“I dread having His Majesty hear of it,” said Genji. “Suppose we try to keep it secret for a while.”
But the gentleman in question was not up to such restraint. Though several days had passed since the successful conclusion to his suit, Tamakazura did not seem happy with him, and it pained him to note that she still seemed to think her lot a sad one. Yet he could tell himself that the bond between them had been tied in a former life, and he shuddered to think how easily a lady who more nearly approached his ideal each time he saw her might have gone to another. He must offer thanks to Bennomoto even as to the Buddha of Ishiyama. Bennomoto had so incurred the displeasure of her lady that she had withdrawn to the privacy of her room; and it must indeed have been through the intervention of the Buddha that, having made so many men unhappy, the lady had gone to a man for whom she had no great affection.
Genji too was unhappy. He was sorry that she had done as she had, but of course helpless to change things. Since everyone had apparently acquiesced in the match, he would only be insulting Higekuro if at this late date he gave any sign of disapproval. He personally saw to arrangements for the nuptials, which were magnificent.
Higekuro wanted to take her home with him as soon as possible. Genji suggested, however, that haste might seem to show an inadequate regard for her rank and position, and pointed out that a lady who could hardly be expected to give her a warm welcome was already in residence there.
“Tact and deliberation are called for if you are to escape the reproaches of the world.”
“It is perhaps after all the less difficult course,” Tō no Chūjō was meanwhile saying to himself. “I had had misgivings about sending her to court. A lady without the support of influential relatives can have a difficult time in competition for the royal affections. I would have wanted to help her, of course, but what could I have done with another daughter there ahead of her?”
And indeed it would have been unkind to send her to court when the prospect was that she would join the ranks of lesser ladies and see the emperor infrequently.
Tō no Chūjō was most pleased with the reports he had of the thirdnight ceremonies.
Though no formal announcement was made, the marriage was the talk of the day.
The emperor heard of it. “A pity. But she seems to have been meant for him. She does still seem to be interested in her work. Perhaps if I make it clear that I have no personal designs upon her - ”
It was now the Eleventh Month, a time of Shinto festivals, which kept her busy. She had offices at Rokujō, where she was visited by a steady stream of chamberlains and ladies-in-waiting. His Excellency the general, hoping that he was not making a nuisance of himself, spent his days with her. She did in fact think him rather a nuisance.
Prince Hotaru and her other suitors were of course unhappy. Murasaki’s brother was the unhappiest of all, for the gossips were having malicious fun over the affairs of another sister, Higekuro’s wife. But he told himself that a confrontation with Higekuro would do him no good.
Higekuro had been offered as a model of sobriety, a man who had not been known to lose his head over a woman. Now see him, delirious with joy, a changed man! Stealing in and out of Tamakazura’s rooms in the evening and morning twilight, he was the very model of youthful infatuation. The women were vastly amused.
There was little sign these days of Tamakazura’s essentially cheerful nature. She had withdrawn into a brooding silence and seemed intent on making it clear to the world that her husband had not been her first choice. What would Genji be thinking of it all? And Prince Hotaru, who had been so friendly and attentive? She had never shown much warmth toward Higekuro, and in that regard she had not changed.
Genji stood acquitted of the charges that had been leveled against him. Reviewing the record, he could tell himself that he had shown very little interest, really, in amorous dalliance.
“You did not have enough faith in me,” he said to Murasaki.
It would invite a proper scandal if now he were to surrender to temptation. There had been times when he had thought he would do anything to have the girl, and it was not easy to give her up.
He called on her one day when Higekuro was out. So despondent that she was feeling physically ill, she did not want to see him. Half concealed behind curtains, she sought to compose herself for an interview. Genji addressed her most ceremoniously and they talked for a time of things that did not greatly interest them. The company of a plainer sort of man made her see more than ever what a surpassingly handsome and elegant man Genji was. Yes, her lot had been and continued to be a sad one. She was in tears, which she sought to hide from him.
As the conversation moved to more intimate topics he leaned forward and looked through an opening in the curtains. She was more beautiful, he thought, for being thinner. It had been very careless of him to let her go.
“I made no move myself to try the river,
But I did not think to see you cross with another.
“It is too unbelievably strange.” He brushed away a tear.
She turned away and hid her face.
“I wish I might vanish as foam on a river of tears.
Before I come to the river Mitsuse.”
“Not the river I would choose myself,” he said, smiling. “There is no detour around the other, I am told, and I had hoped that I might take you gently by the hand and help you. I am joking, but I am sure that you now see the truth. Few men can have been as harmlessly silly as I was. I think you see, and I take comfort in the thought.”
He changed the subject, fearing that she saw all too well. “It is sad that His Majesty should still be asking for you. Perhaps you should make a brief appearance at court. The general seems to think you his property, to do with as he pleases, and so I suppose it will not be possible to put you in the royal service. Things have not turned out quite as I had hoped. His Lordship at Nijō seems satisfied, however, and that is the important thing.”
He said much that amused her and also embarrassed her. She could only listen. He was sorry for her, and gave no hint of the improper designs which he had not quite put aside. He offered many helpful suggestions for her work at court. It seemed that he did not want her to go immediately to Higekuro’s house.
Higekuro was not pleased at the thought of having her in court service. Then it occurred to him, though such deviousness went against his nature, that a brief appearance at court might be just what he wanted. He could take her from the palace to his house. He set about redecorating it and restoring rooms that had been allowed to decay and gather dust over the years. He was quite indifferent to the effect of all this activity upon his wife, and thought nothing at all of the effect on his dear children. A man of feeling and sensitivity thinks first of others, but he was an obstinate, unswerving sort of man, whose aggressiveness was constantly giving offense. His wife was not a woman to be made light of. She was the pampered daughter of a royal prince, comely and well thought of. For some years a malign and strangely tenacious power had made her behavior eccentric in the extreme and not infrequently violent. Though he no longer had much affection for her, he still considered her his principal wife, unchallenged in her claim to that position. Now, suddenly, there was another lady, superior in every respect. More to the point, the shadows and suspicions surrounding this second lady had been dispelled. She had become a perfectly adequate object for his affections, which were stronger every day.
“And so you are to live miserably off in a corner of the house,” said Prince Hyōbu, her father, “while a fashionable young lady takes over the rest? What will people say when they hear of that arrangement? No. While I am alive I will not permit them to laugh at you.”
He had redecorated the east wing of his house and wanted her to come home immediately. The thought of going as a discarded wife so distressed her that the fits of madness became more frequent. She took to her bed. She was of a quiet, pleasant nature, almost childishly docile and amiable in her saner moments, and people would have enjoyed her company if it had not been for her great disability. Because of it she had so neglected herself that she could hardly expect to please a man who was used to the best. Yet they had been together for many years and he would be sorry in spite of everything to have her go.
“People of taste and sensibility see even their casual affairs through to a proper conclusion. You have not been well, and I have not wanted to bring the matter up - but you should give a thought to the promises we made. We meant them to last, I think. I have put up with your rather unusual illness for a very long time and I have meant to take care of you to the end, and now it seems that you are prepared to forestall me. You must think of the children, and you could think of me too. I doubt very much that I have behaved improperly. You are emotional, as all women are, and you are angry with me. It is quite understandable that you should be. You cannot of course know my real feelings and intentions. But do please reserve judgment for a little while longer. Your father is being rash and reckless, taking you off the minute he hears that something is wrong. Of course I cannot be sure whether he is serious or whether he wants to frighten me.”
He permitted himself a tentative smile, which did not please her. Even those of her women whom he had especially favored, Moku and Chūjō among them, thought and said, with proper deference, that he was behaving badly. The lady herself, whom he had found in one of her lucid moments, wept quietly.
“I cannot complain that you do not find my stupidity and eccentricities to your taste. But it does not seem fair that you should bring Father into the argument. It is not his fault, poor man, that I am what I am. But I am used to your arbitrary ways, and do not propose to do anything about them.”
She was still handsome as she turned angrily away. She was a slight woman and illness made her seem even more diminutive. Her hair, which had once been long and thick, now looked as if someone had been pulling it out by the roots. It was wild from long neglect and dank and matted from weeping, altogether a distressing sight. Though no one could have described her as a great beauty, she had inherited something of her father’s courtliness, badly obscured now by neglect and illness. There was scarcely a trace left of youthful freshness.
“Can you really think I mean to criticize your father? The suggestion is ill advised in the extreme and could lead to serious misunderstanding. The Rokujō house is such perfection that it makes a plain, rough man like me feel very uncomfortable. I want to have her here where I can be more comfortable, that is all. Genji is a very important man, but that is not the point. You should think rather of yourself and what they will say if word gets to that beautifully run house of the unpleasantness and disorder here. Do try to control yourself and be friendly to her. If you insist on going, then you may be sure that I will not forget you. My love for you will not vanish and I will not join in the merriment - indeed it will make me very sad - when the world sees you making a fool of yourself. Let us be faithful to our vows and try to help each other.”
“I am not worried about myself. You may do with me as you wish. It is Father I am thinking of. He knows how ill I am and it upsets him enormously that after all these years people should be talking about us. I do not see how I can face him. And you are surely aware of another thing, that Genji’s wife is not exactly a stranger to me. It is true that Father did not have responsibility for her when she was a girl, but it hurts him that she should now have made herself your young lady’s sponsor. It is no concern of mine, of course. I but observe.”
“Most perceptively. But I fear that once again you are a victim of delusions. Do you think that a sheltered lady like her could know about the affairs of the lady of whom you are so comtemptuous? I do not think that your father is being very fatherly and I would hate to have these allegations reach Genji.”
They argued until evening. He grew impatient and fretful, but unfortunately a heavy snow was falling, which made it somewhat awkward for him to leave. If she had been indulging in a fit of jealousy he could have said that he was fighting fire with fire and departed. She was calmly lucid, and he had to feel sorry for her. What should he do? He withdrew to the veranda, where the shutters were still raised.
She almost seemed to be urging him on his way. “It must be late, and you may have trouble getting through the snow.”
It was rather touching - she had evidently concluded that nothing she said would detain him.
“How can I go out in such weather? But things will soon be different. People do not know my real intentions, and they talk, and the talk gets to Genji and Tō no Chūjō, who of course are not pleased. It would be wrong of me not to go. Do please try to reserve judgment for a time. Things will be easier once I have brought her here. When you are in control of yourself you drive thoughts of other people completely from my mind.”
“It is worse for me,” she said quietly, “to have you here when your thoughts are with someone else. An occasional thought for me when you are away might do something to melt the ice on my sleeves.”
Taking up a censer, she directed the perfuming of his robes. Though her casual robes were somewhat rumpled and she was looking very thin and wan, he thought the all too obvious melancholy that lay over her features both sad and appealing. The redness around her eyes was not pleasant, but when as now he was in a sympathetic mood he tried not to notice. It was rather wonderful that they had lived together for so long. He felt a little guilty that he should have lost himself so quickly and completely in a new infatuation. But he was more and more restless as the hours went by. Making sure that his sighs of regret were audible, he put a censer in his sleeve and smoothed his robes, which were pleasantly soft. Though he was of course no match for the matchless Genji, he was a handsome and imposing man.
His attendants were nervous. “The snow seems to be letting up a little,” said one of them, as if to himself. “It is very late.”
Moku and Chūjō and the others sighed and lay down and whispered to one another about the pity of it all. The lady herself, apparently quite composed, was leaning against an armrest. Suddenly she stood up, swept the cover from a large censer, stepped behind her husband, and poured the contents over his head. There had been no time to restrain her. The women were stunned.
The powdery ashes bit into his eyes and nostrils. Blinded, he tried to brush them away, but found them so clinging and stubborn that he had to throw off even his underrobes. If she had not had the excuse of her derangement he would have marched from her presence and vowed never to return. It was a very perverse sort of spirit that possessed her.
The stir was enormous. He was helped into new clothes, but it was as if he had had a bath of ashes. There were ashes deep in his side whiskers. Clearly he was in no condition to appear in Tamakazura’s elegant rooms.
Yes, she was ill, he said angrily. No doubt about that - but what an extraordinary way to be ill! She had driven away the very last of his affection. But he calmed himself. A commotion was the last thing he wanted at this stage in his affairs. Though the hour was very late, he called exorcists and set them at spells and incantations. The groans and screams were appalling.
Pummeled and shaken by the exorcists as they sought to get at the malign spirit, she screamed all through the night. In an interval of relative calm he got off a most earnest letter to Tamakazura.
“There has been a sudden and serious illness in the house and it has not seemed right to go out in such difficult weather. As I have waited in hopes of improvement the snow has chilled me body and soul. You may imagine how deeply troubled I am, about you, of course, and about your women as well, and the interpretation they may be placing on it all.
“I lie in the cold embrace of my own sleeves.
Turmoil in the skies and in my heart.
“It is more than a man should be asked to endure.”
On thin white paper, it was not a very distinguished letter. The hand was strong, however. He was not a stupid or uncultivated man. His failure to visit had not in the least upset Tamakazura. She did not look at his letter, the product of such stress and turmoil, and did not answer it. He passed a very gloomy day.
The ravings were so violent that he ordered prayers. He was praying himself that her sanity be restored even for a little while. It was all so horrible. Had he not known what an essentially gentle creature she was, he would not have been able to endure it so long.
He hurried off in the evening. He was always grumbling, for his wife paid little attention to his clothes, that nothing fitted or looked right, and indeed he was a rather strange sight. Not having a change of court dress at hand, he was sprinkled with holes from the hot ashes and even his underrobes smelled ominously of smoke. Tamakazura would not be pleased at this too clear evidence of his wife’s fiery ways. He changed underrobes and had another bath and otherwise did what he could for himself.
Moku perfumed the new robes. A sleeve over her face, she whispered:
“Alone with thoughts which are too much for her,
She has let unquenchable embers do their work.”
And she added: “You are so unlike your old self that not even we underlings can watch in silence.”
The eyebrows over the sleeve were very pretty, but he was asking himself, rather unfeelingly, one must say, how such a woman could ever have interested him.
“These dread events so fill me with rage and regret
That I too choke from the fumes that rise within me.
“I will be left with nowhere to turn if word of them gets out.” Sighing, he departed.
He thought that Tamakazura had improved enormously in the one night he had been away. He could not divide his affections. He stayed with her for several days, hoping to forget the disturbances at home and fearful of incidents that might damage his name yet further. The exorcists continued to be busy, he heard, and malign spirits emerged noisily from the lady one after another. On occasional trips home he avoided her rooms and saw his children, a daughter twelve or thirteen and two younger sons, in another part of the house. He had seen less and less of his wife in recent years, but her position had not until now been challenged. Her women were desolate at the thought that the final break was approaching.
Her father sent for her again. “It is very clear that he is abandoning you. Unless you wish to look ridiculous you cannot stay in his house. There is no need for you to put up with this sort of thing so long as I am here to help you.”
She was somewhat more lucid again. She could see that her marriage was a disaster and that to stay on until she was dismissed would be to lose her self-respect completely. Her oldest brother was in command of one of the guards divisions and likely to attract attention. Her younger brothers, a guards captain, a chamberlain, and an official in the civil affairs ministry, came for her in three carriages. Her women had known that a final break was unavoidable, but they were sobbing convulsively. She was returning to a house she had left many years before and to less spacious rooms. Since it was clear that she would not be able to take all of her women with her, some of them said that they would go home and return to her service when her affairs were somewhat more settled. They went off taking their meager belongings with them. The lamentations were loud as the others saw to the cleaning and packing as became their several stations.
Her children were too young to understand the full proportions of the disaster that had overtaken them.
“I do not care about myself,” she said to them, weeping. “I will face what comes, and I do not care whether I live or die. It is you I am sad for. You are so very young and now you must be separated and scattered. You, my dear,” she said to her daughter, “must stay with me whatever happens. It may be even worse for you,” she said to the boys. “He will not be able to avoid seeing you, of course, but he is not likely to trouble himself very much on your account. You will have someone to help you while Father lives, but Genji and Tō no Chūjō control the world. The fact that you are my children will not make things easier for you. I could take you out to wander homeless, of course, but the regrets would be so strong that I would have them with me in the next world.”
They were sobbing helplessly.
She summoned their nurses. “It is the sort of thing that happens in books. A perfectly good father loses his head over a new wife and lets her dominate him and forgets all about his children. But he has been a father in name only. He forgot about them long ago. I doubt that he can be expected to do much for them.”
It was a forbidding night, with snow threatening. Her brothers tried to hurry her.
“A really bad storm might be blowing up.”
They brushed away tears as they looked out into the garden. Higekuro had been especially fond of his daughter. Fearing that she would never see him again, she lay weeping and wondering how she could possibly go.
“Do you so hate the thought of going with me?” said her mother.
The girl was hoping to delay their departure until her father came home, but there was little likelihood that he would leave Tamakazura at so late an hour. Her favorite seat had been beside the cypress pillar in the east room. Now it must go to someone else. She set down a poem on a sheet of cypress-colored notepaper and thrust a bodkin through it and into a crack in the pillar. She was in tears before she had finished writing.
“And now I leave this house behind forever.
Do not forget me, friendly cypress pillar.”
“I do not share these regrets,” said her mother.
“Even if it wishes to be friends,
We may not stay behind at this cypress pillar.”
The women were sobbing as they took their farewells of trees and flowers to which they had not paid much attention but which they knew they would remember fondly.
Moku, being in Higekuro’s service, would stay behind.
This was Chūjō’s farewell poem:
“The waters, though shallow, remain among the rocks,
And gone is the image of one who would stay beside them.
“I had not dreamed that I would have to go.”
“What am I to say?” replied Moku.
“The water among the rocks has clouded over.
I do not think my shadow long will linger.”
More aware than ever of the uncertainty of life, the lady looked back at a house she knew she would not see again. She gazed at each twig and branch until house and garden were quite out of sight. Though it was not as if she were leaving a place she loved, there are always regrets for a familiar house.
If it was an angry father who awaited her, it was a still angrier mother. The princess had not paused to catch her breath as she told her husband how she felt about it all. “You seem very proud to have Genji for a son-in-law. He was born our enemy, I say, and the strength of his hostility has never ceased to amaze me. He loses no chance to make things difficult for our girl at court. You have said that he will change once he has taught us a lesson for not helping him during his troubles. Other people have said so too. I say it is odd if he is so fond of his Murasaki that he doesn’t have a thought for her family now and then. But that’s only the beginning. At his age he takes in a stray he knows nothing about and to keep on the right side of his Murasaki he finds an honest upright man no breath of scandal has ever touched and marries her off to him.”
“I must ask you to hold your tongue. The world has only good things to say of Genji and you may not permit yourself the luxury of abusing him. I am sure you are right when you say that he wanted to get even. It was my bad luck to give him cause. I can see that in his quiet way he has been very efficient and intelligent about handing out rewards and punishments, and if my punishment has been especially severe it is because we are especially close. You will remember what an occasion he made of my fiftieth birthday some years ago. It was more than I deserved, the talk of the whole court. I count it among the great honors of my life.”
But she was a strong-minded woman and he only made her angrier. Her language was more and more abusive.
Higekuro learned that his wife had left him. One might have expected such behavior, he said, from a rather younger wife. But he did not blame her. Prince Hyōbu was an impetuous man, and it had all been his doing. Higekuro was sure that left to herself she would have thought of the children and tried to keep up appearances.
“A fine thing,” he said to Tamakazura. “It will make things easier for us, of course, but I fear I miscalculated. She is a gentle soul and I was sure she would just keep to herself in her corner of the house. That headstrong father of hers is behind it all. I must go and see what has happened. I will seem completely irresponsible if I do not.”
He was handsome and dignified in a heavy robe, a singlet of white lined with green, and gray-green brocade trousers. The women thought that their lady had not done at all badly for herself, but this new development did nothing to give her a happier view of her marriage. She did not even glance at him.
He stopped by his house on his way to confront Prince Hyōbu. Moku and the others told him what had happened. He tried manfully to control himself but their description of his daughter reduced him to tears.
“Your lady does not seem to see that it has been good of me to put up with her strange ways for so long. A less indulgent man would not have been capable of it. But we need not discuss her case further. She seems beyond helping. The question is what she means to do with the children.”
They showed him the slip of paper at the cypress pillar. Though the hand was immature the poem touched him deeply. He wept all the way to Prince Hyōbu’s, where it was not likely that he would be permitted to see the girl.
“He has always been good at ingratiating himself with the right people,” said the prince to his daughter, and there was much truth in it. “I do not think that we need be surprised. I heard several years ago that he had lost his senses over that girl. It would be utter self-deception to hope for a recovery. You will only invite further insults if you stay with him.” In this too there was much truth.
He did not find Higekuro’s addresses convincing.
“This does not seem a very civilized way to behave,” said Higekuro. “I cannot apologize enough for my own inadequacy. I was quite confident that she would stay with me because of the children, and that was very stupid of me. But might you not be a little more forbearing and wait until it comes to seem that I have left her no alternative?”
He asked, though not hopefully, to see his daughter. The older son was ten and in court service, a most likable boy. Though not remarkably good-looking, he was intelligent and popular, and old enough to have some sense of what was happening. The other son was a pretty child of eight or so. Higekuro wept and stroked his hair and said that he must come home and help them remember his sister, whom he resembled closely.
Prince Hyōbu sent someone out to say that he seemed to be coming down with a cold and could not receive guests. It was an awkward situation.
Higekuro presently departed, taking the boys with him. All the way back to his house, where he left them, for he could not after all take them to Rokujō, he gave them his side of the story.
“Just pretend that nothing is amiss. I will look in on you from time to time. It will be no trouble at al?”
They were yet another weight on his spirits, which revived considerably, however, at the sight of his new wife, in such contrast to the queer old wife who had left him.
He made Prince Hyōbu’s hostility his excuse for not writing. The prince thought it rather exaggerated and extreme.
“I think it very unfair of her to be angry with me,” said Murasaki.
“It is difficult for all of us,” said Genji. “Tamakazura has always been an unmanageable young lady, and now she has won me the emperor’s displeasure. I understand that Prince Hotaru has been very angry. But he is a reasonable man, and the signs are that he has accepted my explanations. Romantic affairs cannot be kept secret, whatever precautions we may take. I am glad that I have nothing on my conscience.”
The excitement she had caused did nothing to dispel Tamakazura’s gloom, which was more intense as time went by. Higekuro was worried: the emperor was likely to hold him responsible for the abrupt change in her plans, and Genji and Tō no Chūjō would doubtless have thoughts in the matter. It was not unprecedented for an official to have a wife in the royal service, and so he presented her at court just before the New Year caroling parties. The presentation ceremonies were very grand, having behind them, besides Higekuro’s own efforts, all the prestige of the two ministers, her foster father and her real father. Yūgiri busied himself most energetically in her behalf and her brothers were in lively competition to win her favor.
She was assigned apartments on the east side of the Shokyoden Pavilion. Prince Hyōbu’s daughter occupied the west rooms of the same building and only a gallery separated them. In spirit they were very far apart indeed. It was an interesting and lively time, a time of considerable rivalry among the emperor’s ladies. Besides Empress Akikonomu, they included Tō no Chūjō’s daughter, this daughter of Prince Hyōbu, and the daughter of the Minister of the Left. As for the lesser ranks that so often figure in untidy incidents, there were only the daughters of two councillors.
The caroling parties were very gay, all the ladies having invited their families to be present. The array of festive sleeves was dazzling as each lady tried to outdo the others. The crown prince was still very young, but his mother was a lady of fashion who saw to it that his household was no duller than the others. The carolers visited the emperor, the empress, and the Suzaku emperor in that order. Having had to omit Rokujō, they returned from the Suzaku Palace to sing for the crown prince. Some of them were rather drunk when, in the beautiful beginnings of dawn, they came to “Bamboo River.” Among the courtiers of the middle ranks Tō no Chūjō’s sons, some four or five of them, were especially good-looking and talented. His eighth son, by his principal wife, was one of his favorites, very pretty indeed in page’s livery. Tamakazura was delighted with him, standing beside Higekuro’s older son, and of course she could hardly think him a stranger. She had already given her rooms at court a fashionable elegance with which the better-established ladies found it hard to compete. She had not ventured any startlingly new color schemes but she managed to give a remarkable freshness to the familiar ones.
Now that she was at court she hoped to enjoy herself, and in this hope she had the enthusiastic support of her women. The bolts of cloth with which she rewarded the carolers were similar to those offered by the other ladies and yet subtly different. Though she was expected to offer only light refreshments, her rooms seemed more festive than any of the others; and though precedent and regulation were carefully honored, great attention had gone into all of the details, none of which was merely routine. Higekuro had taken an active part in the arrangements.
He sent repeated messengers from his offices, all with the same message: “We will leave together as soon as it is dark. I do not want you to make this your occasion for establishing residence here. Indeed I would be very upset.”
She did not answer.
“The Genji minister,” argued her women, “says that we needn’t be in such a hurry. He says that His Majesty has seen little of us and it is our duty to let him see more. Don’t you think it would be rather abrupt and even a little rude if we were to slip off this very night?”
“I plead with her and plead with her,” said Higekuro, “and seem to have no effect at all.”
Though Prince Hotaru had come for the carols, his attention was chiefly on Tamakazura. Unable to restrain himself, he got off a message. Higekuro was on duty in the guards quarter. It was from his offices, said the women, that the note had come. She glanced at it.
“You fly off wing to wing through mountain forests,
And in this nest of mine it is lonely spring.
“I hear distant, happy singing.”
She flushed, fearing that she had not been kind to the prince. And how was she to answer? Just then the emperor came calling. He was unbelievably handsome in the bright moonlight, and the very image of Genji. It seemed a miracle that there should be two such men in the world. Genji had been genuinely fond of her, she was sure, but there had been those unfortunate complications. There were none in the emperor’s case. Gently, he reproved her for having gone against his wishes. She hid her face behind a fan, unable to think of an answer.
“How silent you are. I would have expected you to be grateful for these favors. Are you quite indifferent?
“Why should I be drawn to lavender
So utterly remote and uncongenial?
“Are we likely to be treated to deeper shades of purple?”
She found his good looks intimidating, but told herself that he was really no different from Genji. And her answer - is it to be interpreted as thanks for having been promoted to the Third Rank before she had done anything to deserve the honor?.
“I know not the meaning of this lavender,
Though finding in it marks of august grace.
“I shall do everything to show that I am grateful.”
He smiled. “Suppose I summon a qualified judge to tell us whether it is not perhaps a little late to be donning the colors of gratitude.”
She was silent. She did not wish to seem coy, but she was confused at evidences that he shared certain tendencies with lesser men. She did not seem very friendly, he was thinking, but doubtless she would change as time went by.
Higekuro was very restless indeed. She must go away with him immediately, he said. Somewhat concerned about appearances herself, she contrived a plausible excuse with the expert assistance of her father and others and was at length able to leave.
“Goodbye, then.” The emperor seemed genuinely regretful. “Do not let anyone tell you that because this has happened you must not come again. I was the first to be interested in you and I let someone else get ahead of me. It does not seem fair that he should remain unchallenged. But there we are. I can think of precedents.”
She was far more beautiful thin distant rumor had made her. Any man would have regretted seeing her go, and he was in a sense a rejected suitor. Not wishing her to think him light-headed and frivolous, he addressed her most earnestly and did everything he could to make her feel comfortable. She understood and, though awed, wished she could stay with him.
He was still at her side when a hand carriage was brought up to take her away. Her father’s men were waiting and Higekuro was making a nuisance of himself.
“You are guarded too closely,” said the emperor.
“Invisible beyond the ninefold mists,
May not the plum blossom leave its scent behind?”
It may have been that the emperor’s good looks made his poem seem better than it was.
“Enamored of the fields, I had hoped to stay the night,” he continued, “but I find someone impatiently reaching to pluck the flowers. How shall I write to you?”
Sorry to have made him unhappy, she replied:
“I count not myself among the finer branches,
Yet hope that the fragrance may float upon the breeze.”
He looked back time after time as he finally made his exit.
Higekuro had meant all along to take her with him but had kept his plans secret, lest Genji oppose them.
“I seem to be coming down with a cold,” he said to the emperor, as if no further explanation were necessary. “I think I should take care of myself, and would not want to have her away from me.”
Though Tō no Chūjō thought it all rather sudden and unceremonious, he did not want to risk offending Higekuro. “Do as you see fit,” he said. “I have not had a great deal to do with her plans.”
Genji was startled but helpless. The lady was a little startled herself at the direction in which the smoke was blowing. Higekuro was enjoying the role of lady stealer.
She thought he had behaved very badly, showing his jealousy of the emperor so openly. A coarse, common sort of man - she made less attempt than ever to hide her distaste.
Prince Hyōbu and his wife, who had spoken of him in such strong terms, were beginning to wish that he would come visiting. But his life was full. His days and nights were dedicated to his new lady.
The Second Month came. It had been cruel of her, Genji was thinking. She had caught him off guard. He thought about her a great deal and wondered what people would be saying. It had all been fated, no doubt, and yet he could not help thinking that he had brought it on himself. Higekuro was so unsubtle a man that Genji feared venturing even a playful letter. On a night of boredom when a heavy rain was falling, however, he remembered that on other such nights he had beguiled the tedium by visiting her, and got off a note. He sent it secretly to Ukon. Not sure what view she would take of it, he limited himself to commonplaces.
“A quiet night in spring. It rains and rains.
Do your thoughts return to the village you left behind?
“It is a dull time, and I grumble - and no one listens.”
Ukon showed it to Tamakazura when no one else was near. She wept. He had been like a father, and she longed to see him. But it was, as he suggested, impossible. She had not told Ukon how unseemly his behavior had sometimes been and she now had no one with whom to share her feelings. Ukon had suspicions of the truth, but they were not very precise.
“It embarrasses me to write to you,” Tamakazura sent back, “but I am afraid that you might be worried. As you say, it is a time of rainy boredom.
“It rains and rains. My sleeves have no time to dry.
Of forgetfulness there comes not the tiniest drop.”
She concluded with conventional remarks of a daughterly sort.
Genji was near tears as he read it, but did not wish to treat these women to a display of jewel-like teardrops. As the rising waters threatened to engulf him, he thought of how, all those years ago, Kokiden had kept him from seeing her sister Oborozukiyo. Yet so novel was the Tamakazura affair that it seemed without precedents. Men of feeling did have a way of sowing bitter herbs. He tried to make himself accept the plain facts, that the lady was not a proper object for his affections and that these regrets came too late. He took out a Japanese koto, and it too brought memories. What a gentle touch she had had! He plucked a note or two and, trying to make it sound lighthearted, sang “The Jeweled Grasses” to himself. It is hard to believe that the lady for whom he longed would not have pitied him if she could have seen him.
Nor was the emperor able to forget the beauty and elegance he had seen so briefly. “Off she went, trailing long red skirts behind her.” It was not a very refined old poem, but he found it somehow comforting when his thoughts turned to her. He got off a secret note from time to time.
These attentions gave her no pleasure. Still lamenting her sad fate, she did not reply. Genji and his kindness were much on her mind.
The Third Month came. Wisteria and yamabuki were in brilliant flower. In the evening light they brought memories of a beautiful figure once seated beneath them. Genji went to the northeast quarter, where Tamakazura had lived. A clump of yamabuki grew untrimmed in a hedge of Chinese bamboo, very beautiful indeed. “Robes of gardenia, the silent hue,” he said to himself, for there was no one to hear him.
“The yamabuki wears the hue of silence,
So sudden was the parting at Ide road.
“I still can see her there.”
He seemed to know for the first time - how strange! - that she had left him.
Someone having brought in a quantity of duck’s eggs, he arranged them to look like oranges and sent them off to her with a casual note which it would not have embarrassed him to mislay.
“Through the dull days and months I go on thinking resentfully of your strange behavior. Having heard that someone else had a hand in the matter, I can only regret my inability to see you unless some very good reason presents itself.” He tried to make it seem solemnly parental.
“I saw the duckling hatch and disappear.
Sadly I ask who may have taken it.”
Higekuro smiled wryly. “A lady must have very good reasons for visiting even her parents. And here is His Lordship pretending that he has some such claim upon your attentions and refusing to accept the facts.”
She thought it unpleasant of him. “I do not know how to answer.”
“Let me answer for you.” Which suggestion was no more pleasing.
“Off in a corner not counted among the nestlings,
It was hidden by no one. It merely picked up and left.
“Your question, sir, seems strangely out of place. And please, I beg of you, do not treat this as a billet-doux.”
“I have never seen him in such a playful mood,” said Genji, smiling. In fact, he was hurt and angry.
The divorce had been a cruel wrench for Higekuro’s wife, whose lucid moments were rarer. He continued to consider himself responsible for her, however, and she was as dependent upon him as ever. He was very mindful of his duties as a father. Prince Hyōbu still refused to allow him near his daughter, Makibashira, whom he longed to see. Young though she was, she thought that they were being unfair to him, and did not see why she should be so closely guarded.
Her brothers went home frequently and of course brought back re ports of his new lady. “She seems very nice. She is always thinking of new games.”
She longed to go with them. Boys were the lucky ones, free to go where they pleased.
Tamakazura had a strange talent for disturbing people’s lives.
In the Eleventh Month she had a son, a very pretty child. Higekuro was delighted. The last of his hopes had been realized. As for the general rejoicing, I shall only say that her father, Tō no Chūjō, thought her good fortune not at all surprising. She seemed in no way inferior to the daughters on whom he had lavished such attention. Kashiwagi, who still had not entirely freed himself of unbrotherly feelings, wished that she had gone to court as planned.
“I have heard His Majesty lament that he has no sons,” he said, and one may have thought it a little impertinent of him, when he saw what a fine child it was. “How pleasing for all of us if it were a little prince.”
She continued to serve as wardress of the ladies’ apartments, though it was not reasonable to expect that she would again appear at court.
I had forgotten about the minister’s other daughter, the ambitious one who had herself been desirous of appointment as wardress. She was a susceptible sort of girl and she was restless. The minister did not know what to do with her. The sister at court lived in dread of scandal.
“We must not let her out where people will see her,” said the minister.
But she was not easily kept under cover.
One evening, I do not remember exactly when, though it must have been at the loveliest time of autumn, several fine young gentlemen were gathered in the sister’s rooms. There was music of a quiet, undemanding sort. Yūgiri was among them, more jocular than usual.
“Yes, he is different,” said one of the women.
The Omi lady pushed herself to the fore. They tried to restrain her but she turned defiantly on them and would not be dislodged.
“Oh, there he is,” she said in a piercing whisper of that most proper young man. “There’s the one that’s different.”
Now she spoke up, offering a poem in firm, clear tones:
“If you’re a little boat with nowhere to go,
Just tell me where you’re tied. I’ll row out and meet you.
“Excuse me for asking, but are you maybe the open boat that comes back again and again?”
He was startled. One did not expect such blunt proposals in these elegant rooms. But then he remembered a lady who was much talked about these days.
“Not even a boatman driven off course by the winds
Would wish to make for so untamed a shore.”
She could not think how to answer - or so one hears.
A Branch of Plum