Gateway to the Classics: A Boy of Old Japan by Robert van Bergen
A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen

Choshiu's Yashiki

The next morning had been a busy one for Kano. All the officers of the clan, entitled to the privilege, had called to pay their respects. It was eleven o'clock when the Commandant requested an audience. He was admitted, and reported that the evening before one of the younger samurai, returning home from a visit to a Tosa friend, had been grossly insulted by two men: that he had drawn his sword and had killed one and seriously wounded the other. The affair had taken place not far from the yashiki, and the captain of the guard had despatched some men to the scene. The wounded man was carried in and had since died. He bore the Tokugawa crest, and a letter addressed to the Go rojiu was found upon him. The Commandant delivered the letter, and asked what was to be done.

Kano had listened with little interest, only ejaculating sometimes a polite nara hudo! to show that he was listening. When he read the inscription,—the name of the sender is always upon the address of a letter; there was no longer lack of interest. It was from Sawa! Was it a trap or was it fate? His questions showed the importance of the case.

Had the samurai been placed under arrest?


Who is he? 'Hm! a man above reproach.

What are his habits? Regular? Very well, but let him be closely investigated. Enjoin the strictest silence upon the guard. Let the body be placed in a coffin, ready for funeral. Was the man's comrade dead? That was ascertained? Very well. The matter would he duly considered, and instructions would follow in due time.

Kano was toying with the letter. What should he do? This was a business that must be decided by the Council of the Clan. But who constituted the council? Kano smiled, for he was alone. Hattori and himself. Hattori had his own opinions—until he was made acquainted with those of Kano. That was all true, hut this was a matter of life and death, and Kano hesitated. Suddenly a thought struck him. "Yes," he thought, "that young man has brains, and thinks for himself; he is the man I need." He clapped his hands, and when the attendant appeared, desired him to invite Mr. Inouye to call at once, and that his friend Mr. Ito should favor him with a visit after dinner.

He had not long to wait before Inouye appeared. Kano at once invited him to enter, and at once told him of the fight and the difficulty it involved. Inouye's face was expressionless, but when Kano asked him what he would do in this case, he inquired:

"Has your honor examined the samurai?"

Kano replied by requesting him to act as secretary, and together they repaired to the Commandant's quarters. Writing materials were brought, and the prisoner entered.

He was a manly youth, twenty or twenty-two years old. He prostrated himself before the councillor, and, upon being told to give an account of the affair, he told simply that he had applied for and received a pass from the Commandant to visit a friend in the Tosa yashiki. That he had returned home by way of the inner castle wall, and, after crossing the bridge, two samurai had purposely run against him, and called him a lout. He had demanded an apology, whereupon one of them had ordered him upon his knees. At that insult he had drawn his sword, and had duly punished the insolent braggards. He had then returned home, and reported the affair to the Commandant.

Kano had the prisoner removed, but when the Commandant reported that he was of exemplary antecedents and conduct, he was brought in again, and, after exhorting him to keep silence, he was commended for his courage and discharged. The Councillor gave orders to have the body cremated, and returned with Inouye to the Palace.

They had dinner together, and after the room had been cleared, and the servants withdrawn, Kano deliberately opened the letter, and read it. He then handed it over to Inouye, who also read it carefully, returning it to Kano, who said:

"It seems that we must return to Nagato. Sawa's conscience begins to prick him unless the council has stopped his supply of money, or he has been reproved by the Go rojiu. He says in his letter that it is said that I am ill, but that he does not quite believe it. Well, as soon as I get back, I shall invite him to call, and scold him roundly for neglecting me so long. That, and a few hundred riyo, will appease his tender conscience. I wish I could sweep the whole Tokugawa breed from the soil of Dai Nippon! Ah! here is your friend Ito!"

As soon as the expected guest was seated Kano said:

"It is now my turn, gentlemen, to go over my experiences with the foreign devils. Mr. Inouye will remember how I went to Yokohama in search of work. When I arrived, I entered a tea house, and after taking a cup or two, inquired where I might get work. I was directed to the hatoba, where I found a number of ninzoku, moving cases and bales. I asked of one of them who was their employer. He rudely pointed to a man of about my own height, who was scribbling in a book. I went to this person, and offered my services. The rude dog said curtly:—'Wait!' I tell you, gentlemen, it was well that I had left my swords behind, for I came very near forgetting myself; as it was, my palms itched. The people close by seemed accustomed to this sort of treatment, for no one paid attention, except one who looked at me curiously for a moment. After about five minutes, the fellow came up to me, looked me over as you would look over a horse you wished to buy, and then said curtly: 'Come to-morrow at seven. If you are late, you need not come at all.' I said nothing, but promised to teach that fellow manners, before we parted finally. Nevertheless, I was on hand in time the next morning and enjoyed some very wholesome muscular exercise. It was then that I had occasion to notice the first foreign devil. He was a tall and well-built man with reddish hair and beard, and walked as if the earth belonged to him. A small coolie was in his way, and he lifted his foot, and kicked, actually kicked, that poor fellow out of his way. I jumped up as if I had been struck myself, when the same man who had looked so oddly at me the day before, seized me by the girdle, and without looking up, whispered:—'You are forgetting your purpose!' He was right, and brought me to my senses. Well, gentlemen, that day I saw Japanese wantonly struck and knocked down, without any provocation whatever, by several of those foreign devils. At noon most of the coolies ate their lunch where they worked, but the man who had spoken to me came up and said: There is a small yadoya close by, shall I show you the way?' I thanked him, and followed. I secured a room and was back in time to train my muscles into whipcord.

"When evening came, I went hack to the yadoya, and after taking my bath, had supper. I must say that I enjoyed both more than I ever had before. I was about to lie down, when I remembered that I had not thanked my unknown friend, who decidedly was not what he seemed. I was going down to ask the landlord if he knew him, when I saw him standing in the door. He motioned to follow him; so, securing a lantern from the landlord. I did so. He led the way past many houses built of stone, to a creek. There was a rude bridge, leading to a path ascending to the hills. At the crest he stopped and waited. We were at a point where nobody could approach us unobserved, and he bowed as only gentlemen do. Of course, I returned the salute in the same manner. He then said:—

"'Disguise between you and me is useless. Down below there, I am Eto, a ninzoku; here I am Teraji a Satsuma samurai, at your service.'

"I have not yet decided what I am down below," I replied, "but at this moment I am Kano of Choshiu, very glad to acknowledge the service rendered to me by the Honorable Teraji of Satsuma."

"'Oh! that is nothing. The situation is sometimes a little awkward. I understood your feeling, and was on the lookout. These foreign devils are brutal, but it is their nature, I suppose, and they can not help it. But I grieve to notice that this sort of conduct renders our people, who come in contact with them, brutish. They lose all respect for authority and the Tokugawa, or whoever succeeds them in power, is going to have trouble with this class of people.'

"You do not mean to say that the ninzoku are deficient in respect to our authorities?"

"'If they are not yet, they are rapidly growing so. You will notice it yourself. At the same time, you will observe that there is a very great difference among the foreigners. While none of them possess the breeding of a gentleman, there are some naturally wicked, while others have a kindlier disposition. I do not believe that there are many who like to inflict pain. It is easy to perceive that none of them have learned self-restraint, but that they are all under the influence of the passion of the moment. The brute who kicked that poor ninzoku for instance. He was in a hurry, and it was less trouble for him to reach his destination by making room for himself in this manner, than to wait until the coolie could make room for him.'

"What astonished me is that the ninzoku took the attack without resenting it."

"Well, there are two reasons. Some did resent it at first, but these foreigners are trained to use their fists, and, man for man, our people have no chance. But wait until the coolies grow acquainted. At present they are from the poorest and most thriftless classes of all parts of Japan. Soon, however, they will all be residents of Yokohama, and then they will form into a union. When that time comes I will venture to say that there will be few foreigners who will dare use either fists or feet. But it is getting late. To-morrow we do not work. Every seventh day, the foreigners have a holiday, and we shall be able to take a long walk.'

"We returned to the inn, and parted at the door with a boorish bow. That was the extent of my experience on the first day. It was enough to supply me with food for thought."

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