He was six feet tall and weighed at least two hundred pounds—all bone and muscle. He had fists prodigiously large, now cut, raw, bleeding from the unmerciful beating they had just given their victim.
The look of hatred that was on his face became slowly a look of amusement as he stared into the dark after the wobbling, disappearing form of the man who had had enough.
After a minute or two, Aleck Smith turned away, wiping his face of perspiration with a large handkerchief and mopping his wet knuckles. He walked out of the field, and as he came to the street he began to whistle with much satisfaction, for he was certain that now he had taught Graham Barry a lesson so severe, that in the future he would not poach on Aleck Smith’s preserves.
IN THE meantime Graham Barry fled his tormentor as he would have fled a mad wolf. In the tall grass of the long stretch of fields he staggered at as fast a pace as his strengthless, aching legs would carry him.
He didn’t know where he was going. He knew only that he was somehow putting distance between himself and Aleck Smith’s cruel fists. He feared with a maddening fear that Aleck was behind him, that he would catch him and finish the job, and he quickened his pace till his lungs, already taxed to their utmost, were racked with knife-thrusts of excruciating pain.
He was a small man, this Graham Barry, yet he was ashamed of his defeat. On the edge of the town he ran, out of the sight of everyone. He didn’t want to see anyone; didn’t want anyone to see him. He wanted to hide his misery.
He was heading in the direction of the railroad station and the freight yards. Into these yards he ran, still fearing that Aleck Smith was behind. He came to the tracks, stumbled across them and fell up against a dark freight car.
It was open. With the last remnants of his strength he clambered in, crawled into a dark corner and collapsed with a sob in a heap of empty burlap bags.
Exhausted, dazed, he lay there for a long time and knew nothing. Later he heard the sound of a locomotive, and the car was suddenly jolted as it was coupled up, with the clanking of bolts and chains and the shouts of brakemen. A light was flashed through the open door, but it missed him and he was not disturbed. The door was pushed shut.
Then after another long wait, the train started. In his stupid, semi-conscious condition Graham Barry realized that he was leaving Fareborough, but he didn’t care. He was half glad.
It was a slow train. It rumbled on monotonously in the night, stopped at every little way station on the route. It was half the night in covering a hundred miles, but at last pulled into a big yard and came to rest for an indefinite period.
A brakeman shoved open the door of the car where Graham lay. Morning was coming and in the weak rays of daylight, the brakeman saw that he had a hobo aboard.
“Come out of this, you!” he growled, and snatched at the back of Graham’s collar to help him to the ground. Then he saw the marks of the beating that Aleck Smith had delivered.
“You poor bum!” he said, and spared the booting that he would otherwise have given. “Get out of the yard before someone grabs you.”
Graham walked dazedly out of the yard and went around to the station. Here he cleaned up as best he could. When he saw his battered face in a mirror, his hatred for Aleck Smith burned hotly within him, but the sickness of defeat and despair was greater than his hate.
Wandering in the streets, he felt suddenly hungry. A search for his wallet was fruitless. He had lost it in the fight. He had fifteen cents in change, and with this he bought himself some coffee and toast and walked the streets all day, hungry and tired.
When night came he found himself on the other side of the city. Too weary to walk back to the station to put up there for the night, he headed into a park and sat down on a bench. Despondent, he slumped like a cowed animal, staring at the ground.
IT WAS on the edge of this park that Yukio Matsuro lived. Yukio’s wife was dead, but there was his daughter Naya. Naya was about twenty years old and was going to college at the time. She was a sweet little Japanese doll with a peculiar intermingling of the Oriental woman and that of the Canadian girl. She was red-lipped and with very large eyes and the heaviest lashes you ever saw. She had the figure and carriage of a graceful Canadian girl. Her hair she wore long and fixed in a little bun at the back of her head. She was a pretty picture to look at and she was a popular co-ed at college.
That night, just before she went to bed, she looked out of her window into the park just below. There was a high arc light that cast down a mild, white light, and in the light was one of the park benches. Seated there was a young man. He was leaning forward in a discouraged, despondent position, elbows on his knees. He was staring at the ground. He didn’t move, though she watched him for ten minutes.
Then she went to bed. In the morning he was still there. And in the daylight she got a better look at him and saw his face quite plainly, and it twisted something inside her, for he was a good-looking young man and his face had been beaten, battered.
She ran out of her room and downstairs to her father. “Papa,” she said, “I want you to look out into the park and see the young man who is sitting there.”
Yukio smiled. His daughter liked Canadian boys. He went to the window, glanced out and saw the young man. There was something pitiful about him, with his face in the condition that it was; but it was not so much the spectacle of the physical beating that disturbed Matsuro. To him—and to Naya as well—far worse was the indication that this young man had suffered a spiritual defeat. It was spelled out by the despondent droop of good shoulders, the forward thrust of the neck and the staring eyes.
Matsuro regarded the face. A good face it was —a likeable face. Matsuro reflected. Once he had been down and out himself. He had come to this country years ago, alone, without a friend. Nobody had offered him a hand or a word. He could in some measure appreciate the plight of the young man in the park.
“Do something for him, father,” Naya was saying, her hand on his arm. “He looks so sick and tired. He has sat there all night long.”
MATSURO clapped his hands and in a moment a manservant came in. He was Kato, a broad-shouldered giant who moved with well-oiled joints and made not the slightest sound.
His face was savage, fierce, but he served Matsuro and Naya as gently as a woman.
“Kato,” Matsuro said, motioning toward the stranger in the park, “go down and tell that young man that a good breakfast and friends are waiting here for him. Persuade him gently, Kato. Do not give him your fiercest glance.”
Naya remained by the window while Kato went out. She saw him approach and speak to the stranger, who looked up with a dazed expression. Kato spoke to him with a soft voice and with some disarming gestures. The stranger glanced at the house. Then he got up and walked beside Kato to the door.
When they entered, Matsuro advanced, extending a slender hand to his guest. Naya was close behind.
“My dear young man,” said Matsuro, “you sat on that park bench the whole night.”
Eager-eyed, Naya pressed forward. Indeed a handsome stranger, whose eyes went to Naya and her father.
“I’d no place to go,” he replied hollowly and with a weary gesture.
“You are welcome here,” Matsuro told him. “We want you to accept our hospitality.”
Kato washed his wounds, watched over by Naya; then they had breakfast. The stranger drank a great deal of hot coffee and it seemed to make a different person of him. He was able to relax. He was no longer bewildered and uneasy.
He looked from this suave, kindly Japanese to his demure, smiling daughter whose lips were so red and whose hair so black, and he said rather helplessly:
“I don’t know why you’ve been so kind to me.”
Matsuro glanced at Naya, who looked shyly at her plate and made a little crimson circle of her mouth. Matsuro said:
“Because we are interested in you. A young man who sits on a park bench all night—and is not accustomed to it—has a story to tell. Naya and I have an insatiable thirst for stories.”
Graham shook his head and met neither glance that was directed toward him.
“If you want to hear the story of a coward and a runaway,” he said, ‘‘I’ll tell it to you.”
He paused. Matsuro passed him cigarettes. Graham took one and lighted up.
“I don’t belong in this city,” he began. “My home is a hundred miles from here, in Fareborough. I had a good job there, with some prospect of a future. I ran away from that as well as from everything else.
“There’s a girl there. A girl who isn’t quite sure whether she wants me or—Aleck Smith. Aleck Smith doesn’t like me. We’ve grown up together, and every so often he has managed to make life disagreeable for me. When I used to play with toys he would take them away and break them. When I went swimming he would duck my head and hold it under. When I had something he wanted, he would take it away from me.
“We grew up with Laura Clarke, went to school together. We’ve both wanted her for the past two years. I was just getting along in my job so that I could have asked her soon if she’d marry me. But so was Aleck.
“We’ve had two fights over Laura. Aleck picked both of those fights. He knew he could beat me. He did —twice. The last time was the day before yesterday.
“I was going over to see Laura. I met him in a field on the way, and he knew where I was going and told me not to go. I didn’t pay any attention to him, but kept on going, and when I did that, he hit me. I did my best, but it didn’t amount to much. I’m not a fighter. You can see what he did to me.
“When I had enough, I turned and ran away. I ran down to the freight yard at the station and crawled into an open car. I didn’t know where it was going. I didn’t care, so long as it went from there.
“I lay there for a long time in a heap of burlap bags. I was pretty sick with pain and fear and contempt for myself, but I didn’t know what to do about it. In the middle of the night the train pulled out, and when it got here I got off and wandered around all day and finally landed in the park out there. That was last night.”
MATSURO was silently smoking his cigarette and Naya was looking at her fingers in her lap. Matsuro said:
“This Aleck Smith—is he a much bigger man than you?”
“Yes,” he replied. “He must weigh two hundred pounds.”
Matsuro looked at Naya. I guess they were both thinking about the same thing. At any rate, both liked this Graham Barry.
“Not an evenly matched opponent for you,” said Matsuro, surveying the slight figure of his guest. “Not for anyone who does not know how to fight.”
“Not for a coward,” Graham said bitterly.
“Not for anyone who does not know how to fight,” Matsuro insisted quietly. “Let me show you.”
There was a button under his foot and he summoned Kato. Rising from his chair, he spoke to the giant in Japanese, extending both hands toward him. Kato, approaching with silent step, his narrow eyes fixed on Matsuro, seized him by the wrists.
“See,” said Matsuro to Graham, “I am half his size. I have half his strength. He is holding my wrists in a viselike grip. But watch.”
Quickly he brought up a thin knee and struck a sharp blow on the edge of Kato’s forearm. For a moment Kato’s hand went limp and in that moment Matsuro pulled his left hand away. Then with a forward step to Kato’s left, he brought the point of his elbow abruptly up to Kato’s—and with that quick twist he was free.
“You see,” said Matsuro, “it is all like that. A blow to a nerve, a little leverage properly applied, and size no longer counts. But one must know how. It is knowing exactly what to do and how to do it, and when. Jiu-jitsu is the art of gentleness. It is perfection in self-defense.”
“It must be a good thing to know,” he said.
“You would like to learn it?” Matsuro queried. “Well, maybe”—he glanced at Naya—“maybe I will teach you. I have never liked big men who beat smaller men. Kato will give you a bed here. Sleep, and when you are refreshed, we shall see.”
TWO days later Matsuro’s limousine carried Matsuro and Graham Barry to the Budokwai, in the heart of the city but on an unfrequented side street. Before a quiet brick building the car stopped. Matsuro tapped gently with the knocker and in a few moments they were ushered in by a soft-slippered Japanese in dark silken garments.
They went down a carpeted hallway and soon came to the gymnasium. It was a large room, the floor completely covered with grey wrestling mats, and the lower part of the walls as well. Above these wall-shields hung hideous fencing masks, body protectors and great curved swords of thick steel.
Through this gymnasium they went to the dressing room, and here Matsuro gave Graham Barry the outfit for jiu-jitsu combat; the knee-length jacket of heavy white cloth with sleeves to the elbow and slightly padded lapels; knee-length trousers; a white belt of the same cloth to wind about the waist and tie in a knot.
“The white belt, my friend,” said Matsuro, “is the emblem of the beginner. There are brown belts for those who advance to a certain degree of skill, and black belts for those who gain the utmost proficiency.”
They donned their uniforms, Graham with his white belt and Matsuro with a black one. They slid their feet into loose sandals and went into the gymnasium. Here they doffed their sandals and went to the centre of the mat.
Matsuro dropped to his knees, motioned to Graham to do the same, and both bowed low to the ground.
“It is customary,” Matsuro informed him, “before each combat—just as boxers shake hands.”
Then they stood up.
Anyone who for the first time faces a Japanese in the posture of combat experiences a fear of the unknown, of the mysterious, as of a black art. Graham felt that fear, but he knew at the same time that he could trust Matsuro.
“First,” the latter was saying to him, "you must learn how to fall. The throws are dangerous to one who does not know how to meet the ground.”
That day he showed Graham how to fall. Gently at first, from a squatting position, Graham tossed himself to the mat, breaking his fall with a quick, sharp blow of his arm. To the right. To the left. One arm at a time in break-fall. The arm must beat the ground before the body strikes. The harder the blow of the arm, the less body impact.
Awkward at first, jolting stars into his head, Graham learned. Matsuro taught him to fall on his back, on the shoulder blades, breaking his fall with both arms, keeping his head well forward, off the ground, lest it be snapped back by the impact of the fall and strike the floor with stunning force. He learned also to fall forward without injury.
The first throws that Matsuro taught him were the left and right ankle sweeps. He taught him the importance of timing, of striking the moving foot of the opponent just as it left the ground, of sweeping away the opponent’s balance at precisely the correct moment, so that strength did not enter in, but only skill and speed.
That night Graham went to dinner at Matsuro’s house. He was tired and lame from his workout and it was good to feel the soft touch of Naya’s hand in his as she greeted him.
“You have begun to learn?” she asked, her black eyes saying much more; and when dinner was through they went for a walk in the park; and here Graham might have kissed those red lips had he chosen; but he was a simple young man with plain tastes, who never touched intoxicants, and besides he was thinking about Laura Clarke back there in Fareborough; quiet-eyed Laura, grey-eyed Laura, whose form was exquisite and whose mind was gentle and understanding.
TUKIO MATSURO was not the man to do things by halves. Graham Barry must have some means of supporting himself. Matsuro’s importing business was thriving vigorously, and he could use a conscientious man whom he could trust, so he took Graham in and gave him responsibility and a good salary.
Graham was a frequent visitor at Matsuro’s home, and with Naya he walked often in the park before the door. At first they walked simply side by side and talked; later Naya defied Laura of the country town and slipped her warm, small hand into his, and still later she slid an arm about him and they walked that way. And Graham, though he was a young man of simple tastes, would have been a man of no taste at all had he not at last leaned down and kissed the little Japanese girl who had been silently asking him to do that for a long time.
Graham was startled by that kiss. It was warm and soft and it lingered. Naya’s lips were parted and her eyes closed. The perfume of her hair went to Graham’s head, the silken touch of her skin bewildered him, the trembling, throbbing of her body in his arms stirred a similar tremble in him. He kissed her again and again until she would have called aloud or breath had she not wanted to be kissed more.
And that was how Graham started to forget Laura Clarke, Fareborough and Aleck Smith.
MONTHS went by. At the Budokwai, Graham practised slowly and accurately. He learned to throw with deadly precision. Later came speed. It came to be an instinctive part of every throw. Matsuro was of the school which teaches that every throw is to kill or maim, shoulder throws, hip throws, ankle and leg sweeps—Graham learned to apply hem as a whip is snapped, so that when he body of his opponent struck the ground, it was with a force that would lave broken any man who did not know how to fall.
Matsuro taught him to fight against a man armed with a club, to get in close when to fight at a distance was not possible, to take away the club as if it were in the hands of a child, to hurl his man to the floor and keep him there by means of nothing more than a foot and a knee, to have both hands free to truss up he victim with rope if need be.
He taught him a stranglehold whose application for ten seconds meant death; taught him the quick breaking of heavy ones; showed him hidden nerves on 'which a brief pressure or a quick blow caused the sudden release of a powerful grip; caused spasm, paralysis, agony.
Besides these physical things, Graham learned mental poise and fearlessness; learned that a man who is afraid stands more chance of being hurt in combat than one who forgets all possibility of injury to himself and concentrates on aggression and defense.
He learned with amazing aptitude. After a year he was a formidable opponent. Naya would go to the Budokwai and watch him, and delight in the agility of his slender form and the skill of his fighting.
Afterward, when they were alone, Naya would tell him: “Papa says that you learn faster and better than anyone he has ever known. I am very proud.”
During all this time Naya was in love with this young man of the fair hair and blue eyes, but she knew that the distance between them was very great. They had been fondly affectionate, but there had never been a declaration of love. Naya knew that there never would be one. And what was more, Naya was betrothed to a young man whom she scarcely knew and who was with the government in Japan. The betrothal had been settled years ago by their respective fathers.
As for Graham, he had never completely forgotten Laura. It is true that time and this little Japanese girl had partly effaced his memories of the grey-eyed girl in his home town; but there were sudden startling moments that brought back acutely the vision of Laura’s face, the touch of her slender fingers or the sound of her voice. When these moments came, Graham grew restless. He wanted to go back again and see Laura Clarke. The desire grew.
But more months flew by. It was nearly two years since he had been in Fareborough. He had risen rapidly in Matsuro’s firm; he had become proficient in jiu-jitsu and now wore the black belt, an enviable honor to be gained in such a short time. Few at the Budokwai could throw him and there were few whom he could not throw.
Naya went to her father at this time, showed him a ring with a setting of lapis-lazuli and on it some raised Japanese characters, and said:
“Papa, do this for me. Give this ring to Graham. I would give it to him myself, but I do not dare.”
Matsuro took the ring and examined it. Then he smiled.
“My dear,” he said to his daughter, the smile fading for a moment as his gaze lingered on her, “you will not forget your betrothed?” It was half a question, half a command.
Naya shook her head.
“I will not forget,” she assured him.
So Matsuro brought the ring to Graham, saying:
“This is a little token of your advancement in jiu-jitsu. The characters are symbolic of the proficiency you have gained.”
ONE night as Graham sat with Naya in the parlor of her father’s house, a spell was upon him that told Naya that he had wandered back to Fareborough in a moment of preoccupation. She took her courage in both hands.
“Graham,” she said seriously, “it is about time that you went back to your home and saw the girl of the grey eyes. You have stayed away too long.”
He looked at her, puzzled. He had not spoken of Laura in a long time.
“What makes you say that, Naya?” he asked.
“You do want to see her, don’t you?” she countered.
He admitted that he did.
“Then I think that you’d better go back there one of these days and find her. She is probably waiting for you.”
Graham made no reply. Naya went on: “We’ve always been good friends, Graham, and we’ve always minded the advice we’ve given each other. Now, you mind this. Go back and find Laura Clarke. And now, good night. You must go home. It is late.”
She got up, kissed him on the cheek and went quickly out of the room. Graham walked home at a slow pace, thinking it over.
What other woman would have read him like that, spoken to him like that, sent him off to someone else? He tried to look at it from every angle. He wasn’t very good at this sort of thing and didn’t know what to do. Though you had an understanding with a woman and it was all fixed up for her to marry someone else, what were you going to do if you knew that she loved you in spite of that? These people who had been so kind to him he could not hurt.
So he put off going back to Fareborough, though the urge grew stronger.
A few weeks later Naya spoke of it again.
“If you do not go this week-end,” she said, “I shall take you by the arm like a child and put you on a train.”
She went to the train with him and saw him off and stood there, a Japanese doll in very modern clothes and with very large eyes, watching the train as it drew out of the station.
Then quite sensibly she went home and wrote a letter to the young government official in Japan, telling him that she was sorry that she had not written for so long and that she looked forward to their meeting in Japan in another year, when they would be married. She wrote that letter in the tone of firmest respect, and when he got it, the young government official was happy that his father had betrothed him to so fine a young woman whose restraint in the composition of a letter marked her excellent breeding and culture.
AS THE train for Fareborough neared Graham’s destination, old memories swarmed in his mind, beseeching his attention. Old faces. Old places. Old happenings. But most of all, Laura’s face, unchanged, her grey eyes asking him where he had been for so long.
He got off the train, a small bag in his hand, and looked about. Fareborough— unchanged, but somehow looking smaller, as if it had shrunk. Main Street was narrower than he had remembered it; the stores were smaller and less prosperous-looking than he had remembered. New buildings had gone up in once vacant lots; old buildings had been torn down to make way for more modern ones.
It was early fall. The town was quiet, almost asleep. He went into a new drug store. He knew no faces here. He went to a phone booth, looked up the number of the office where Laura had worked in the old days and made the call.
It was Laura who answered. No mistaking her voice. It was unchanged, low, vibrant; almost out of place in a business office.
“Laura,” he said, “this is Graham Barry.”
He fancied that Laura caught her breath. She didn’t speak for a few moments.
“Graham!” she said at last in soft exclamation. “Why, Graham, where have you been?”
“Out in the world,” replied he, trying to make his voice sound carefree and not succeeding very well. “Laura, I want to see you. I’ll call for you at the office tonight and take you to dinner if you say. so. Please!”
She hesitated a little. Then: “All right, Graham,” she agreed. “I get through at six.”
“I’ll be there,” he told her. “I’ll wait downstairs.”
Then he went to the new hotel and got a room. New faces there. He was glad of it. After all, he had run away from a job and everything else. They had probably thought and said hard enough things about him. He wasn’t anxious to see any of them. He wanted only to see Laura.
He sat in the window of his room and looked down upon Main Street, saw old faces go by, most of them set with that small-town look. He saw Len Crosby with Martha Shelling—Martha Crosby now. Len, puffing a big cigar, was pushing a baby carriage. Martha was stout now and with a glowing face. They had been engaged when Graham had been there last. Now here they were solidly married and with a child. How time had flown !
He saw the little Busbee girl go by on the arm of young Willett Cross. How that girl had sprouted up ! She had been a baby two years ago.
He saw others go by, some changed, some untouched by two years. And just before six o’clock he took his hat and went down to the building where Laura worked.
FIVE minutes later Laura came down.
She stopped in the doorway and looked about for him. She was thinner and looked a little tired, but otherwise she was unchanged. The same Laura. Graham’s heart leaped as she came down the steps and they approached each other.
“Why, Graham!” she cried, “you look so different. I mean ... I don’t know. But you’re so different.”
“Older,” Graham smiled. “Maybe a little wiser, maybe not. But let’s not talk about me. I want to hear about you. That’s more important.”
They walked down the street.
“Oh, there isn’t much to tell,” she said. “Things don’t happen here, you know.”
They went to a quiet restaurant where the food was good. Only then did Graham see. When Laura put her hands on the table, he saw the ring, a diamond that glanced coldly at him. His heart sank.
“You’re engaged, Laura,” he said.
She nodded, not looking at him.
“To Aleck Smith,” she replied, and then the waiter brought their dinner.
Something rose in Graham’s throat. Aleck Smith! Perhaps he should have expected that—but Aleck Smith was a brute. Laura wasn’t for a man like him. But what could he do? You couldn’t tell a girl that her man was a rotter. Laura knew enough to make up her own mind. If Aleck was her choice, why, that was all there was to it. Anyone who said anything against him was probably jealous —that was it. Graham Barry was jealous and knew it sanely and was at last trying to make allowances for Aleck Smith. Aleck had been driven to what he had done by fierce jealousy; had lost his head.
Graham was charitable in these moments, looking at Laura across the table. Sweet-faced and desirable she was. Who could blame anyone for fighting for her? Who could blame anyone for wanting even to exterminate anyone who might approach to take her away?
Thus poor sentimental Graham thought, feasting starved eyes on the girl he had lost.
“You’re going to be awfully happy, Laura,” he said to her, because he could not say what he was thinking. “You deserve to be.”
“Thank you, Graham,” she replied, contemplating that hungry look in his eyes which he could not manage to hide.
Then she saw Naya’s ring on his finger; that odd ring with the raised Japanese characters.
“What a strange ring!” she exclaimed. “What do the characters mean?”
Graham stretched his hand across the table so that she might examine the ring more closely.
“Mr. Matsuro, my employer, gave it to me,” he said. “It’s a symbol of proficiency in the gentle art of the Japanese —jiu-jitsu.”
“How thrilling!” Laura said. “But it’s awfully dangerous, isn’t it, Graham?”
“Only to its enemies,” he smiled.
After dinner he strolled home with her. Aleck, Laura said, was working late that night. Graham was with her till eleven o’clock, lingering, taking all that he could get of her sweetness and charm, for it was perhaps the last time he would see her before she married Aleck. Graham had nothing now to keep him in Fareborough any longer, and nothing to bring him back in the future.
During all of their talk, nothing was said about Graham’s sudden departure from Fareborough two years before. What Laura thought about it Graham didn’t venture to ascertain.
When eleven o’clock came, he stood on her doorstep, holding one of her hands in both of his and bidding her good-by. It wasn’t easy to break away. She knew that something was hurting him and when at last he whispered his final good night and went down the steps, she stood looking after him with an uncontrollable moisture rising and brimming in her eyes.
GRAHAM walked away down the street feeling that he had left behind dim that which he wanted most of all in :he world. But he was not blind; he knew ;hat it was his own fault. He had set her aside for two years, and now, for that, he didn’t deserve her.
In a doorway some distance down the street a dark figure lurked, waiting. When Graham, completely preoccupied, passed that doorway the person who waited there moved out of the shadows and fell in with him. A tall, broad-shouldered man. Graham looked up, startled.
“Well,” said an old familiar voice, with an old familiar sneer, “back at your old game of trying to steal my girl, eh?” Graham raised a hand in protest. “Don’t say that, Aleck. I haven’t been trying to steal Laura from you.”
“You’re a liar,” Aleck retorted nastily. “And what you need is another lesson—; like the last one.”
Graham shook his head.
“Don’t do anything like that, Aleck,” he urged. “It might get you into trouble.” “That so?” Aleck came back. “Well, I never did like you, and I see through your game now. You’ve come back here to try and take Laura away from me.”
“I tell you, no, Aleck. That’s not true.” They were passing the schoolhouse. The yard, with its grey, cement floor, was coldly dull in the light of the moon. Graham was nearest the open gate. Aleck gave him a sudden shove into the yard and followed hastily, glancing back to see that no one else was about.
“Don’t!” Graham begged. “Aleck!” Aleck sneered.
“This time,” he said, throwing off his coat, “I’m going to give you enough to keep you away for good.”
MONDAY morning, Yukio Matsuro walked into the office that Graham Barry occupied. He took one look at Graham and shut the door quickly.
“My dear young man!” he exclaimed. Graham’s face was swollen, cut, marked y brutal knuckles. And he was slumped in his chair, still weary and lame from a terrific body beating.
He shrugged. Matsuro sat down.
“You went back to Fareborough?” he asked.
“And met the same man?”
“I met the girl first,” Graham said. Laura. She was wearing his ring. She’s going to marry him. I spent the evening with her. When I left her house, Aleck Smith was waiting for me. We walked a little way to the yard of the schoolhouse there. He forced a fight on me. Well, I took another beating. I wanted to throw him. I wanted to break him. But I couldn’t bring myself to it. I’d have killed him—or maimed him. It was a cement floor. A fall would have killed him. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t hurt him. I wouldn’t hurt Laura. So I just fought him with his own weapons—fists. I didn’t have a chance that way. He beat me until couldn’t stand up. At least I didn’t run away. I didn’t have the strength.
Matsuro raised his eyebrows.
“You are a strange young man,” he said solemnly, “but I think I understand.” Then he got up slowly and went out.
IN THE middle of the afternoon a mild and humble Japanese clerk knocked at Graham’s door, entered and said:
“A lady awaits to see you, Mr. Barry, sir.”
And even before Graham could reply, Laura stood in the doorway behind the clerk, a little breathless and staring at him with pain in her eyes. Discreetly the clerk stepped to one side and went out noiselessly, closing the door.
“Laura!” breathed Graham Barry.
She came quickly behind the desk to him.
“Graham,” she said, “I want you to tell me what happened between you and Aleck.”
Graham was smiling, perhaps to disarm her.
“Why, Laura, what makes you think that anything happened between us?”
“Graham, when you went away two years ago, there was a rumor that Aleck had beaten you terribly and that you had gone away because of that. Aleck said that it wasn’t true, and I believed him. But yesterday he had the mark of your ring on his cheekbone—a distinct impression of those Japanese characters. He lied to me when I asked him. He said he hadn’t seen you in Fareborough at all. I want to know, Graham. Tell me.”
Graham looked down at her left hand. Aleck’s ring was there no longer.
“All right,” he said; “but first, Laura, there’s something else I want to tell you.”
“Yes? What is it?” she asked; but she came closer at once, for she knew very well what it was.