tale of Genji 源氏物語

Chapter 7

An Autumn Excursion

The royal excursion to the Suzaku palace took place toward the middle of the Tenth Month. The emperor’s ladies lamented that they would not be present at what was certain to be a most remarkable concert. Distressed especially at the thought that Fujitsubo should be deprived of the pleasure, the emperor ordered a full rehearsal at the main palace. Genji and Tō no Chūjō danced “Waves of the Blue Ocean.” Tō no Chūjō was a handsome youth who carried himself well, but beside Genji he was like a nondescript mountain shrub beside a blossoming cherry. In the bright evening light the music echoed yet more grandly through the palace and the excitement grew; and though the dance was a familiar one, Genji scarcely seemed of this world. As he intoned the lyrics his auditors could have believed they were listening to the Kalavinka bird of paradise. The emperor brushed away tears of delight, and there were tears in the eyes of all the princes and high courtiers as well. As Genji rearranged his dress at the end of his song and the orchestra took up again, he seemed to shine with an ever brighter light.

“Surely the gods above are struck dumb with admiration,” Lady Kokiden, the mother of the crown prince, was heard to observe. “One is overpowered by such company.”

Some of the young women thought her rather horrid.

To Fujitsubo it was all like a dream. How she wished that those unspeakable occurrences had not taken place. Then she might be as happy as the others.

She spent the night with the emperor.

“There was only one thing worth seeing,” he said. “‘ Waves of the Blue Ocean.’ Do you not agree?

“Nor is Tō no Chūjō a mean dancer. There is something about the smallest gesture that tells of breeding. The professionals are very good in their way - one would certainly not wish to suggest otherwise - but they somehow lack freshness and spontaneity. When the rehearsals have been so fine one fears that the excursion itself will be a disappointment. But I would not for anything have wished you to miss it.”

The next morning she had a letter from Genji. “And how did it all seem to you? I was in indescribable confusion. You will not welcome the question, I fear, but

“Through the waving, dancing sleeves could you see a heart
So stormy that it wished but to be still?”

The image of the dancer was so vivid, it would seem, that she could not refuse to answer.

“Of waving Chinese sleeves I cannot speak.
Each step, each motion, touched me to the heart.

“You may be sure that my thoughts were far from ordinary.”

A rare treasure indeed. He smiled. With her knowledge of music and the dance and even it would seem things Chinese she already spoke like an empress. He kept the letter spread before him as if it were a favorite sutra.

On the day of the excursion the emperor was attended by his whole court, the princes and the rest. The crown prince too was present. Music came from boats rowed out over the lake, and there was an infinite variety of Chinese and Korean dancing. Reed and string and drum echoed through the grounds. Because Genji’s good looks had on the evening of the rehearsal filled him with foreboding, the emperor ordered sutras read in several temples. Most of the court understood and sympathized, but Kokiden thought it all rather ridiculous. The most renowned virtuosos from the high and middle court ranks were chosen for the flutists’ circle. The director of the Chinese dances and the director of the Korean dances were both guards officers who held seats on the council of state. The dancers had for weeks been in monastic seclusion studying each motion under the direction of the most revered masters of the art.

The forty men in the flutists’ circle played most marvelously. The sound of their flutes, mingled with the sighing of the pines, was like a wind coming down from deep mountains. “Waves of the Blue Ocean,” among falling leaves of countless hues, had about it an almost frightening beauty. The maple branch in Genji’s cap was somewhat bare and forlorn, most of the leaves having fallen, and seemed at odds with his handsome face. The General of the Left replaced it with several chrysanthemums which he brought from below the royal seat. The sun was about to set and a suspicion of an autumn shower rustled past as if the skies too were moved to tears. The chrysanthemums in Genji’s cap, delicately touched by the frosts, gave new beauty to his form and his motions, no less remarkable today than on the day of the rehearsal. Then his dance was over, and a chill as if from another world passed over the assembly. Even unlettered menials, lost among deep branches and rocks, or those of them, in any event, who had some feeling for such things, were moved to tears. The Fourth Prince, still a child, son of Lady Shokyoden, danced “Autumn Winds,” after “Waves of the Blue Ocean” the most interesting of the dances. All the others went almost unnoticed. Indeed complaints were heard that they marred what would otherwise have been a perfect day. Genji was that evening promoted to the First Order of the Third Rank, and Tō no Chūjō to the Second Order of the Fourth Rank, and other deserving courtiers were similarly rewarded, pulled upwards, it might be said, by Genji. He brought pleasure to the eye and serenity to the heart, and made people wonder what bounty of grace might be his from former lives.

Fujitsubo had gone home to her family. Looking restlessly, as always, for a chance to see her, Genji was much criticized by his father-in-law’s people at Sanjō. And rumors of the young Murasaki were out. Certain of the women at Sanjō let it be known that a new lady had been taken in at Nijū. Genji’s wife was intensely displeased. It was most natural that she should be, for she did not of course know that the “lady” was a mere child. If she had complained to him openly, as most women would have done, he might have told her everything, and no doubt eased her jealousy. It was her arbitrary judgments that sent him wandering. She had no specific faults, no vices or blemishes, which he could point to. She had been the first lady in his life, and in an abstract way he admired and treasured her. Her feelings would change, he felt sure, once she was more familiar with his own. She was a perceptive woman, and the change was certain to come. She still occupied first place among his ladies.

Murasaki was by now thoroughly comfortable with him. She was maturing in appearance and manner, and yet there was artlessness in her way of clinging to him. Thinking it too early to let the people in the main hall know who she was, he kept her in one of the outer wings, which he had had fitted to perfection. He was constantly with her, tutoring her in the polite accomplishments and especially calligraphy. It was as if he had brought home a daughter who had spent her early years in another house. He had studied the qualifications of her stewards and assured himself that she would have everything she needed. Everyone in the house, save only Koremitsu, was consumed with curiosity. Her father still did not know of her whereabouts. Sometimes she would weep for her grandmother. Her mind was full of other things when Genji was with her, and often he stayed the night; but he had numerous other places to look in upon, and he was quite charmed by the wistfulness with which she would see him off in the evening. Sometimes he would spend two and three days at the palace and go from there to Sanjō. Finding a pensive Murasaki upon his return, he would feel as if he had taken in a little orphan. He no longer looked forward to his nocturnal wanderings with the same eagerness. Her granduncle the bishop kept himself informed of her affairs, and was pleased and puzzled. Genji sent most lavish offerings for memorial services.

Longing for news of Fujitsubo, still with her family, he paid a visit. Omyōbu, Chūnagon, Nakatsukasa, and others of her women received him, but the lady whom he really wanted to see kept him at a distance. He forced himself to make conversation. Prince Hyōbu, her brother and Murasaki’s father, came in, having heard that Genji was on the premises. He was a man of great and gentle elegance, someone, thought Genji, who would interest him enormously were they of opposite sexes. Genji felt very near this prince so near the two ladies, and to the prince their conversation seemed friendly and somehow significant as earlier conversations had not. How very handsome Genji was! Not dreaming that it was a prospective son-in-law he was addressing, he too was thinking how susceptible (for he was a susceptible man) he would be to Genji’s charms if they were not of the same sex.

When, at dusk, the prince withdrew behind the blinds, Genji felt pangs of jealousy. In the old years he had followed his father behind those same blinds, and there addressed the lady. Now she was far away - though of course no one had wronged him, and he had no right to complain.

“I have not been good about visiting you,” he said stiffly as he got up to leave. “Having no business with you, I have not wished to seem forward. It would give me great pleasure if you would let me know of any services I might perform for you.”

Omyōbu could do nothing for him. Fujitsubo seemed to find his presence even more of a trial than before, and showed no sign of relenting. Sadly and uselessly the days went by. What a frail, fleeting union theirs had been!

Shonagon, Murasaki’s nurse, continued to marvel at the strange course their lives had taken. perhaps some benign power had arranged it, the old nun having mentioned Murasaki in all her prayers. Not that everything was perfect. Genji’s wife at Sanjōwas a lady of the highest station, and other affairs, indeed too many of them, occupied him as well. Might not the girl face difficult times as she grew into womanhood? Yet he did seem fond of her as of none of the others, and her future seemed secure. The period of mourning for a maternal grandmother being set at three months, it was on New Year’s Eve that Murasaki took off her mourning weeds. The old lady had been for her both mother and grandmother, however, and so she chose to limit herself to pale, unfigured pinks and lavenders and yellows, pale colors seemed to suit her even better than rich ones.

“And do you feel all grown up, now that a new year has come?” Smiling, radiating youthful charm, Genji looked in upon her. He was on his way to the morning festivities at court.

She had already taken out her dolls and was busy seeing to their needs. All manner of furnishings and accessories were laid out on a yardhigh shelf. Dollhouses threatened to overflow the room.

“Inuki knocked everything over chasing out devils last night and broke this.” It was a serious matter. “I’m gluing it.”

“Yes, she really is very clumsy, that Inuki. We’ll ask someone to repair it for you. But today you must not cry. Crying is the worst way to begin a new year.”

And he went out, his retinue so grand that it overflowed the wide grounds. The women watched from the veranda, the girl with them. She set out a Genji among her dolls and saw him off to court.

“This year you must try to be just a little more grown up,” said Shonagon. “Ten years old, no, even more, and still you play with dolls. It will not do. You have a nice husband, and you must try to calm down and be a little more wifely. Why, you fly into a tantrum even when we try to brush your hair.” A proper shaming was among Shonagon’s methods.

So she had herself a nice husband, thought Murasaki. The husbands of these women were none of them handsome men, and hers was so very young and handsome. The thought came to her now for the first time, evidence that, for all this play with dolls, she was growing up. It sometimes puzzled her women that she should still be such a child. It did not occur to them that she was in fact not yet a wife.

From the palace Genji went to Sanjō. His wife, as always, showed no suggestion of warmth or affection; and as always he was uncomfortable.

“How pleasant if this year you could manage to be a little friendlier.”

But since she had heard of his new lady she had become more distant than ever. She was convinced that the other was now first among his ladies, and no doubt she was as uncomfortable as he. But when he jokingly sought to make it seem that nothing was amiss, she had to answer, if reluctantly. Everything she said was uniquely, indefinably elegant. She was four years his senior and made him feel like a stripling. Where, he asked, was he to find a flaw in this perfection? Yet he seemed determined to anger her with his other affairs. She was a proud lady, the single and treasured daughter, by a princess, of a minister who overshadowed the other grandees, and she was not prepared to tolerate the smallest discourtesy. And here he was behaving as if these proud ways were his to make over. They were completely at cross purposes, he and she.

Though her father too resented Genji’s other affairs, he forgot his annoyance when Genji was here beside him, and no service seemed too great or too small. As Genji prepared to leave for court the next day, the minister looked in upon him, bringing a famous belt for him to wear with his court dress, straightening his train, as much as helping him into his shoes. One almost felt something pathetic in this eagerness.

“I’ll wear it to His Majesty’s family dinner later in the month,” said Genji.

“There are other belts that would do far more honor to such an occasion.” The minister insisted that he wear it. “It is a little unusual, that is all.”

Sometimes it was as if being of service to Genji were his whole life. There could be no greater pleasure than having such a son and brother, little though the Sanjō family saw of him.

Genji did not pay many New Year calls. He called upon his father, the crown prince, the old emperor, and, finally, Fujitsubo, still with her family. Her women thought him handsomer than ever. Yes, each year, as he matured, his good looks produced a stronger shudder of delight and foreboding. Fujitsubo was assailed by innumerable conflicting thoughts.

The Twelfth Month, when she was to have been delivered of her child, had passed uneventfully. Surely it would be this month, said her women, and at court everything was in readiness; but the First Month too passed without event. She was greatly troubled by rumors that she had fallen under a malign influence. Her worries had made her physically ill and she began to wonder if the end was in sight. More and more certain as time passed that the child was his, Genji quietly commissioned services in various temples. More keenly aware than most of the evanescence of things, he now found added to his worries a fear that he would not see her again. Finally toward the end of the Second Month she bore a prince, and the jubilation was unbounded at court and at her family palace. She had not joined the emperor in praying that she be granted a long life, and yet she did not want to please Kokiden, an echo of whose curses had reached her. The will to live returned, and little by little she recovered.

The emperor wanted to see his little son the earliest day possible. Genji, filled with his own secret paternal solicitude, visited Fujitsubo at a time when he judged she would not have other visitors.

“Father is extremely anxious to see the child. perhaps I might have a look at him first and present a report.”

She refused his request, as of course she had every right to do. “He is still very shriveled and ugly.”

There was no doubt that the child bore a marked, indeed a rather wonderful, resemblance to Genji. Fujitsubo was tormented by feelings of guilt and apprehension. Surely everyone who saw the child would guess the awful truth and damn her for it. People were always happy to seek out the smallest and most trivial of misdeeds. Hers had not been trivial, and dreadful rumors must surely be going the rounds. Had ever a woman been more sorely tried?

Genji occasionally saw Omyōbuand pleaded that she intercede for him; but there was nothing she could do.

“This insistence, my lord, is very trying,” she said, at his constant and passionate pleas to see the child. “You will have chances enough later.” Yet secretly she was as unhappy as he was.

“In what world, I wonder, will I again be allowed to see her?” The heart of the matter was too delicate to touch upon.

“What legacy do we bring from former lives
That loneliness should be our lot in this one?

“I do not understand. I do not understand at all.”

His tears brought her to the point of tears herself. Knowing how unhappy her lady was, she could not bring herself to turn him brusquely away.

“Sad at seeing the child, sad at not seeing.
The heart of the father, the mother, lost in darkness.”

And she added softly: “There seems to be no lessening of the pain for either of you.”

She saw him off, quite unable to help him. Her lady had said that because of the danger of gossip she could not receive him again, and she no longer behaved toward Omyōbuwith the old affection. She behaved correctly, it was true, and did nothing that might attract attention, but Omyōbuhad done things to displease her. Omyōbuwas very sorry for them.

In the Fourth Month the little prince was brought to the palace. Advanced for his age both mentally and physically, he was already able to sit up and to right himself when he rolled over. He was strikingly like Genji. Unaware of the truth, the emperor would say to himself that people of remarkable good looks did have a way of looking alike. He doted upon the child. He had similarly doted upon Genji, but, because of strong opposition - and how deeply he regretted the fact - had been unable to make him crown prince. The regret increased as Genji, now a commoner, improved in looks and in accomplishments. And now a lady of the highest birth had borne the emperor another radiant son. The infant was for him an unflawed jewel, for Fujitsubo a source of boundless guilt and foreboding.

One day, as he often did, Genji was enjoying music in Fujitsubo’s apartments. The emperor came out with the little boy in his arms.

“I have had many sons, but you were the only one I paid a great deal of attention to when you were this small. Perhaps it is the memory of those days that makes me think he looks like you. Is it that all children look alike when they are very young?” He made no attempt to hide his pleasure in the child.

Genji felt himself flushing crimson. He was frightened and awed and pleased and touched, all at the same time, and there were tears in his eyes. Laughing and babbling, the child was so beautiful as to arouse fears that he would not be long in this world. If indeed he resembled the child, thought Genji, then he must be very handsome. He must take better care of himself. (He seemed a little self-satisfied at times.) Fujitsubo was in such acute discomfort that she felt herself breaking into a cold sweat. Eager though he had been to see the child, Genji left in great agitation.

He returned to Nijū, thinking that when the agitation had subsided he would proceed to Sanjōand pay his wife a visit. In near the verandas the garden was a rich green, dotted with wild carnations. He broke a few off and sent them to Omyōbu, and it would seem that he also sent a long and detailed letter, including this message for her lady:

“It resembles you, I think, this wild carnation,
Weighted with my tears as with the dew.

“‘I know that when it blossoms at my hedge’ - but could any two be as much and as little to each other as we have been?”

Perhaps because the occasion seemed right, Omyōbu showed the letter to her lady.

“Do please answer him,“ she said, “if with something of no more weight than the dust on these petals.”

Herself prey to violent emotions, Fujitsubo did send back an answer, a brief and fragmentary one, in a very faint hand:

“It serves you ill, the Japanese carnation,
To make you weep. Yet I shall not forsake it.”

Pleased with her success, Omyōbu delivered the note. Genji was looking forlornly out at the garden, certain that as always there would be silence. His heart jumped at the sight of Omyōbuand there were tears of joy in his eyes.

This moping, he decided, did no good. He went to the west wing in search of company. Rumpled and wild-haired, he played a soft strain on a flute as he came into Murasaki’s room. She was leaning against an armrest, demure and pretty, like a wild carnation, he thought, with the dew fresh upon it. She was charming.

Annoyed that he had not come immediately, she turned away.

“Come here,” he said, kneeling at the veranda.

She did not stir. “’Like the grasses at full tide,’” she said softly, her sleeve over her mouth.

“That was unkind. So you have already learned to complain? I would not wish you to tire of me, you see, as they say the fishermen tire of the sea grasses at Ise.”

He had someone bring a thirteen-stringed koto.

“You must be careful. The second string breaks easily and we would not want to have to change it.” And he lowered it to the hyõjõ mode.

After plucking a few notes to see that it was in tune, he pushed it toward her. No longer able to be angry, she played for him, briefly and very competently. He thought her delightful as she leaned forward to press a string with her left hand. He took out a flute and she had a music lesson. Very quick, she could repeat a difficult melody after but a single hearing. Yes, he thought, she was bright and amiable, everything he could have wished for. “Hosoroguseri” made a pretty duet, despite its outlandish name. She was very young but she had a fine sense for music. Lamps were brought and they looked at pictures together. Since he had said that he would be going out, his men coughed nervously, to warn him of the time. If he did not hurry it would be raining, one of them said. Murasaki was suddenly a forlorn little figure. She put aside the pictures and lay with her face hidden in a pillow.

“Do you miss me when I am away?” He stroked the hair that fell luxuriantly over her shoulders.

She nodded a quick, emphatic nod.

“And I miss you. I can hardly bear to be away from you for a single day. But we must not make too much of these things. You are still a child, and there is a jealous and difficult lady whom I would rather not offend. I must go on visiting her, but when you are grown up I will not leave you ever. It is because I am thinking of all the years we will be together that I want to be on good terms with her.”

His solemn manner dispelled her gloom but made her rather uncomfortable. She did not answer. Her head pillowed on his knee, she was presently asleep.

He told the women that he would not after all be going out. His retinue having departed, he ordered dinner and roused the girl.

“I am not going,” he said.

She sat down beside him, happy again. She ate very little.

“Suppose we go to bed, then, if you aren’t going out.” She was still afraid he might leave her.

He already knew how difficult it would be when the time came for the final parting.

Everyone of course knew how many nights he was now spending at home. The intelligence reached his father-in-law’s house at Sanjō.

“How very odd. Who might she be?” said the women. “We have not been able to find out. No one of very good breeding, you may be sure, to judge from the way she clings to him and presumes upon his affection. Probably someone he ran into at court and lost his senses over, and now he has hidden her away because he is ashamed to have people see her. But the oddest thing is that she’s still a child.”

“I am sorry to learn that the Minister of the Left is unhappy with you,” the emperor said to Genji. “You cannot be so young and innocent as to be unaware of all he has done for you since you were a very small boy. He has been completely devoted to you. Must you repay him by insulting him?”

It was an august reproach which Genji was unable to answer.

The emperor was suddenly sorry for him. It was clear that he was not happy with his wife. “I have heard no rumors, it is true, that you are promiscuous, that you have scattered your affections too liberally here at court and elsewhere. He must have stumbled upon some secret.”

The emperor still enjoyed the company of pretty women. He preferred the pretty ones even among chambermaids and seamstresses, and all the ranks of his court were filled with the best-favored women to be found. Genji would joke with one and another of them, and few were of a mind to keep him at a distance. Someone among them would remark coyly that perhaps he did not like women; but, no doubt because she offered no novelty, he would answer so as not to give offense and refuse to be tempted. To some this moderation did not seem a virtue.

There was a lady of rather advanced years called Naishi. She was wellborn, talented, cultivated, and widely respected; but in matters of the heart she was not very discriminating. Genji had struck up relations, interested that her wanton ways should be so perdurable, and was taken somewhat aback at the warm welcome he received. He continued to be interested all the same and had arranged a rendezvous. Not wanting the world to see him as the boy lover of an aged lady, he had turned away further invitations. She was of course resentful.

One morning when she had finished dressing the emperor’s hair and the emperor had withdrawn to change clothes, she found herself alone with Genji. She was bedecked and painted to allure, every detail urging him forward. Genji was dubious of this superannuated coquetry, but curious to see what she would do next. He tugged at her apron. She turned around, a gaudy fan hiding her face, a sidelong glance - alas, the eyelids were dark and muddy - emerging from above it. Her hair, which of course the fan could not hide, was rough and stringy. A very poorly chosen fan for an old lady, he thought, giving her his and taking it from her. So bright a red that his own face, he was sure, must be red from the reflection, it was decorated with a gold painting of a tall grove. In a corner, in a hand that was old-fashioned but not displeasingly so, was a line of poetry: “Withered is the grass of Oaraki.” Of all the poems she could have chosen!

“What you mean, I am sure, is that your grove is summer lodging for the cuckoo.”

They talked for a time. Genji was nervous lest they be seen, but Naishi was unperturbed.

“Sere and withered though these grasses be,
They are ready for your pony, should you come.”

She was really too aggressive.

“Were mine to part the low bamboo at your grove,
It would fear to be driven away by other ponies.

“And that would not do at all.”

He started to leave, but she caught at his sleeve. “No one has ever been so rude to me, no one. At my age I might expect a little courtesy.”

These angry tears, he might have said, did not become an old lady.

“I will write. You have been on my mind a great deal.” He tried to shake her off but she followed after.

“‘As the pillar of the bridge - ’” she said reproachfully.

Having finished dressing, the emperor looked in from the next room. He was amused. They were a most improbable couple.

“People complain that you show too little interest in romantic things,” he laughed, “but I see that you have your ways.”

Naishi, though much discommoded, did not protest with great vehemence. There are those who do not dislike wrong rumors if they are about the right men.

The ladies of the palace were beginning to talk of the affair, a most surprising one, they said. Tō no Chūjō heard of it. He had thought his own affairs varied, but the possibility of a liaison with an old woman had not occurred to him. An inexhaustibly amorous old woman might be rather fun. He arranged his own rendezvous. He too was very handsome, and Naishi thought him not at all poor consolation for the loss of Genji. Yet (one finds it hard to condone such greed) Genji was the one she really wanted.

Since Tō no Chūjō was secretive, Genji did not know that he had been replaced. Whenever Naishi caught sight of him she showered him with reproaches. He pitied her in her declining years and would have liked to do something for her, but was not inclined to trouble himself greatly.

One evening in the cool after a shower he was strolling past the Ummeiden Pavilion. Naishi was playing on her lute, most appealingly. She was a unique mistress of the instrument, invited sometimes to join men in concerts before the emperor. Unrequited love gave her playing tonight an especial poignancy.

“Shall I marry the melon farmer?” she was singing, in very good voice.

Though not happy at the thought of having a melon farmer supplant him, he stopped to listen. Might the song of the maiden of E-chou, long ago, have had the same plaintive appeal? Naishi seemed to have fallen into a meditative silence. Humming “The Eastern Cottage,” he came up to her door. She joined in as he sang: “Open my door and come in.” Few women would have been so bold.

“No one waits in the rain at my eastern cottage.
Wet are the sleeves of the one who waits within.”

It did not seem right, he thought, that he should be the victim of such reproaches. Had she not yet, after all these years, learned patience?

“On closer terms with the eaves of your eastern cottage
I would not be, for someone is there before me.”

He would have preferred to move on, but, remembering his manners, decided to accept her invitation. For a time they exchanged pleasant banter. All very novel, thought Genji.

Tō no Chūjō had long resented Genji’s self-righteous way of chiding him for his own adventures. The proper face Genji showed the world seemed to hide rather a lot. Tō no Chūjō had been on the watch for an opportunity to give his friend a little of what he deserved. Now it had come. The sanctimonious one would now be taught a lesson.

It was late, and a chilly wind had come up. Genji had dozed off, it seemed. Tō no Chūjō slipped into the room. Too nervous to have more than dozed off, Genji heard him, but did not suspect who it would be. The superintendent of palace repairs, he guessed, was still visiting her. Not for the world would he have had the old man catch him in the company of the old woman.

“This is a fine thing. I’m going. The spider surely told you to expect him, and you didn’t tell me.”

He hastily gathered his clothes and hid behind a screen. Fighting back laughter, Tō no Chūjō gave the screen an unnecessarily loud thump and folded it back. Naishi had indulged her amorous ways over long years and had had similarly disconcerting experiences often enough before. What did this person have in mind? What did he mean to do to her Genji? She fluttered about seeking to restrain the intruder. Still ignorant of the latter’s identity, Genji thought of headlong flight; but then he thought of his own retreating figure, robes in disorder, cap all askew. Silently and wrathfully, Tō no Chūjō was brandishing a long sword.

“Please, sir, please.”

Naishi knelt before him wringing her hands. He could hardly control the urge to laugh. Her youthful smartness had taken a great deal of contriving, but she was after all nearly sixty. She was ridiculous, hopping back and forth between two handsome young men. Tō no Chūjō was playing his role too energetically. Genji guessed who he was. He guessed too that this fury had to do with the fact that he was himself known. It all seemed very stupid and very funny. He gave the arm wielding the sword a stout pinch and Tō no Chūjō finally surrendered to laughter.

“You are insane,” said Genji. “And these jokes of yours are dangerous. Let me have my clothes, if you will.”

But Tō no Chūjō refused to surrender them.

“Well, then, let’s be undressed together.” Genji undid his friend’s belt and sought to pull off his clothes, and as they disputed the matter Genji burst a seam in an underrobe.

“Your fickle name so wants to be known to the world
That it bursts its way through this warmly disputed garment.

“It is not your wish, I am sure, that all the world should notice.”

Genji replied: “You taunt me, sir, with being a spectacle
When you know full well that your own summer robes are showy.”

Somewhat rumpled, they went off together, the best of friends.
But as Genji went to bed he felt that he had been the loser, caught in such a very compromising position.

An outraged Naishi came the next morning to return a belt and a pair of trousers. She handed Genji a note:

“I need not comment now upon my feelings.
The waves that came in together went out together, leaving a dry river bed.”

It was an inappropriate reproof after the predicament in which she had placed him, thought Genji, and yet he could imagine how upset she must be. This was his reply:

“I shall not complain of the wave that came raging in,
But of the welcoming strand I must complain.”

The belt was Tō no Chūjō ’s of a color too dark to go with Genji’s robe. He saw that he had lost a length of sleeve. A most unseemly performance. People who wandered the way of love found themselves in mad situations. With that thought he quelled his ardor.

On duty in the palace, Tō no Chūjō had the missing length of sleeve wrapped and returned, with the suggestion that it be restored to its proper place. Genji would have liked to know when he had succeeded in tearing it off. It was some comfort that he had the belt.

He returned it, wrapped in matching paper, with this poem:

“Not to be charged with having taken your take,
I return this belt of indigo undamaged.”

An answer came immediately:

“I doubted not that you took my indigo belt,
And charge you now with taking the lady too. You will pay for it, sir, one day.”

Both were at court that afternoon. Tō no Chūjō had to smile at Genji’s cool aloofness as he sorted out petitions and orders, and his own businesslike efficiency was as amusing to Genji. They exchanged frequent smiles.

Tō no Chūjō came up to Genji when no one else was near. “You have had enough, I hope,” he said, with a fierce sidelong glance, “of these clandestine adventures?”

“Why, pray, should I? The chief hurt was to you who were not invited - and it matters a great deal, since you do so love each other.” And they made a bond of silence, a vow that they would behave like the KnowNothing River.

Tō no Chūjō lost no opportunity to remind Genji of the incident. And it had all been because of that troublesome old woman, thought Genji. He would not again make such a mistake. It was a trial to him that she continued, all girlishly, to make known her resentment. Tō no Chūjō did not tell his sister, Genji’s wife, of the affair, but he did want to keep it in reserve. Because he was his father’s favorite, Genji was treated respectfully even by princes whose mothers were of the highest rank, and only Tō no Chūjō refused to be awed by him. Indeed he was prepared to contest every small point. He and his sister, alone among the minister’s children, had the emperor’s sister for their mother. Genji belonged, it was true, to the royal family, but the son of the emperor’s sister and of his favorite minister did not feel that he had to defer to anyone; and it was impossible to deny that he was a very splendid young gentleman. The rivalry between the two produced other amusing stories, I am sure, but it would be tedious to collect and recount them.

In the Seventh Month, Fujitsubo was made empress. Genji was given a seat on the council of state. Making plans for his abdication, the emperor wanted to name Fujitsubo’s son crown prince. The child had no strong backing, however. His uncles were all princes of the blood, and it was not for them to take command of public affairs. The emperor therefore wanted Fujitsubo in an unassailable position from which to promote her son’s career.

Kokiden’s anger, most naturally, reached new peaks of intensity.

“You needn’t be in such a stir,” said the emperor. “Our son’s day is coming, and no one will be in a position to challenge you.”

As always, people talked. It was not an easy thing, in naming an empress, to pass over a lady who had for more than twenty years been the mother of the crown prince. Genji was in attendance the night Fujitsubo made her formal appearance as empress. Among His Majesty’s ladies she alone was the daughter of an empress, and she was herself a flawless jewel; but for one man, at least, it was not an occasion for gladness. With anguish he thought of the lady inside the ceremonial palanquin. She would now be quite beyond his reach.

“I see her disappear behind the clouds
And am left to grope my way through deepest darkness.”

The days and months passed, and the little prince was becoming the mirror image of Genji. Though Fujitsubo was in constant terror, it appeared that no one had guessed the truth. How, people asked, could someone who was not Genji yet be as handsome as Genji? They were, Genji and the little prince, like the sun and moon side by side in the heavens.


Festival of the Cherry Blossoms