In one of the kugé residences, not far from the palace occupied by the Tenshi Sama, four men had just exchanged the protracted salutations prescribed by their rank. All knew that this very meeting would be considered as treason if it were known to the authorities at Yedo, and they felt, intuitively that it would exercise a great influence upon their lives. Yet every face bore but one expression, that of placid contentment.
Sanjo, as the highest in rank, spoke first:—"His Lordship, Karassu Maru has informed us that the chief Councillor of Mori desires to make a communication. It is long since the chief of a clan desired the intercession of a kugé."
Kano bowed:—"It is the fault of the Tokugawa, My Lord. The clans are shut out from Kyoto. We are not permitted to occupy our yashiki here, unless we secure the gracious consent of the men who rule at Yedo. I know none of the old families, Mori, Shimadzu, who would not willingly enroll himself among the lowest servants of the Son of Heaven. If you are robbed of the homage which is your due, surely we suffer more severely by being shut out from the sacred presence."
Sanjo bowed, and looked at Iwakura Tomomi, who said:—"You speak well, Sir Knight, and we do not hold the clans responsible for their compulsory neglect of His Majesty. But we shall he glad to hear what it is that Mori of Nagato desires of us."
"Your Lordships, the Tokugawa has admitted barbarians within the realm of the divine ancestors. They are now upsetting all our time-honored customs at Kanagawa, and demand admittance at Hyogo. Your humble servant has dwelt for six weeks among them. I desired to study them, because I was anxious to know if their unhallowed presence foreboded evil to our country. I am convinced that it does. The five relations upon which our social system rests are disregarded and set at nought by them. They respect nothing we respect. They are rude and insolent, and act as if the country of the gods was theirs by right of conquest. They defy our laws. Who ever heard of a merchant talking back to a samurai? Not only do they do this, but they dare order them about."
"Have you seen that yourself?" asked Sanjo.
"I have, my Lord."
"And what did the Tokugawa Knights do?"
"They did as they were bidden; they obeyed the orders of the insolent dogs."
"Was no complaint brought?"
"Who would bring a complaint, and before whom? The samurai is not accustomed to seek protection. He protects, and in such a quarrel, his good sword is both judge and executioner. But, alas! the Tokugawa samurai is no longer a knight. He has forgotten the existence of the word duty, and has substituted the word pleasure. The country is no longer safe under the guidance of the Tokugawa. It must be taken away from them."
"And given to Mori?" asked Karassu Maru.
"That may be decided later, my lord," said Kano calmly. "At present it is not a question of who shall rule with Tenshi Sama's consent, but if the country shall be safe from the invasion of the barbarians. They may not come in large numbers for some years; but if they upset all our sacred customs, they can ruin Japan without any armed invasion. They are but few in number now, your lordships, and we can expel them. But if we wait for a few years, they will have obtained such a foothold that we may not be able to succeed."
"But what can we do?" asked Iwakura.
"Your lordship, there is but one way. Tenshi Sama may order the Tokugawa to expel the barbarians, the order will not be obeyed, because the clan can not do it, and will not entrust the work to other clans. But Tenshi Sama can give an order to all the clans to do it, and I know of some who will obey His Majesty's orders, regardless of consequences."
"But," said Sanjo, "you know that Tokugawa is Shogun; all orders must be issued to him; such is the law and the custom."
"But if Tokugawa can not, or will not obey?"
Here was a supposition which was very unpalatable, and the three kugé were silent. Orders had been issued from the Palace before, and had been disregarded, but the kugé had been respectfully assured that they had been obeyed. Iwakura knew of one instance, and the angry blood appeared almost through the thick coating of self-control and restraint. At last Karassu Maru said:
"What would you have us do?"
"Send peremptory orders to the Go rojiu, and let the clans know that such orders have been sent."
"Do you know, Sir Knight," he asked, "how we are situated here? Aidzu, one of the Tokugawa clans that will fight, confound it! has a guard at every gate. Not a soul goes in or out, but they know who he is, and I shall be very much astonished and glad for your sake, if you return home without some disagreeable encounter. Why! They discovered after your messenger had left that a stranger had been in the palace grounds, and there was a fine hue and cry. The captain of the guard came to me and dared ask questions; I don't think he will do it again, for I made him understand the difference between a kugé and a dog. We could contrive, perhaps, to send a secret order. But an open order to the clans! Why, that messenger must be nimble-footed who could get as far as one hundred yards from the gate!"
"No!" said Sanjo, "that suggestion is worthless. Mark you, Sir Knight, I do not deny that the Tokugawa hand has rested heavily upon the Gosho, but under whatever circumstances, the Court has maintained its dignity. Nor would any infringement be permitted. Besides, while it is true that his Lordship Iwakura and myself are members of the Inner Council, we are but two, and the majority is composed of old men, wedded to the secluded, contemplative life we lead. If you have no other suggestion to offer, I am afraid that we can not help you."
"But, my Lord," said Kano, "surely, that life of seclusion and contemplation ends as soon as the barbarians land at Hyogo. They are, even now, clamoring to he admitted into Yedo. It is only a question of time, perhaps of very brief time, before they will demand admittance in Kyoto, and from what I have seen of them, they will not show any respect for the Sacred Enclosure."
Karassu Maru grasped the hilt of his sword, while Iwakura and Sanjo were startled.
"Ah! That must be prevented at any cost!" said the former, and Sanjo bowed assent.
After a few moments Iwakura made a movement indicating the termination of the audience, saying: "Sir Knight, we shall report our conference to the Council. We do not pretend to know what the result will be, but I suppose that, if we wish to communicate with you, his lordship Karassu Maru will know how to reach you." Deep bows and sucking of the breath followed, and Kano left escorted by Karassu Maru, who led the way to a secluded part of the grounds.
"Now then, Sir Knight, what do you think of the prospect? Encouraging, is it not? And the two gentlemen whom we have left just now, are the most progressive. Now, let me give you a hint. The Miya and kugé, I say it with all respect, have taken root into the ground. That root must be torn up by main force, before they will move. Pull the ground from under them and you will succeed. If you can not find means to do that, return to your clan and prepare to defend yourself. By the way! Are you acquainted with a gigantic Satsuma knight, who loves the Tokugawa as much as you do?"
"I am not, my Lord," said Kano, surprised.
"Well, he, too, is in hiding in some temple. Hunt him up, and work together. Two can do more than one. Now, how are you going to leave here?"
"I saw a nosimono going to one of the palaces a moment ago, is it going beyond the gate?"
"Yes, that is his lordship Honami, who is so exceedingly bright that he can go wherever and whenever he pleases, but why?"
"Can not your lordship arrange that I shall be one of the bearers?"
"Why, certainly. Come this way and wait in that copse." Karassu Maru returned after half an hour's absence, evidently in great glee. He said that Honami had consented to carry a package to the temple where Inouye had rooms. Karassu Maru then handed to Kano a chairbearers coat, and kerchief to tie around his head. It took only a minute to change the clothes, and to make a bundle of haori, hakama, kimono, and swords. A little later Honami's well-known nosimono passed through the gate borne by four stalwart men. When it returned there were only three. One had been lost and poor Honami's privileges were curtailed, while the other chairbearers were subjected to a severe but useless examination.