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A Boy of Old Japan by  Robert van Bergen


 

 

FLIGHT

[184] SOLEMN was the scene, after Kano had concluded his address. He himself was prostrate once more, and remained in that position for more than five minutes, while not even the rustling of a silk hakama disturbed the silence. They sat like men of wax, immovable and serene. There was a rustling of silk behind the screen, it was removed, and a gentleman on whose haori appeared the imperial crest entered. All prostrated themselves, and he answered with a dignified bow. One of his attendants brought a cushion, and when he had squatted down, he said:—

"Rise, Mr. Councillor."

Kano and Inouye obeyed.

We have heard your statement and we approve of Mori's loyalty as expressed by you. [185] Your report will receive our early attention and will be submitted to the proper authority. Fear not, son of Nagato, Tenshi Sama and our ancestors are keeping guard. Now go! You will receive our orders. Tomomi, see to it that these gentlemen are refreshed. He bowed slightly and left the room. The other kugé followed as if they were glad to get away, and only Sanjo and Iwakura remained.

The latter ordered refreshments, and when they were brought, said: "Mr. Kano, I, and I suppose my lord Sanjo, are highly pleased. We have been in the minority, and have been in grave danger of our lives. But you have converted the miya nearest to the throne, and whatever happens, he is beyond danger, and a most powerful ally. Still, our council is large; and if Tokugawa replaces the present commandant by one who will make his authority felt, we shall be just where we were before."

"My lords, may I speak freely? I do not ask safety for myself. My life is worthless, but my cause and my clan are dear to me. [186] Promise me that if I exceed the limits of propriety, or if what I say appears to you as high treason, you will permit me to let me expiate my transgression alone, and that it shall never go beyond these walls. My young friend will share my doom, so that the secret will remain locked up between you."

Both Iwakura and Sanjo bowed assent.

Kano after thanking them, said:—"Imperial orders are issued over His Majesty's sign manual, and the tenor of those orders depends naturally upon the sympathy of the kugé in charge. Could not a change be effected by which it was placed within the hands of one favorable to the cause of Japan?"

Iwakura looked at Sanjo and shook his head. "Impossible." he said. "The sign manual is held for life by one appointed by Tenshi Sama upon the request of a majority of the council. No." he repeated, "that can not he done."

"In that case." suggested Inouye, speaking before Kano could commit himself, can not his Majesty be induced to ride to Hakone and drive [187] the foreigners into the ocean. This would call forth such a host as Dai Nippon has never seen. There would he no danger, no risk even, for I am sure that the barbarians would not await the approach of such an army. They would take ship and depart, with the conviction that Dai Nippon was opposed to their presence."

"That might he done," said Sanjo, approvingly. "Send me an official letter signed with the seal of your clan and containing that request, and I shall submit it to the Council. But do it at once, and while the impression made by Mr. Kano is vivid. Let there be no delay."

"If your lordships will order one of your servants to go with us, the letter shall be written at once," replied Kano, preparing to depart. As they were leaving, a gentleman approached followed by a page. "Are these the gentlemen from Nagato?" he inquired. Being assured of their identity, he took a long package from the page and severing a cord, presented one to Kano and one to Inouye. "His Imperial Highness Prince Arisugawa bids you accept these as [188] a token of his good will," he said. Both prostrated themselves and lifted the present to their forehead. When they arrived home, they found each a costly sword.

The letter was written and submitted to the Council. Kano's address must have made a deep impression, for he was informed in a private communication from Sanjo that his suggestion had been adopted, and orders had been issued to make the necessary preparations. At this time the fate of the foreigners in Japan hung by a thread.

Of all the clans of the Tokugawa family,—Iyeyasu had endowed his sons with ample estates,—all but Aidzu seemed as if stricken with palsy at the storm raging about them. But Aidzu, in its mountain home, had preserved its manhood, and despatched to Kyoto a man of penetration and dauntless courage. Shortly after taking command, the guards at the palace gates were quadrupled, and all ingress and egress prohibited, except under a most severe [189] system of passports, obtained from the commandant himself.

On the 30th of September, 1863, Kano was sitting in his room overlooking the accounts of the clan, when Ito and Inouye entered hurriedly. There was no diminution of the salutations, and both waited until the Councillor spoke. Kano, however, saw at once that something important had occurred, and he simply requested them to speak.

"Your lordship," said Ito, "there is something in the air. The commandant of the castle has issued orders to the people to close their houses and keep within, on penalty of being cut down. Armed patrols are in every street, and strong bodies of Aidzu men have taken up positions near the palace." At this moment an officer of the guard at the gate entered, and beckoned to Kano, who rose angrily and demanded if he had forgotten his manners. His explanation, however, seemed to satisfy the Councillor, for he said: All right, and hurried out. Pres- [190] ently he returned accompanied by seven gentlemen, among whom Ito and Inouye recognized Sanjo and Iwakura.

Rigidly observant of the salutations the company was at last seated, when Karassu Maru remarked:—

"Mr. Councillor, I hope Mori's larder is well supplied, for I am afraid you are going to have us as your guests for some time.

Kano bowed and calling a servant ordered dinner to be prepared, when Sanjo spoke.

"My lord Karassu Maru chooses an odd time for pleasantry, but I am afraid, Mr. Councillor, that there is more truth in what he says than can he agreeable to you ur us. The Council has honored myself and the gentlemen with me, with a decree of banishment."

Perturbed as he was, Kano bowed, and said simply:—I hope that it may please your lordships to accept the hospitality of Mori such as it is, but which is freely offered. Permit me to look after the safety of your lordships.

[191] He went to the quarters of the commandant. "Have all the men under arms, and prepare to defend the gates. See that no man bearing the Tokugawa crest enters upon your life. Admit all stragglers, but no one is permitted to leave the yashiki except on written order over my seal. See that the arms and equipments are in proper order, for at five o'clock we march. Any disobedience will he punished most severely. Is this understood?"

"It is."

"Very well. Send for Mr. Hattori."

"He is in my room now."

Kano entered. "Hattori," he said, "we have received a severe check, but there is no time to explain. Ride for your life to Nagato, and inform Mori that seven kugé have been banished, and will accept his hospitality. Do not let him entertain the idea of changes in the rooms of the palace, but tell him that we shall he there almost as soon as you. As you pass by, engage rooms in the usual temples."

[192] Hattori at once ordered a horse. Satisfied that there would be no delay, Kano sent for Ekichi:—

"Dress as a boy of the common people," he said. "In a few minutes Mr. Fujii will give you a basket of eggs, and tell you their price. Then go slowly to the castle; notice closely everything you see, and report to me. Try to sell your eggs to the soldiers of the guard, but be careful that they do not suspect you. Be back by about four."

The boy was ready in a few minutes, and the Councillor himself saw him through the gate and gave him the pass word. He then returned to his guests, and informed them that they would leave for Choshiu at five.

While they were eating their dinner, Karassu Maru entertained the company, this was the time for relaxation, and his remarks elicited not unfrequently peals of laughter.

"I think that Honami is to blame for the whole thing. He came to me this morning, and said:—

[193] "'What do you think? I am going to buy some rabbits.'

"It did not interest me very much, but for the sake of politeness, I asked: 'where?'

"'Oh!' he said, 'I have seen some beauties in Karassu Maru cho.'

"I thought that he was indulging in personalities, and said:

"'You don't take me for a rabbit-warren do you?'

"'You? No; I wish you were.'"

Shouts of laughter greeted this sally, and the speaker laughed as heartily as the others. "Well," he continued, "I grew tired of his interesting conversation, and remarked that the rabbits might he waiting for him. This suggestion seemed to strike him, for away he trotted.

"He was not gone long before the came back in a great temper, and begged me to go with him to the gate, because they would not let him pass. He had told the guard, he said, that he had a very important appointment, but they [194] would not listen to reason." There was a dangerous glitter in Karassu Maru's eye, as he continued: "I thought that the guard might have taken liberties with a kugé, and was going to give him a lesson in politeness. But when we came to the gate, an officer stepped out and said: 'Pardon me, my lord, but I am under orders to let no one pass. The Council is in session and your lordship will soon know the reason. I am compelled to escort you to your house.' The fellow was serious enough, and under guard of a dozen men I returned, Honami in his chair asking constantly about his rabbits. I had no stomach for them then."


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