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- The War Terror - 20/65 -
You will find that the senora is an accomplished antiquarian and scholar. Like many others down here just now, she has a high regard for the Japanese. As you know, there exists a natural sympathy between some Mexicans and Japanese, owing to what is believed to be a common origin of the two races.
In spite of the assertions of many to the contrary, there is little doubt left in the minds of students that the Indian races which have peopled Mexico were of Mongolian stock. Many words in some dialects are easily understood by Chinese immigrants. A secretary of the Japanese legation here was able recently to decipher old Mixtec inscriptions found in the ruins of Mitla.
Senora Herreria has been much interested in establishing the relationship and, I understand, is acquainted with a Japanese curio dealer in New York who recently visited Mexico for the same purpose. I believe that she wishes to collaborate with him on a monograph on the subject, which is expected to have a powerful effect on the public opinion both here and at Tokyo.
In regard to the inscription which Northrop has taken with him, I rely on you to keep me informed. There seems to be a great deal of mystery connected with it, and I am simply hazarding a guess as to its nature. If it should prove to be something which might interest either the Japanese or ourselves, you can see how important it may be, especially in view of the forthcoming mission of General Francisco to Tokyo.
Very sincerely yours,
DR. EMILIO SANCHEZ, Director.
"Bernardo is a Mexican," I exclaimed, as Kennedy finished reading, "and there can be no doubt that the woman he mentioned was this Senora Herreria."
Kennedy said nothing, but seemed to be weighing the various paragraphs in the letter.
"Still," I observed, "so far, the only one against whom we have any direct suspicion in the case is the shaggy Russian, whoever he is."
"A man whom Bernardo says looked like a Russian," corrected Craig.
He was pacing the laboratory restlessly.
"This is becoming quite an international affair," he remarked finally, pausing before me, his hat on. "Would you like to relax your mind by a little excursion among the curio shops of the city? I know something about Japanese curios--more, perhaps, than I do of Mexican. It may amuse us, even if it doesn't help in solving the mystery. Meanwhile, I shall make arrangements for shadowing Bernardo. I want to know just how he acts after he reads that letter."
He paused long enough to telephone his instructions to an uptown detective agency which could be depended on for such mere routine work, then joined me with the significant remark: "Blood is thicker than water, anyhow, Walter. Still, even if the Mexicans are influenced by sentiment, I hardly think that would account for the interest of our friends from across the water in the matter."
I do not know how many of the large and small curio shops of the city we visited that afternoon. At another time, I should have enjoyed the visits immensely, for anyone seeking articles of beauty will find the antique shops of Fifth and Fourth Avenues and the side streets well worth visiting.
We came, at length, to one, a small, quaint, dusty rookery, down in a basement, entered almost directly from the street. It bore over the door a little gilt sign which read simply, "Sato's."
As we entered, I could not help being impressed by the wealth of articles in beautiful cloisonne enamel, in mother-of-pearl, lacquer, and champleve. There were beautiful little koros, or incense burners, vases, and teapots. There were enamels incrusted, translucent, and painted, works of the famous Namikawa, of Kyoto, and Namikawa, of Tokyo. Satsuma vases, splendid and rare examples of the potter's art, crowded gorgeously embroidered screens depicting all sorts of brilliant scenes, among others the sacred Fujiyama rising in the stately distance. Sato himself greeted us with a ready smile and bow.
"I am just looking for a few things to add to my den," explained Kennedy, adding, "nothing in particular, but merely whatever happens to strike my fancy."
"Surely, then, you have come to the right shop," greeted Sato. "If there is anything that interests you, I shall be glad to show it."
"Thank you," replied Craig. "Don't let me trouble you with your other customers. I will call on you if I see anything."
For several minutes, Craig and I busied ourselves looking about, and we did not have to feign interest, either.
"Often things are not as represented," he whispered to me, after a while, "but a connoiseur can tell spurious goods. These are the real thing, mostly."
"Not one in fifty can tell the difference," put in the voice of Sato, at his elbow.
"Well, you see I happen to know," Craig replied, not the least disconcerted. "You can't always be too sure."
A laugh and a shrug was Sato's answer. "It's well all are not so keen," he said, with a frank acknowledgment that he was not above sharp practices.
I glanced now and then at the expressionless face of the curio dealer. Was it merely the natural blankness of his countenance that impressed me, or was there, in fact, something deep and dark hidden in it, something of "East is East and West is West" which I did not and could not understand? Craig was admiring the bronzes. He had paused before one, a square metal fire-screen of odd design, with the title on a card, "Japan Gazing at the World."
It represented Japan as an eagle, with beak and talons of burnished gold, resting on a rocky island about which great waves dashed. The bird had an air of dignity and conscious pride in its strength, as it looked out at the world, a globe revolving in space.
"Do you suppose there is anything significant in that?" I asked, pointing to the continent of North America, also in gold and prominently in view.
"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.
"I'll take that," he said, "only I wish it were one with the regular reddish-brown lump in it."
"Oh, but, honorable sir," apologized Sato, "the Japanese law prohibits that, now. There are few of those, and they are very valuable."
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