Kano rose slowly and left the room. When he returned after a brief absence, he was in kamishimo, a white or hemp-colored dress used only upon the most solemn occasions. He sat down between the two friends, who, astonished as they felt, maintained the same impressive countenance. After thinking for a few minutes, which to Ito and Inouye seemed an age, he resumed:
"Gentlemen, Mr. Teraji and myself have given the barbarians a fair trial, and we have come to the conclusion that they are not wanted in this fair land of ours. We do not believe that they have any other object in view except trade, but whether they have or not, it is immaterial: they must he expelled. It is the duty of the Shogun to do this, and, were Iyeyasu or Iyemitsu living, I have no doubt the Tokugawa clan would be quite able to accomplish the work in such a manner that the barbarians would think twice before they returned to these shores. Unfortunately, the long peace we have had has exercised a bad influence upon the Shogun and the clan. Gentlemen, I must trust you entirely. There can be no doubt of the loyalty of Kano to the house of Mori, and yet I dare not repeat, even to my old friend Hattori, what I am about to say to you now. You notice my dress? I put it on because, unless you agree with me, I shall commit seppuku. But pray, give me your close attention.
He was in Kamishimo.
It is said, at Nagato, that Kano governs the Choshiu clan, and, in the main it is true, although the other councillors are always consulted. But our Lord Mori is not. He does not know any more about the affairs of the clan, than the ordinary samurai. He is a brave, kind gentleman, who would lead his clan into battle, or commit seppuku as well as the bravest among us. But he has been trained to have others think for him, and provide for all his wants. That is all very well, so long as peace reigns, and in a small territory like Choshiu. But the same rule prevails in every clan, and not only there, but in the Yedo government. The last Shogun were children, and died young. Iyesáda, the present Shogun, is only a boy. The government is, therefore, conducted by the Go rojiu, and the regent. Ii Naosuke occupies the same position which I hold in our clan.
"I do not know him, but from what I hear, he has brains and courage. He is entitled to those qualities, for his ancestor was one of Iyeyasu's most trusted captains. Yet he has granted all that the barbarians demanded. It has puzzled me, and is puzzling me still, why he did so. Teraji told me that these barbarians had defeated the flower of China's army, and were ready to throw their hosts upon these shores. But the 80,000 samurai of the Tokugawa clans should be strong enough to prevent any army from landing.
"I remember, however, what Mr. Ito told me about the Tokugawa samurai, and my own observation has confirmed his opinion. They are worthless, and a disgrace to us. Why, look at that fellow whose body was cremated yesterday but which should have been thrown to the dogs. He was intrusted with a dispatch, yet engaged in a brawl before executing his commission. Such a man is unworthy of being a samurai. Ii Naosuke must have known this, and submitted out of loyalty to the descendant of Iyeyasu. He, too, labors under great difficulties. The Tokugawa family is divided. Mito, notwithstanding his ancestor's will, hopes to see one of his sons succeed as Shogun. If, then, the barbarians must be expelled, it is not the Tokugawa who are able to do it, and therefore that family must be deprived of their power.
"That is the first step. It will take, however, the united efforts of several clans to accomplish it, and the question is: Can a sufficient number of clans be brought to do the work without jealousy. I think not, unless we can secure the person of Tenshi Sama and thereby use his seal."
Both Ito and Inouye, trained in self-control as they were, could not help giving a start. Kano did not seem to notice it, and continued:
"The seal of Tenshi Sama will be obeyed by every clan. The Regent knows that, and has applied to Kyoto to have the treaties confirmed. Happily, there are some among the Kugé who do not want Tenshi Sama to be mixed up in this matter. They have replied that if there must he treaties with the barbarians, the Go rojiu must see to it that they are admitted into the vicinity of Kyoto.' Therefore, the Regent is sorely disappointed. No doubt, he will make further efforts. But some of us must enter into communication with some Kugé, and prevent his success; and, if there is any possibility of securing possession of the Gosho, it must be done.
"We can not confide our plans to other clans. They would think at once that Choshiu wishes to succeed Tokugawa. Perhaps it does. All we do know is that Iyeyasu, who humbled the proudest clan, humbly begged Tenshi Sama to appoint him as Shogun. If he had not possessed the imperial authority, not even he could have prevented constant revolts. But he did possess it, and that is why my ancestor advised his lord not to join the insurgents. It may be, however, that the time has come to wipe out the clan's disgrace, and my ancestor's death. If so, let Tokugawa look to it! That proud clan shall feel what it is when the hand of the despoiler wields a conqueror's magic wand. Now, gentlemen, I have given you my opinion, and if I have spoken treason, I shall expiate my sin at once and in your presence, that no taint may rest upon my son. If, on the contrary, you agree with me, I need all the help that your devotion to the clan can offer. But perhaps you would like to ask any questions?"
Inouye waited for Ito to speak, but when he perceived his friend to be buried in thought, he said:—
"Perhaps your honor may be willing to explain what caused your hurried departure from Yokohama, and why I was ordered to resign at a minute's notice."
"Teraji was to blame for it," replied Kano, "although I share in the blame. A boy committed an error in piling up cases to be loaded in a ship, and was brutally maltreated by the master. Sorely hurt, he was unable to go on with his work, when the Japanese who engaged me, after ridiculing the lad, gave him such a push that the lad fell and broke his leg. It happened just before the time when we were dismissed for the day, and I found Teraji waiting for me. He told me that he wished to speak to me right after supper, and I knew at once that my sword would be required. So I hastened to Kanagawa, and had no difficulty in securing speech with you. After you had given me my swords, I told you to be at our yashiki here the next day, and returned to the yadoya, where I found Teraji, standing motionless in the shadow of a house. He too, had buckled on his swords, and I scarcely recognized the former ninzoku. We saluted as became gentlemen, and he told me that he was waiting for a messenger. It was almost midnight when a boy appeared, and after looking first at me and then at him, beckoned us to follow. In one of the new streets we saw the master of the ship staggering home. Teraji followed him as a cat steals up to a mouse, crouching, ready for the spring. And as he did leap, out flashed his sword. Satsuma has lost neither nerve nor muscle. There was one barbarian less, gentlemen, and as Teraji wiped his sword upon the clothes of the dog, he said: "Now let us begone." "No, not yet," said I. This time I took the lead to the house of the Japanese brute. I disliked to soil my dagger in the scoundrel's dirty blood, but I desired to avoid an outcry. When we came to his house. I called him and told him he was wanted at the hatoba. He did not hesitate. We took him through the street where the master still lay, and when he bent over to see who it was, I took care that he did not get up again. When we examined him to see if he was dead, Teraji exclaimed at the likeness with me. To make it appear more so, he helped me to exchange kimono, then I gave a few cuts in his face, and we left him. We made our way unobserved into Kanagawa, and from there to Yedo. Teraji went to Satsuma's yashiki and I arrived here, wholly unobserved, I am sure. I had some little difficulty in convincing our worthy commandant of my identity.
"Then your honor thinks that there is no suspicion among the metsuké of your being here?"
"I think not."
"What orders does it please your honor to give us?"
"Then you agree with me that I am right. That is well. Now, gentlemen, this may cost your lives. The clan must not be compromised. Mr. Inouye has written his resignation, you Mr. Ito must do the same. Inouye must go to Kyoto, and enter into communication with the Gosho. I shall join him there, after I have shown myself to the clan, and given the necessary instructions to my friend Hattori. You, Ito, must visit the clans, as a rônin. Do not spare money. Entertain freely. Tell every samurai who is willing to listen of how the barbarians are desecrating the land of the gods. Be prudent, but raise the battle-cry of Sonno-Joï;Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian! That cry must be heard from Hokaido to Kiu-siu. Yours will not be a difficult task. Our young samurai, except those Tokugawa she-monkeys, are anxious enough to test their blades. You will find many of them willing to provoke a war. Direct them to Kyoto. It will need a very strong cry to awaken the court to action, after its centuries of sleep. But do not supply them with money. We do not want any hirelings within our ranks, we need patriots."
Ito bowed, and said thoughtfully: "Your honor is right in saying that mine is an easy task. There will be no difficulty in raising the cry of Sonno-Joï, nor in getting brawny arms to clasp the hilt of the sword. But who shall stifle the cry or sheath the blades, after they have served the purpose? I have heard of little boys, in the mountains of the north, starting a snowball down the hill; and when it did come down, a whole village lay buried."
"That is so," replied Kano. "But our country has never in vain called for men to guide it in time of danger, nor will it now. One or two clans are powerless to preserve it from the barbarians, but all the clans united, are invincible. Here is an order upon the treasurer. Take an ample supply of money, for you will need it. When will you be ready to start?"
"As soon as your honor commands," replied Ito bowing.
"Do so, then, as soon as possible. Mr. Inouye will keep me company as far as Hyogo. I have a passage engaged by a ship leaving to-morrow. In all our actions let us never forget our motto: Sonno-Joï, Revere the Emperor, Expel the Foreigner!"