“Ah, honorable sir,” answered Sato, before Kennedy could reply, “the artist intended by that to indicate Japan’s friendliness for America and America’s greatness.”
He was inscrutable. It seemed as if he were watching our every move, and yet it was done with a polite cordiality that could not give offense.
Behind some bronzes of the Japanese Hercules destroying the demons and other mythical heroes was a large alcove, or tokonoma, decorated with peacock, stork, and crane panels. Carvings and lacquer added to the beauty of it. A miniature chrysanthemum garden heightened the illusion. Carved hinoki wood framed the panels, and the roof was supported by columns in the old Japanese style, the whole being a compromise between the very simple and quiet and the polychromatic. The dark woods, the lanterns, the floor tiles of dark red, and the cushions of rich gold and yellow were most alluring. It had the genuine fascination of the Orient.
“Will the gentlemen drink a little sake?” Sato asked politely.
Craig thanked him and said that we would.
“Otaka!” Sato called.
A peculiar, almost white-skinned attendant answered, and a moment later produced four cups and poured out the rice brandy, taking his own quietly, apart from us. I watched him drink, curiously. He took the cup; then, with a long piece of carved wood, he dipped into the sake, shaking a few drops on the floor to the four quarters. Finally, with a deft sweep, he lifted his heavy mustache with the piece of wood and drank off the draft almost without taking breath.
He was a peculiar man of middle height, with a shock of dark, tough, woolly hair, well formed and not bad-looking, with a robust general physique, as if his ancestors had been meat eaters. His forehead was narrow and sloped backward; the cheekbones were prominent; nose hooked, broad and wide, with strong nostrils; mouth large, with thick lips, and not very prominent chin. His eyes were perhaps the most noticeable feature. They were dark gray, almost like those of a European.
As Otaka withdrew with the empty cups, we rose to continue our inspection of the wonders of the shop. There were ivories of all descriptions. Here was a two-handled sword, with a very large ivory handle, a weirdly carved scabbard, and wonderful steel blade. By the expression of Craig’s face, Sato knew that he had made a sale.
Craig had been rummaging among some warlike instruments which Sato, with the instincts of a true salesman, was now displaying, and had picked up a bow. It was short, very strong, and made of pine wood. He held it horizontally and twanged the string. I looked up in time to catch a pleased expression on the face of Otaka.
“Most people would have held it the other way,” commented Sato.
Craig said nothing, but was examining an arrow, almost twenty inches long and thick, made of cane, with a point of metal very sharp but badly fastened. He fingered the deep blood groove in the scooplike head of the arrow and looked at it carefully.