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

New Experience

After eating their breakfast at an early hour on the following morning, Inouye went down stairs in search of the landlord. He found him sitting at his desk, as if he had not left it since their last conversation. He called for the bill, and gave such a generous tip that the landlord was highly pleased, and showed it by his repeated and humble bows. Inouye made a suitable reply, and then said:

"Landlord. I have spoken with my elder brother about what you told me yesterday. The Go rojiu is anxious that some of our young men should learn the barbarian language, and we came here to look for the best ways and means, for it was decided in our family that I should try. It seems to me that the easiest way would be to live with them, and after what you have told me about the physician, I think I would like to serve him, and my brother agrees with me. Now, it does not matter who we are, but I am no good-for-nothing, and shall do my duty. For the present my name is Tomori, and I ask you if you will direct me to this physician?"

"I shall do better than that," replied the landlord. He clapped his hands, and when a servant appeared, he told him to bring OKichi San. Soon after the Honorable Master Kichi appeared. "Honorable Master Kichi," said his father to the eight year old urchin, "take this gentleman to the house of the American physician." Kichi bowed, and leading the way, brought Inouye to a private house, off the Tokaido and near the causeway leading to Yokohama. There was a small but well kept garden in front. It was a house which had evidently been built for a well-to-do samurai, but Inouye noticed that the sho ji, instead of being of paper, were of a transparent substance, probably glass.

Kichi pulled the rope of a gong, the sound of which brought a pleasant looking Japanese gentleman to the door.

Inouye bowed, and his salute was returned in the same ceremonious manner. He then asked if he could see the barbarian physician. "I am sorry," said the other, "but he is out. He will be back very soon, I think; be pleased to enter." He showed Inouye the way to a back room, with tatami on the floor, and, after repeating the salutations, said:

"I hope that it is not on account of illness that you wish to see the physician?"

"No," replied Inouye. "I shall tell you frankly what brings me here, for I hope to secure your valuable assistance. I have always had a love for books and knowledge, and am very anxious to study foreign languages. I consulted my elder brother, and we came to Kanayawa together. At the inn we heard how kindly this physician had treated our host, and also that he is in need of a servant. My brother and I thought that if my services were acceptable, I should offer them such as they are."

"You are not a Tokugawa man, I fancy."

"Why should I not he?"

"Because your speech savors from the south," was the answer. "I did not ask you that question from motives of curiosity, but because most of the men who enter into the service of foreigners, are such as are bound to find their way to jail. Every foreigner prefers any servant to one from this neighborhood. What name do you wish to go by? I hear the physician's footstep, and will speak to him at once."

He left the room, hut returned quickly, preceded by a bearded man in the full vigor of life. Inouye prostrated himself before the stranger, who said in Japanese which sounded quaint although quite intelligible:

"Mr. Tanaka tells me that you wish to enter my service, and I am willing to try you. You are expected to be here from seven in the morning until nine in the evening, and will receive a salary of five riyo. You shall have a room, which Mr. Tanaka will show you, and you can share the meals with the other servants. If you need anything, ask Mr. Tanaka; or if you want to speak to me, come to my room. I shall expect you to-morrow morning; you can now go and bring here what you may have as baggage."

Inouye prostrated himself again. Tanaka then showed him his room, which was in one of the outhouses, but far more pleasant than his own quarters in Choshiu. Everything was clean. He was then taken to the room where the servants took their meals, and to the bathroom reserved for them. At last Tanaka told him that he could take possession at any time during that day, so as to feel more at home when his duties should commence.

When he had left the physician's house, Inouye hastened back to the inn. He was dazed and did not know what to think. He would tell his new experience to Kano and consult with him. He entered the yadoya, and, answering the smiling landlord's humble welcome with a slight bow, he hurried upstairs. Kano was evidently expecting him, but showed not the least sign of curiosity. Both saluted as became samurai, and upon Kano's invitation, Inouye sat down and lit his pipe, waiting for Kano to speak first.

"Have you succeeded?"

"I have."

"When will you enter?"

"I have agreed to begin to-morrow morning, but I can occupy my room to-day, and bring in my baggage."

"Then you had better make some purchases. Here are a hundred riyo. Nay, do not hesitate," for Inouye was surprised at such a large sum being offered to him, "for your work is of great value to the clan, and you may need it; something may occur, or you may be suspected, and Choshiu can not afford to lose so worthy a samurai as my young friend Inouye has proved to be." Inouye bowed low, to hide his confusion. It was so rare that a samurai of Kano's rank bestowed praise that Inouye was deeply moved. Kano pretended not to notice the emotion, and continued: "While you are making your purchases after dinner, I shall go to Yokohama and see what success I may achieve. But what shall we do with our swords?"

"I could take them with me to the physician's house."

"Very well. You will wait here for me until I return?"

Inouye bowed assent. Dinner was ordered and brought up; after it was eaten, the two left the house, barefooted and in simple cotton kimono. They went together as far as the Tokaido, where Inouye pointed out the physician's residence. Kano noticed it closely. They then parted, Inouye turning to the left to visit the stores, while Kano descended to the causeway, and followed it toward Yokohama.

It was six o'clock before he returned. Inouye had noticed that Kano had avoided asking for particulars. He, as younger in years, and less high in rank, would have committed a severe breach of good breeding amounting to a crime, if he had asked a question except in explanation. The same ceremonious salutations took place, and supper was ordered. After it was over, Kano said:

"We are now about to part. I am to begin to work to-morrow as a ninzoku. I have been engaged by a fellow, a Japanese, who will have a taste of the lash before I am entirely through with him." The false smile and suppressed emotion with which this was hissed out between his lips, proved how pitilessly in earnest he was. "But we shall reserve our observations for a month from now. We meet every fifth day, as we agreed yesterday. Here are my swords," saluting reverently as he handed them to his companion, who received them with marks of even greater reverence.

Inouye concealed the swords, with his own, among his clothes. He then took the bundle to the door. Here he turned round, and prostrating himself, bent his head three times upon his outstretched hands. Then, rising, he bowed once more, drawing in his breath. Kano replied in the same manner. Not another word was said, and Inouye carried his bundle to the scene of a new life.

Kano remained alone, deeply buried in thought. Not the slightest token of emotion was visible, yet the man was terribly wroth. His long-practised self control enabled him to conceal the passion he felt by that stolid look of contemplation which completely veils the thoughts. He sat motionless, regardless of the time, mechanically answering the servant who arranged the comforters for his couch. The streets were silent, the yadoya had closed up for the night, and still Kano was sitting there motionless as a statue. Midnight was past, when he felt for his tobacco pouch. Stirring up the few sparks in the hibachi with the chopstick-like brass tongs, he took a few whiffs at his pipe, and then, confident that he had schooled himself for the coming ordeal, he lay down upon his couch.

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