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


Two men, dressed in kimono, haori, and hakama were sitting in one of the numerous temples which add to the natural beauty of the old imperial capital of Japan. The noon meal was over, but neither had an eye for the glorious landscape spread out before them. To the right and left a wave of mountains seemed to roll up in ever increasing height, until those in the background pierced the deep-blue sky. The hills about the city were clad in a mantle of green of every shade, from the dark needles of the fir to the light shoots of the bamboo. Crag and cliff bore the crimson torii, the unique indication of the proximity of temple or shrine. Yonder, at their feet, lay the holy of holiest, the Gosho, the residence of Tenshi Sama, the representative of the Yamato Damashii, the fierce Spirit of Old Japan. A fierce spirit! Men trained to consider duty the sole motive, reckless of pain, and inured to the sight of blood, are not sparing of that precious fluid when they are bent upon the execution of a purpose. Yet the recluse yonder, the very incarnation of that spirit, dwelling in the temple-like building surrounded by enchanted gardens, seemed unconscious of his power to stir millions of brave men into action, by a mere use of his seal.

"Then his lordship thinks that it can be done?" asked Inouye, for he was one of the occupants of the room.

The man thus addressed, bowed low, and said:—"My master has sent your honor a haori with his crest. I passed through the gate, and left my name ticket: then pretending that I had forgotten something, went in again, and when I came out I deposited the ticket of Mr. Kida, a distant relative, who was admitted in the service of my master. It is time that we should go. If your honor will put on this haori, and, upon entering the gate, demand Kida's ticket, there will be no difficulty."

Inouye dressed, and the two descended toward the city. The road passed by one of the Gosho gates, and the guide entered, exclaiming his name, whereupon he received a wooden ticket with his name in large characters, and passed through. Inouye followed his example, and received a similar ticket bearing the name of Kida. The two then walked up a broad gravel path toward one of the enclosures.

Notwithstanding all his self control, Inouye experienced great difficulty in not betraying his intense curiosity. He, as every Japanese of his class, thought with intense reverence of Tenshi Sama. His heart would have leaped for joy if he had received orders to die that moment for the man he had never seen. We can not understand that feeling. Loyalty is a meaningless sound compared to it. Yet it was that feeling which metamorphosed a federacy of some three hundred autonomous oligarchies, poverty stricken and at war with one another, into a powerful empire which bids Russia defiance. This marvel, too, was accomplished in less than three decades!

Inouye's curiosity was, therefore, blended with awe. The guide stopped before a house of modest dimensions, but of light and elegant construction, and, bowing, preceded his companion. Stopping on the verandah, he uttered his name in a low but distinct voice. An answer was returned, and he beckoned Inouye to enter. The latter did so, and, prostrating himself, ejaculated rapidly such phrases of self-depreciation as the high rank of a Kugé demanded.

Karassu Maru, the master of the house, was a young man of about Inouye's age, dressed in haori, hakama, and kimono all of fine silk. He scanned Ito's features keenly, and appeared satisfied with the result. He was evidently of a quick, impulsive temper, but used the courtly language, and strictly observed his own dignity.

"I am informed that you have a proposition to place before me on behalf of Mori."

"I am but the messenger, My Lord, and my authority extends only to requesting an audience of your lordship for the first councillor and friend of my Lord Mori."

But, you know, there is some danger in coming to and going from the Gosho. Our friends of the Aidzu Clan, whom the Go rojiu has kindly deputed to guard us here, seem to scent danger, for they have drawn the lines tighter and tighter. It would be better if I knew something of what Mori wishes, so that both time and risk could be saved."

"I will tell you, my lord, what I know."

Inouye then gave a comprehensive but concise review of Kido's intentions, reserving, of course, the conclusions of his leader, and the share he intended to assign to the Gosho. Karassu Maru listened attentively, and when Inouye concluded, he said:

"When do you expect the councillor of your clan?"

"He will come, your Lordship, as soon as I let him know that he may have an audience."

"I am willing to hear him, but he will need great powers of persuasion. Of my personal friends, one is an idiot, and the other a fool. No; I can't do a thing, although I would like to try. The affair ought to be begun by one of the Miya, but that is altogether out of the question. Ni-jo? bah! he would not stir. Sanjô? Yes, he might. Aye, I think that he would. Hold on! There is Tomomi. He is the man!"

This was evidently not destined for the ears of Inouye, who was listening but without any expression in his features. Karassu Maru looked up, and said:—

"See that Mori's councillor is here on the tenth day from now. The same retainer who brought you here will call for him, and I shall arrange a meeting. Now about getting out. He clapped his hands, and when the attendant appeared, he said: "Get the football ready, and invite Honami and Gojo with their retainers to join me in a game. You, sir, come along. When we come to the wall near the gate the guard will be watching us. See to it that you do not kick it over the wall, for I am a good hand at scolding, and you would not care to he called clumsy, would you? If, however, you should send it flying over the wall, run after it, and throw it back. We shall entertain the guard."

It was dark when Inouye returned to the temple, but he wrote at once to Kano. The letter was foolish, and made the writer appear to live only for amusement. It described the magnificence of the temples and urged Kano to be present at a festival to take place on the tenth day. There was nothing in it of the slightest interest to any spy.

Kano was at home when the letter was delivered to him. He saw, after a close examination, that it had been opened, but smiled after he had read its contents. He knew the spy. Why had Sawa so earnestly requested him to admit among his retainers a young friend who had some slight trouble in his own clan? Kano had demurred to keep up appearances, but finally he had agreed, and he knew that there was no longer any privacy in his house. It was immaterial to him. He did not know of one member of his clan in whom he could trust. Not that there was any doubt whatever of their loyalty, but one thoughtless word or action would upset all his plans. He was glad that he had two such friends as Ito and Inouye. Sonno-Joï! Why he had heard that cry in his own clan, here at the confines of Hondo. There had been no communication from him, and this was the first that he received from Inouye. Truly, there was a chance for Choshiu when the clan numbered among its members such men. O! if Ekichi might only grow up to such a standard.

He clapped his hands and ordered the child to be called. The boy came, knelt at the threshold, and saluted his father with the reverence due to him, and the gravity of a man. Kano bowed in return, and said:

"Come here."

The boy came, bowed, and squatted down. "Are you doing well at school?"

Ekichi bowed.

"Read that to me," he continued, taking up a book. The boy began to read in the sing-song tone necessary to render ideographic writing intelligible to the reader. His father then inquired after his progress in athletic exercises, and finally said: "Come, we shall go into the garden!"

They walked together to an artificial hillock, found in every Japanese garden of any pretensions, and ascended to the top. Here, safe from spies, Kano turned to his son:

"Listen. Ekichi." the said. "You know the new attendant who came here some months ago?" The child bowed. "Very well; I want you to be the shadow of that man. He must not be anywhere, or you must see him; he may not say a word, or you must hear what it is. I am going away for a few weeks, and when I am back, you must read on this hillock every afternoon, until I come up, and then you must tell me what this man has done, whom he has seen and what he has said. Can you do that do you think?"

The little fellow felt overjoyed at this token of his father's confidence, but not a look betrayed that feeling. He accepted the charge with a simple bow, and went with his father back to the house.

Kano dressed, and ordered his chair. When he entered it, he said briefly: "To the castle!" Alighting at the inner entrance, he distinctly ejaculated his name; a servant appeared and bade him enter.

The room was almost the same as his sitting-room in his own house. There was no furniture, but a kakemono, of priceless value in Japanese eyes, hung from the wall so that the light fell upon it. A few bronze pieces, masterworks of art, stood where they appeared to demand admiration. In the middle of the room sat the owner of the estate, an estimable gentleman of middle age, dressed in magnificent silk. Kano saluted dutifully and was hidden to approach. He sat down at the prescribed distance, and waited for his master to address him.

"I am glad you called," said Mori. "I want the garden changed, and my cousin told me that the council had appropriated too much money for the fortifications at Shi-monoseki. What fad is this? Those works were constructed under my grandfather, and could not be made better. It is more important by far that the garden be altered. Come here! Do you not see that if I sit here and look out, that hillock yonder interrupts the view? It must be changed."

Kano bowed low and said: "It shall be done, my lord. I am going to Kyoto on business for the clan. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Why, certainly. If you can pick up any fine antiquities, do so. And you must order new haori for the retainers. They will need them on our next journey to Yedo."

Kano promised to attend to these natters, and took his leave. Closing the sho ji behind him, he went to a distant part of the palace, and called an attendant. "Request Mr. Hattori to come here," he said. Hattori came, and his friend told him that he was called to Kyoto on private business, and would be absent for two or three weeks. He requested him to see that the garden was altered according to the wishes of the Lord of the Manor. Hattori promised to comply. Kano then proceeded to Sawa's yashiki, and told him that he had come to bid him good-bye, as he was going to Kyoto under orders from my lord to buy some new ornaments. He asked for a letter to the commandant of the castle at Kyoto, a request which was willingly granted. When Kano left, a small bag of gold remained on the cushion which he had occupied.

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