Genji was suffering from repeated attacks of malaria. All manner of religious services were commissioned, but they did no good.
In a certain temple in the northern hills, someone reported, there lived a sage who was a most accomplished worker of cures. “During the epidemic last summer all sorts of people went to him. He was able to cure them immediately when all other treatment had failed. You must not let it have its way. You must summon him at once.”
Genji sent off a messenger, but the sage replied that he was old and bent and unable to leave his cave.
There was no help for it, thought Genji: he must quietly visit the man. He set out before dawn, taking four or five trusted attendants with him.
The temple was fairly deep in the northern hills. Though the cherry blossoms had already fallen in the city, it being late in the Third Month, the mountain cherries were at their best. The deepening mist as the party entered the hills delighted him. He did not often go on such expeditions, for he was of such rank that freedom of movement was not permitted him.
The temple itself was a sad place. The old man’s cave was surrounded by rocks, high in the hills behind. Making his way up to it, Genji did not at first reveal his identity. He was in rough disguise, but the holy man immediately saw that he was someone of importance.
“This is a very great honor. You will be the gentleman who sent for me? My mind has left the world, and I have so neglected the ritual that it has quite gone out of my head. I fear that your journey has been in vain.” Yet he got busily to work, and he smiled his pleasure at the visit.
He prepared medicines and had Genji drink them, and as he went through his spells and incantations the sun rose higher. Genji walked a fewsteps from the cave and surveyed the scene. The temple was on a height with other temples spread out below it. Down a winding path he saw a wattled fence of better workmanship than similar fences nearby. The halls and galleries within were nicely disposed and there were fine trees in the garden.
“Whose house might that be?”
“A certain bishop, I am told, has been living there in seclusion for the last two years or so.”
“Someone who calls for ceremony - and ceremony is hardly possible in these clothes. He must not know that I am here.”
Several pretty little girls had come out to draw water and cut flowers for the altar.
“And I have been told that a lady is in residence too. The bishop can hardly be keeping a mistress. I wonder who she might be.”
Several of his men went down to investigate, and reported upon what they had seen. “Some very pretty young ladies and some older women too, and some little girls.”
Despite the sage’s ministrations, which still continued, Genji feared a new seizure as the sun rose higher.
“It is too much on your mind,” said the sage. “You must try to think of something else.”
Genji climbed the hill behind the temple and looked off toward the city. The forests receded into a spring haze.
“Like a painting,” he said. “People who live in such a place can hardly want to be anywhere else.”
“Oh, these are not mountains at all,” said one of his men. “The mountains and seas off in the far provinces, now - they would make a real picture. Fuji and those other mountains.”
Another of his men set about diverting him with a description of the mountains and shores of the West Country. “In the nearer provinces the Akashi coast in Harima is the most beautiful. There is nothing especially grand about it, but the view out over the sea has a quiet all its own. The house of the former governor - he took his vows not long ago, and he worries a great deal about his only daughter - the house is rather splendid. He is the son or grandson of a minister and should have made his mark in the world, but he is an odd sort of man who does not get along well with people. He resigned his guards commission and asked for the Harima post. But unfortunately the people of the province do not seem to have taken him quite seriously. Not wanting to go back to the city a failure, he became a monk. You may ask why he should have chosen then to live by the sea and not in a mountain temple. The provinces are full of quiet retreats, but the mountains are really too remote, and the isolation would have been difficult for his wife and young daughter. He seems to have concluded that life by the sea might help him to forget his frustrations.
“I was in the province not long ago and I looked in on him. He may not have done well in the city, but he could hardly have done better in Akashi. The grounds and the buildings are really very splendid. He was, after all, the governor, and he did what he could to make sure that his last years would be comfortable. He does not neglect his prayers, and they would seem to have given him a certain mellowness.”
“And the daughter?” asked Genji.
“pretty and pleasant enough. Each successive governor has asked for her hand but the old man has turned them all away. He may have ended up an insignificant provincial governor himself, he says, but he has other plans for her. He is always giving her list instructions. If he dies with his grand ambitions unrealized she is to leap into the sea.”
“A cloistered maiden, reserved for the king of the sea,” laughed one of his men. “A very extravagant ambition.”
The man who had told the story was the son of the present governor of Harima. He had this year been raised to the Fifth Rank for his services in the imperial secretariat.
“I know why you lurk around the premises,” said another. “You’re a lady’s man, and you want to spoil the old governor’s plans.”
And another: “You haven’t convinced me. She’s a plain country girl, no more. She’s lived in the country most of her life with an old father who knows nothing of the times and the fashions.”
“The mother is the one. She has used her connections in the city to find girls and women from the best families and bring them to Akashi. It makes your head spin to watch her.”
“If the wrong sort of governor were to take over, the old man would have his worries.”
Genji was amused. “Ambition wide ad deep as the sea. But alas, we would not see her for the seaweed.”
Knowing his fondness for oddities, his men had hoped that the story would interest him.
“It is rather late, sir, and seeing as you have not had another attack, suppose we start for home.”
But the sage objected. “He has been possessed by a hostile power. We must continue our services quietly through the night.”
Genji’s men were persuaded, and for Genji it was a novel and amusing excursion.
“We will start back at daybreak.”
The evening was long. He took advantage of a dense haze to have a look at the house behind the wattled fence. Sending back everyone except Koremitsu, he took up a position at the fence. In the west room sat a nun who had a holy image before her. The blinds were slightly raised and she seemed to be offering flowers. She was leaning against a pillar and had a text spread out on an armrest. The effort to read seemed to take all her strength. perhaps in her forties, she had a fair, delicate skin and a pleasantly full face, though the effects of illness were apparent. The features suggested breeding and cultivation. Cut cleanly at the shoulders, her hair seemed to him far more pleasing than if it had been permitted to trail the usual length. Beside her were two attractive women, and little girls scampered in and out. Much the prettiest was a girl of perhaps ten in a soft white singlet and a russet robe. She would one day be a real beauty. Rich hair spread over her shoulders like a fan. Her face was flushed from weeping.
“What is it?” The nun looked up. “Another fight?” He thought he saw a resemblance. Perhaps they were mother and daughter.
“Inuki let my baby sparrows loose.” The child was very angry. “I had them in a basket.”
“That stupid child,” said a rather handsome woman with rich hair who seemed to be called Shōnagon and was apparently the girl’s nurse. “She always manages to do the wrong thing, and we are forever scolding her. Where will they have flown off to? They were getting to be such sweet little things too! How awful if the crows find them.” She went out.
“What a silly child you are, really too silly,” said the nun. “I can’t be sure I will last out the day, and here you are worrying about sparrows. I’ve told you so many times that it’s a sin to put birds in a cage. Come here.”
The child knelt down beside her. She was charming, with rich, unplucked eyebrows and hair pushed childishly back from the forehead. How he would like to see her in a few years! And a sudden realization brought him close to tears: the resemblance to Fujitsubo, for whom he so yearned, was astonishing.
The nun stroked the girl’s hair. “You will not comb it and still it’s so pretty. I worry about you, you do seem so very young. Others are much more grown up at your age. Your poor dead mother: she was only ten when her father died, and she understood everything. What will become of you when I am gone?”
She was weeping, and a vague sadness had come over Genji too. The girl gazed attentively at her and then looked down. The hair that fel over her forehead was thick and lustrous.
“Are these tender grasses to grow without the dew
Which holds itself back from the heavens that would receive it?”
There were tears in the nun’s voice, and the other woman seemed also to be speaking through tears:
“It cannot be that the dew will vanish away
Ere summer comes to these early grasses of spring.”
The bishop came in. “What is this? Your blinds up? And today of all days you are out at the veranda? I have just been told that General Genji is up at the hermitage being treated for malaria. He came in disguise and I was not told in time to pay a call.”
“And what a sight we are. You don’t suppose he saw us?” She lowered the blinds.
“The shining one of whom the whole world talks. Wouldn’t you like to see him? Enough to make a saint throw off the last traces of the vulgar world, they say, and feel as if new years had been added to his life. I will get off a note.”
He hurried away, and Genji too withdrew. What a discovery! It was for such unforeseen rewards that his amorous followers were so constantly on the prowl. Such a rare outing for him, and it had brought such a find! She was a perfectly beautiful child. Who might she be? He was beginning to make plans: the child must stand in the place of the one whom she so resembled.
As he lay down to sleep, an acolyte came asking for Koremitsu. The cell was a narrow one and Genji could hear everything that was said.
“Though somewhat startled to learn that your lord had passed us by, we should have come immediately. The fact is that his secrecy rather upset us. We might, you know, have been able to offer shabby accommodations.”
Genji sent back that he had been suffering from malaria since about the middle of the month and had been persuaded to seek the services of the sage, of whom he had only recently heard. “Such is his reputation that I hated to risk marring it by failing to recover. That is the reason for my secrecy. We shall come down immediately.”
The bishop himself appeared. He was a man of the cloth, to be sure, but an unusual one, of great courtliness and considerable fame. Genji was ashamed of his own rough disguise.
The bishop spoke of his secluded life in the hills. Again and again he urged Genji to honor his house. “It is a log hut, no better than this, but you may find the stream cool and pleasant.”
Genji went with him, though somewhat embarrassed at the extravagant terms in which he had been described to women who had not seen him. He wanted to know more about the little girl. The flowers and grasses in the bishop’s garden, though of the familiar varieties, had a charm all their own. The night being dark, flares had been set out along the brook, and there re lanterns at the eaves. A delicate fragrance drifted through the air, mixing with the stronger incense from the altar and the very special scent which had been burnt into Genji’s robes. The ladies within must have found the blend unsettling.
The bishop talked of this ephemeral world and of the world to come. His own burden of sin was heavy, thought Genji, that he had been lured into an illicit and profitless affair. He would regret it all his life and suffer even more terribly in the life to come. What joy to withdraw to such a place as this! But with the thought came thoughts of the young face he had seen earlier in the evening.
“Do you have someone with you here? I had a dream that suddenly begins to make sense.”
“How quick you are with your dreams, sir! I fear my answer will disappoint you. It has been a very long time since the Lord Inspector died. I don’t suppose you will even have heard of him. He was my brother-inlaw. His widow turned her back on the world and recently she has been ill, and since I do not go down to the city she has come to stay with me here. It was her thought that I might be able to help her.”
“I have heard that your sister had a daughter. I ask from no more than idle curiosity, you must believe me.”
“There was an only daughter. She too has been dead these ten years and wore. He took very great pains with her education and hoped to send her to court; but he died before that ambition could be realized, and the nun, my sister, was left to look after her. I do not know through whose offices it was that Prince Hyobu began visiting the daughter in secret. His wife is from a very proud family, you know, sir, and there were unpleasant incidents, which finally drove the poor thing into a fatal decline. I saw before my own eyes how worry can destroy a person.”
So the child he had seen would be the daughter of Prince Hyobu and the unfortunate lady; and it was Fujitsubo, the Prince’s sister, whom she so resembled. He wanted more than ever to meet her. She was an elegant child, and she did not seem at all spoiled. What a delight if he could take her into his house and make her his ideal!
“A very sad story.” He wished to be completely sure. “Did she leave no one behind?”
“She had a child just before she died, a girl, a great source of worry for my poor sister in her declining years.”
There could be no further doubt. “What I am about to say will, I fear, startle you - but might I have charge of the child? I have rather good reasons, for all the suddenness of my proposal. If you are telling yourself that she is too young - well, sir, you are doing me an injustice. Other men may have improper motives, but I do not.”
“Your words quite fill me with delight. But she is indeed young, so very young that we could not possibly think even in jest of asking you to take responsibility for her. Only the man who is presently to be her husband can take that responsibility. In a matter of such import I am not competent to give an answer. I must discuss the matter with my sister.“ He was suddenly remote and chilly.
Genji had spoken with youthful impulsiveness and could not think what to do next.
“It is my practice to conduct services in the chapel of Lord Amitābha.” The bishop got up to leave. “I have not yet said vespers. I shall come again when they are over.”
Genji was not feeling well. A shower passed on a chilly mountain wind, and the sound of the waterfall was higher. Intermittently came a rather sleepy voice, solemn and somehow ominous, reading a sacred text. The most insensitive of men would have been aroused by the scene. Genji was unable to sleep. The vespers were very long and it was growing late. There was evidence that the women in the inner rooms were still up. They were being quiet, but he heard a rosary brush against an armrest and, to give him a sense of elegant companionship, a faint rustling of silk. Screens lined the inside wall, very near at hand. He pushed one of the center panels some inches aside and rustled his fan. Though they must have thought it odd, the women could not ignore it. One of them came forward, then retreated a step or two.
“This is very strange indeed. Is there some mistake?”
“The guiding hand of the Blessed One makes no mistakes on the darkest nights.” His was an aristocratic young voice.
“And in what direction does it lead?” the woman replied hesitantly. “This is most confusing.”
“Very sudden and confusing, I am sure.
“Since first the wanderer glimpsed the fresh young grasses
His sleeves have known no respite from the dew.
“Might I ask you to pass my words on to your lady?”
“There is no one in this house to whom such a message can possibly seem appropriate.”
“I have my reasons. You must believe me.”
The woman withdrew to the rear of the house.
The nun was of course rather startled. “How very forward of him. He must think the child older than she is. And he must have heard our poems about the grasses. What can they have meant to him?” She hesitated for rather a long time. persuaded that too long a delay would be rude, she finally sent back:
“The dew of a night of travel - do not compare it
With the dew that soaks the sleeves of the mountain dweller. It is this last that refuses to dry.”
“I am not used to communicating through messengers. I wish to speak to you directly and in all seriousness.”
Again the old nun hesitated. “There has been a misunderstanding, surely. I can hardly be expected to converse with such a fine young gentleman.”
But the women insisted that it would be rude and unfeeling not to reply.
“I suppose you are right. Young gentlemen are easily upset. I am humbled by such earnestness.” And she came forward.
“You will think me headstrong and frivolous for having addressed you without warning, but the Blessed One knows that my intent is not frivolous at all.“ He found the nun’s quiet dignity somewhat daunting.
“We must have made a compact in another life, that we should be in such unexpected conversation.”
“I have heard the sad story, and wonder if I might offer myself as a substitute for your late daughter. I was very young when I lost the one who was dearest to me, and all through the years since I have had strange feelings of aimlessness and futility. We share the same fate, and I wonder if I might not ask that we be companions in it. The opportunity is not likely to come again. I have spoken, I am sure you see, quite without reserve.”
“What you say would delight me did I not fear a mistake. It is true that there is someone here who is under my inadequate protection; but she is very young, and you could not possibly be asked to accept her deficiencies. I must decline your very kind proposal.”
“I repeat that I have heard the whole story. Your admirable reticence does not permit you to understand that my feelings are of no ordinary sort.”
But to her they seemed, though she did not say so, quite outrageous.
The bishop came out.
“Very well, then. I have made a beginning, and it has given me strength.” And Genji pushed the screen back in place.
In the Lotus Hall, voices raised in an act of contrition mingled solemnly with the roar of the waterfall and the wind that came down from the mountain.
This was Genji’s poem, addressed to the bishop:
“A wind strays down from the hills to end my dream,
And tears well forth at these voices upon the waters.”
And this the bishops reply:
“These waters wet your sleeves. Our own are dry,
And tranquil our hearts, washedd lean by mountain waters.
“Such is the effect of familiarity with these scenes.”
There were heavy mists in the dawn sky, and bird songs came from Genji knew not where. Flowering trees and grasses which he could not identify spread like a tapestry before him. The deer that now paused to feed by the house and now wandered on were for him a strange and wonderful sight. He quite forgot his illness. Though it was not easy for the sage to leave his retreat, he made his way down for final services. His husky voice, emerging uncertainly from a toothless mouth, had behind it long years of discipline, and the mystic incantations suggested deep and awesome powers.
An escort arrived from the city, delighted to see Genji so improved, and a message was delivered from his father. The bishop had a breakfast of unfamiliar fruits and berries brought from far down in the valley.
“I have vowed to stay in these mountains until the end of the year, and cannot see you home.” He pressed wine upon Genji. “And so a holy vow has the perverse effect of inspiring regrets.”
“I hate to leave your mountains and streams, but my father seems worried and I must obey his summons. I shall come again before the cherry blossoms have fallen.
“I shall say to my city friends: ’Make haste to see
those mountain blossoms. The winds may see them first.’”
His manner and voice were beautiful beyond description.
The bishop replied:
“In thirty hundreds of years it blooms but once.
My eyes have seen it, and spurn these mountain cherries.”
“A very great rarity indeed,“ Genji said, smiling, “a blossom with so long and short a span.”
The sage offered a verse of thanks as Genji filled his cup:
“My mountain door of pine has opened briefly
To see a radiant flower not seen before.”
There were tears in his eyes. His farewell present was a sacred mace which had special protective powers. The bishop too gave farewell presents: a rosary of carved ebony which Prince Shotoku had obtained in Korea, still in the original Chinese box, wrapped in a netting and attached to a branch of cinquefoil pine; several medicine bottles of indigo decorated with sprays of cherry and wisteria and the like; and other gifts as well, all of them appropriate to the mountain setting. Genji’s escort had brought gifts for the priests who had helped with the services, the sage himself and the rest, and for all the mountain rustics too. And so Genji started out.
The bishop went to the inner apartments to tell his sister of Genji’s proposal.
“It is very premature. If in four or five years he has not changed his mind we can perhaps give it some thought.”
The bishop agreed, and passed her words on without comment.
Much disappointed, Genji sent in a poem through an acolyte:
“Having come upon an evening blossom,
The mist is loath to go with the morning sun.”
She sent back:
“Can we believe the mist to be so reluctant?
We shall watch the morning sky for signs of truth.”
It was in a casual, cursive style, but the hand was a distinguished one.
He was about to get into his carriage when a large party arrived from the house of his father-in-law, protesting the skill with which he had eluded them. Several of his brothers-in-law, including the oldest, Tō no Chūjō, were among them.
“You know very well that this is the sort of expedition we like best. You could at least have told us. Well, here we are, and we shall stay and enjoy the cherries you have discovered.”
They took seats on the moss below the rocks and wine was brought out.1t was a pleasant spot, beside cascading waters. Tō no Chūjō took out a flute, and one of his brothers, marking time with a fan, sang “To the West of the Toyora Temple.“ They were handsome young men, all of them, but it was the ailing Genji whom everyone was looking at, so handsome a figure as he leaned against a rock that he brought a shudder of apprehension. Always in such a company there is an adept at the flageolet, and a fancier of the sho pipes as well.
The bishop brought out a seven-stringed Chinese koto and pressed Genji to play it. “Just one tune, to give our mountain birds a pleasant surprise.”
Genji protested that he was altogether too unwell, but he played a passable tune all the same. And so they set forth. The nameless priests and acolytes shed tears of regret, and the aged nuns within, who had never before seen such a fine gentleman, asked whether he might not be a visitor from another world.
“How can it be,“ said the bishop, brushing away a tear, “that such a one has been born into the confusion and corruption in which we live?”
The little girl too thought him very grand. “Even handsomer than Father,“ she said.
“So why don’t you be his little girl?”
She nodded, accepting the offer; and her favorite doll, the one with the finest wardrobe, and the handsomest gentleman in her pictures too were thereupon named “Genji.”
Back in the city, Genji first reported to his father upon his excursion. The emperor had never before seen him in such coarse dress.
He asked about the qualifications of the sage, and Genji replied in great detail.
“I must see that he is promoted. Such a remarkable record and I had not even heard of him.”
Genji’s father-in-law, the Minister of the Left, chanced to be in attendance. “I thought of going for you, but you did after all go off in secret. Suppose you have a few days’ rest at Sanjō. I will go with you, immediately.”
Genji was not enthusiastic, but he left with his father-in-law all the same. The minister had his own carriage brought up and insisted that Genji get in first. This solicitude rather embarrassed him.
At the minister’s Sanjō mansion everything was in readiness. It had been polished and refitted until it was a jeweled pavilion, perfect to the last detail. As always, Genji’s wife secluded herself in her private apartments, and it was only at her father’s urging that she came forth; and so Genji had her before him, immobile, like a Princess in an illustration for a romance. It would have been a great pleasure, he was sure, to have her comment even tartly upon his account of the mountain journey. She seemed the stiffest, remotest person in the world. How odd that the aloofness seemed only to grow as time went by.
“It would be nice, I sometimes think, if you could be a little more wifely. I have been very ill, and I am hurt, but not really surprised, that you have not inquired after my health.”
“Like the pain, perhaps, of awaiting a visitor who does not come?”
She cast a sidelong glance at him as she spoke, and her cold beauty was very intimidating indeed.
“You so rarely speak to me, and when you do you say such unpleasant things.‘A visitor who does not come’ - that is hardly an appropriate way to describe a husband, and indeed it is hardly civil. I try this approach and I try that, hoping to break through, but you seem intent on defending all the approaches. Well, one of these years, perhaps, if I live long enough.”
He withdrew to the bedchamber. She did not follow. Though there were things he would have liked to say, he lay down with a sigh. He closed his eyes, but there was too much on his mind to permit sleep.
He thought of the little girl and how he would like to see her grown into a woman. Her grandmother was of course right when she said that the girl was still too young for him. He must not seem insistent. And yet - was there not some way to bring her quietly to Nijo and have her beside him, a comfort and a companion? Prince Hyobu was a dashing and stylish man, but no one could have called him remarkably handsome. Why did the girl so take after her aunt? perhaps because aunt and father were children of the same empress. These thoughts seemed to bring the girl closer, and he longed to have her for his own.
The next day he wrote to the nun. He would also seem to have communicated his thoughts in a casual way to the bishop. To the nun he said:
“I fear that, taken somewhat aback by your sternness, I did not express myself very well. I find strength in the hope that something of the resolve demanded of me to write this letter will have conveyed itself to you.”
With it was a tightly folded note for the girl:
“The mountain blossoms are here beside me still.
All of myself I left behind with them.
“I am fearful of what the night winds might have done.”
The writing, of course, and even the informal elegance of the folding, quite dazzled the superannuated woman who received the letter. Somewhat overpowering, thought the grandmother.
She finally sent back: “I did not take your farewell remarks seriously; and now so soon to have a letter from you - I scarcely know how to reply. She cannot even write’Naniwa’ properly, and how are we to expect that she give you a proper answer?
“Brief as the time till the autumn tempests come
To scatter the flowers - so brief your thoughts of her.
“I am deeply troubled.”
The bishop’s answer was in the same vein. Two or three days later Genji sent Koremitsu off to the northern hills.
“There is her nurse, the woman called Shōnagon. Have a good talk with her.”
How very farsighted, thought Koremitsu, smiling at the thought of the girl they had seen that evening.
The bishop said that he was much honored to be in correspondence with Genji. Koremitsu was received by Shōnagon, and described Genji’s apparent state of mind in great detail. He was a persuasive young man and he made a convincing case, but to the nun and the others this suit for the hand of a mere child continued to seem merely capricious. Genji’s letter was warm and earnest. There was a note too for the girl:
“Let me see your first exercises at the brush.
“No Shallow Spring, this heart of mine, believe me.
And why must the mountain spring then seem so distant?”
This was the nun’s reply:
“You drink at the mountain stream, your thoughts turn elsewhere.
Do you hope to see the image you thus disturb?”
Koremitsu’s report was no more encouraging. Shōnagon had said that they would be returning to the city when the nun was a little stronger and would answer him then.
Fujitsubo was ill and had gone home to her family. Genji managed a sympathetic thought or two for his lonely father, but his thoughts were chiefly on the possibility of seeing Fujitsubo. He quite halted his visits to other ladies. All through the day, at home and at court, he sat gazing off into space, and in the evening he would press Omyobu to be his intermediary. How she did it I do not know; but she contrived a meeting. It is sad to have to say that his earlier attentions, so unwelcome, no longer seemed real, and the mere thought that they had been successful was for Fujitsubo a torment. Determined that there would not be another meeting, she was shocked to find him in her presence again. She did not seek to hide her distress, and her efforts to turn him away delighted him even as they put him to shame. There was no one else quite like her. In that fact was his undoing: he would be less a prey to longing if he could find in her even a trace of the ordinary. And the tumult of thoughts and feelings that now assailed him - he would have liked to consign it to the Mountain of Obscurity. It might have been better, he sighed, so short was the night, if he had not come at all.
“So few and scattered the nights, so few the dreams.
Would that the dream tonight might take me with it.”
He was in tears, and she did, after all, have to feel sorry for him.
“Were I to disappear in the last of dreams
Would yet my name live on in infamy?”
She had every right to be unhappy, and he was sad for her. Omyobu gathered his clothes and brought them out to him.
Back at Nijo he spent a tearful day in bed. He had word from Omyobu that her lady had not read his letter. So it always was, and yet he was hurt. He remained in distraught seclusion for several days. The thought that his father might be wondering about his absence filled him with terror.
Lamenting the burden of sin that seemed to be hers, Fujitsubo was more and more unwell, and could not bestir herself, despite repeated messages summoning her back to court. She was not at all her usual self - and what was to become of her? She took to her bed as the weather turned warmer. Three months had now passed and her condition was clear; and the burden of sin now seemed to have made it necessary that she submit to curious and reproving stares. Her women thought her behavior very curious indeed. Why had she let so much time pass without informing the emperor? There was of course a crucial matter of which she spoke to no one. Ben, the daughter of her old nurse, and Omyobu, both of whom were very close to her and attended her in the bath, had ample opportunity to observe her condition. Omyobu was aghast. Her lady had been trapped by the harshest of fates. The emperor would seem to have been informed that a malign spirit had possession of her, and to have believed the story, as did the court in general. He sent a constant stream of messengers, which terrified her and allowed no pause in her sufferings.
Genji had a strange, rather awful dream. He consulted a soothsayer, who said that it portended events so extraordinary as to be almost unthinkable.
“It contains bad omens as well. You must be careful.”
“It was not my own dream but a friend’s. We will see whether it comes true, and in the meantime you must keep it to yourself.”
What could it mean? He heard of Fujitsubo’s condition, thought of their night together, and wondered whether the two might be related. He exhausted his stock of pleas for another meeting. Horrified that matters were so out of hand, Omyobu could do nothing for him. He had on rare occasions had a brief note, no more than a line or two; but now even these messages ceased coming.
Fujitsubo returned to court in the Seventh Month. The emperor’s affection for her had only grown in her absence. Her condition was now apparent to everyone. A slight emaciation made her beauty seem if anything nearer perfection, and the emperor kept her always at his side. The skies as autumn approached called more insistently for music. Keeping Genji too beside him, the emperor had him try his hand at this and that instrument. Genji struggled to control himself, but now and then a sign of his scarcely bearable feelings did show through, to remind the lady of what she wanted more than anything to forget.
Somewhat improved, the nun had returned to the city. Genji had someone make inquiry about her residence and wrote from time to time. It was natural that her replies should show no lessening of her opposition, but it did not worry Genji as it once had. He had more considerable worries. His gloom was deeper as autumn came to a close. One beautiful moonlit night he collected himself for a visit to a place he had been visiting in secret. A cold, wintry shower passed. The address was in Rokujo, near the eastern limits of the city, and since he had set out from the palace the way seemed a long one. He passed a badly neglected house, the garden dark with ancient trees.
“The inspector’s house,“ said Koremitsu, who was always with him. “I called there with a message not long ago. The old lady has declined so shockingly that they can’t think what to do for her.”
“You should have told me. I should have looked in on her. Ask, please, if she will see me.”
Koremitsu sent a man in with the message.
The women had not been expecting a caller, least of all such a grand one. For some days the old lady had seemed beyond helping, and they feared that she would be unable to receive him. But they could hardly turn such a gentleman away - and so a cushion was put out for him in the south room.
“My lady says that she fears you will find it cluttered and dirty, but she is determined at least to thank you for coming. You must find the darkness and gloom unlike anything you have known.”
And indeed he could not have denied that he was used to something rather different.
“You have been constantly on my mind, but your reserve has it difficult for me to call. I am sorry that I did not know sooner of illness.”
“I have been ill for a very long time, but in this last extremity - it was good of him to come.“ He caught the sad, faltering tones as she gave the message to one of her women. “I am sorry that I cannot receive him properly. As for the matter he has raised, I hope that he will still count the child among those important to him when she is no longer a child. The thought of leaving her uncared for must, I fear, create obstacles along the road I yearn to travel. But tell him, please, how good it was of him. I wish the child were old enough to thank him too.”
“Can you believe,“ he sent back, “that I would put myself in this embarrassing position if I were less than serious? There must be a bond between us, that I should have been so drawn to her since I first heard of her. It all seems so strange. The beginnings of it must have been in a different world. I will feel that I have come in vain if I cannot hear the sound of her young voice.”
“She is asleep. She did not of course know that you were coming.”
But just then someone came scampering into the room. “Grandmother, they say the gentleman we saw at the temple is here. Why don’t you go out and talk to him?”
The women tried to silence her.
“But why? She said the very sight of him made her feel better. I heard
Though much amused, Genji pretended not to hear. After proper statements of sympathy he made his departure. Yes, she did seem little more than an infant. He would be her teacher.
The next day he sent a letter inquiring after the old lady, and with it a tightly folded note for the girl:
“Seeking to follow the call of the nestling crane
The open boat is lost among the reeds.
“And comes again and again to you?”
He wrote it in a childish hand, which delighted the women. The child was to model her own hand upon it, no detail changed, they said.
Shōnagon sent a very sad answer: “It seems doubtful that my lady, after whom you were so kind as to inquire, will last the day. We are on the point of sending her off to the mountains once more. I know that she will thank you from another world.”
In the autumn evening, his thoughts on his unattainable love, he longed more than ever, unnatural though the wish may have seemed, for the company of the little girl who sprang from the same roots. The thought of the evening when the old nun had described herself as dew holding back from the heavens made him even more impatient - and at the same time he feared that if he were to bring the girl to Nijo he would be disappointed in her.
“I long to have it, to bring it in from the moor,
The lavender that shares its roots with another.”
In the Tenth Month the emperor was to visit the Suzaku palace. >From all the great families and the middle and upper courtly ranks the most accomplished musicians and dancers were selected to go with him, and grandees and Princes of the blood were busy at the practice that best suited their talents. Caught up in the excitement, Genji was somewhat remiss in inquiring after the nun.
When, finally, he sent off a messenger to the northern hills, a sad reply came from the bishop: “We lost her toward the end of last month. It is the way of the world, I know, and yet I am sad.”
If the news shocked even him into a new awareness of evanescence, thought Genji, how must it be for the little girl who had so occupied the nun’s thoughts? Young though she was, she must feel utterly lost. He
remembered, though dimly how it had been when his mother died, and he sent off an earnest letter of sympathy. Shōnagon’s answer seemed rather warmer.
He went calling on an evening when he had nothing else to occupy him, some days after he learned that the girl had come out of mourning and returned to the city. The house was badly kept and almost deserted. The poor child must be terrified, he thought. He was shown to the same room as before. Sobbing, Shōnagon told him of the old lady’s last days. Genji too was in tears.
“My young lady’s father would seem to have indicated a willingness to take her in, but she is at such an uncomfortable age, not quite a child and still without the discernment of an adult; and the thought of having her in the custody of the lady who was so cruel to her mother is too awful. Her sisters will persecute her dreadfully, I know. The fear of it never left my lady’s mind, and we have had too much evidence that the fear was not groundless. We have been grateful for your expressions of interest, though we have hesitated to take them seriously. I must emphasize that my young lady is not at all what you must think her to be. I fear that we have done badly by her, and that our methods have left her childish even for her years.”
“Must you continue to be so reticent and apologetic? I have made my own feelings clear, over and over again. It is precisely the childlike quality that delights me most and makes me think I must have her for my own. You may think me complacent and self-satisfied for saying so, but I feel sure that we were joined in a former life. Let me speak to her, please.
“Rushes hide the sea grass at Wakanoura.
Must the waves that seek it out turn back to sea?
“That would be too much to ask of them.“
“The grass at Wakanoura were rash indeed
To follow waves that go it knows not whither.
“It would be far, far too much to ask.”
The easy skill with which she turned her poem made it possible for him to forgive its less than encouraging significance. “After so many years,“ he whispered, “the gate still holds me back.”
The girl lay weeping for her grandmother. Her playmates came to tell her that a gentleman in court dress was with Shōnagon. perhaps it would be her father?
She came running in. “Where is the gentleman, Shōnagon? Is Father here?”
What a sweet voice she had!
“I’m not your father, but I’m someone just as important. Come here.”
She saw that it was the other gentleman, and child though she was, she flushed at having spoken out of turn. “Let’s go.“ She tugged at Shōnagon’s sleeve. “Let’s go. I’m sleepy.”
“Do you have to keep hiding yourself from me? Come here. You can sleep on my knee.”
“She is really very young, sir.“ But Shōnagon urged the child forward, and she knelt obediently just inside the blinds.
He ran his hand over a soft, rumpled robe, and, a delight to the touch, hair full and rich to its farthest ends. He took her hand. She pulled away - for he was, after all, a stranger.
“I said I’m sleepy.“ She went back to Shōnagon.
He slipped in after her. “I am the one you must look to now. You must not be shy with me.”
“Please, sir. You forget yourself. You forget yourself completely. She is simply not old enough to understand what you have in mind.”
“It is you who do not understand. I see how young she is, and I have nothing of the sort in mind. I must again ask you to be witness to the depth and purity of my feelings.”
It was a stormy night. Sleet was pounding against the roof.
“How can she bear to live in such a lonely place? It must be awful for her.“ Tears came to his eyes. He could not leave her. “I will be your watchman. You need one on a night like this. Come close to me, all of you.
Quite as if he belonged there, he slipped into the girl’s bedroom. The women were astounded, Shōnagon more than the rest. He must be mad! But she was in no position to protest. Genji pulled a singlet over the girl, who was trembling like a leaf. Yes, he had to admit that his behavior must seem odd; but, trying very hard not to frighten her, he talked of things he thought would interest her.
“You must come to my house. I have all sorts of pictures, and there are dolls for you to play with.”
She was less frightened than at first, but she still could not sleep. The storm blew all through the night, and Shōnagon quite refused to budge from their side. They would surely have perished of fright, whispered the women, if they had not had him with them. What a pity their lady was not a little older!
It was still dark when the wind began to subside and he made his departure, and all the appearances were as of an amorous expedition. “What I have seen makes me very sad and convinces me that she must not be out of my sight. She must come and live with me and share my lonely days. This place is quite impossible. You must be in constant tenor.”
“Her father has said that he will come for her. I believe it is to be after the memorial services.”
“Yes, we must think of him. But they have lived apart, and he must be as much of a stranger as I am. I really do believe that in this very short time my feelings for her are stronger than his.“ He patted the girl on the head and looked back smiling as he left.
There was a heavy mist and the ground was white. Had he been on his way from a visit to a woman, he would have found the scene very affecting; but as it was he was vaguely depressed. Passing the house of a woman he had been seeing in secret, he had someone knock on the gate. There was no answer, and so he had someone else from his retinue, a man of very good voice, chant this poem twice in tones that could not fail to attract attention:
“Lost though I seem to be in the mists of dawn,
I see your gate, and cannot pass it by.”
She sent out an ordinary maid who seemed, however, to be a woman of some sensibility:
“So difficult to pass? Then do come in.
No obstacle at all, this gate of grass.”
Something more was needed to end the night, but dawn was approaching. Back at Nijo, he lay smiling at the memory of the girl. The sun was high when he arose and set about composing a letter. A rather special sort of poem seemed called for, but he laid his brush aside and deliberated for a time, and presently sent some pictures.
Looking in on his daughter that same day, Prince Hyobu found the house vaster and more cavernous than he had remembered it, and the decay astonishingly advanced since the grandmother’s death.
“How can you bear it for even a moment? You must come and live with me. I have plenty of room. And Nurse here can have a room of her own. There are other little girls, and I am sure you will get on beautifully together.“ Genji’s perfume had been transferred to the child. “What a beautiful smell. But see how rumpled and ragged you are. I did not like the idea of having you with an ailing lady and wanted you to come and live with me. But you held back so, and I have to admit that the lady who is to be your mother has not been happy at the idea herself. It seems very sad that we should have waited for this to happen.”
“Please, my lord. We may be lonely, but it will be better for us to remain as we are at least for a time. It will be better for us to wait until she is a little older and understands things better. She grieves for her grandmother and quite refuses to eat.”
She was indeed thinner, but more graceful and elegant.
“Why must she go on grieving? Her grandmother is gone, and that is that. She still has me.“ It was growing dark. The girl wept to see him go, and he too was in tears. “You mustn’t be sad. Please. You mustn’t be sad. I will send for you tomorrow at the very latest.”
She was inconsolable when he had gone, and beyond thinking about her own future. She was old enough to know what it meant, that the lady who had never left her was now gone. Her playmates no longer interested her. She somehow got through the daylight hours, but in the evening she gave herself up to tears, and Shōnagon and the others wept at their inability to comfort her. How, they asked one another, could they possibly go on?
Genji sent Koremitsu to make excuses. He wanted very much to call, but he had received an ill-timed summons from the palace.
“Has he quite forgotten his manners?“ said Shōnagon. “I know very well that this is not as serious an affair for him as for us, but a man is expected to call regularly at the beginning of any affair. Her father, if he hears of it, will think that we have managed very badly indeed. You are young, my lady, but you must not speak of it to anyone.“ But the girl was not listening as attentively as Shōnagon would have wished.
Koremitsu was permitted a hint or two of their worries. “Perhaps when the time comes we will be able to tell ourselves that what must be must be, but at the moment the incompatibility overshadows everything. And your lord says and does such extraordinary things. Her father came today and did not improve matters by telling us that nothing must be permitted to happen. What could be worse than your lord’s way of doing things?“ She was keeping her objections to a minimum, however, for she did not want Koremitsu to think that anything of real importance had occurred.
Puzzled, Koremitsu returned to Nijo and reported upon what he had seen and heard. Genji was touched, though not moved to pay a visit. He was worried about rumors and the imputation of recklessness and frivolity that was certain to go with them. He must bring the girl to Nijo.
He sent several notes, and in the evening dispatched Koremitsu, his most faithful and reliable messenger. Certain obstacles prevented Genji’s calling in person, said Koremitsu, but they must not be taken to suggest a want of seriousness.
“Her royal father has said that he will come for her tomorrow. We are feeling rather pressed. It is sad, after all, to leave a familiar place, however shabby and weedy it may be. You must forgive us. We are not entirely ourselves.”
She gave him short shrift. He could see that they were busy at needlework and other preparations.
Genji was at his father-in-law’s house in Sanjō. His wife was as always slow to receive him. In his boredom and annoyance he took out a Japanese koto and pleasantly hummed “The Field in Hitachi.“ Then came Koremitsu’s unsettling report. He must act. If he were to take her from her father’s house, he would be called a lecher and a child thief. He must swear the women to secrecy and bring her to Nijo immediately.
“I will go early in the morning. Have my carriage left as it is, and order a guard, no more than a man or two.”
Koremitsu went to see that these instructions were carried out. Genji knew that he was taking risks. People would say that his appetites were altogether too varied. If the girl were a little older he would be credited with having made a conquest, and that would be that. Though Prince Hyobu would be very upset indeed, Genji knew that he must not let the child go. It was still dark when he set out. His wife had no more than usual to say to him.
“I have just remembered some business at Nijo that absolutely has to be taken care of. I should not be long.”
Her women did not even know that he had gone. He went to his own rooms and changed to informal court dress. Koremitsu alone was on horseback.
When they reached their destination one of his men pounded on the gate. Ignorant of what was afoot, the porter allowed Genji’s carriage to be pulled inside. Koremitsu went to a corner door and coughed. Shōnagon came out.
“My lord is here.”
“And my lady is asleep. You pick strange hours for your visits.“ Shōnagon suspected that he was on his way home from an amorous adventure.
Genji had joined Koremitsu.
“There is something I must say to her before she goes to her father’s.”
Shōnagon smiled. “And no doubt she will have many interesting things to say in reply.”
He pushed his way inside.
“please, sir. We were not expecting anyone. The old women are a dreadful sight.”
“I will go wake her. The morning mist is too beautiful for sleep.”
He went into her bedroom, where the women were too surprised to cry out. He took her in his arms and smoothed her hair. Her father had come for her, she thought, only half awake.
“Let’s go. I have come from your father’s.“ She was terrified when she saw that it was not after all her father. “You are not being nice. I have told you that you must think of me as your father.“ And he carried her out.
A chorus of protests now came from Shōnagon and the others.
“I have explained things quite well enough. I have told you how difficult it is for me to visit her and how I want to have her in a more comfortable and accessible spot; and your way of making things easier is to send her off to her father. One of you may come along, if you wish.”
“Please, sir.“ Shōnagon was wringing her hands. “You could not have chosen a worse time. What are we to say when her father comes? If it is her fate to be your lady, then perhaps something can be done when the time comes. This is too sudden, and you put us in an extremely difficult position.”
“You can come later if you wish.”
His carriage had been brought up. The women were fluttering about helplessly and the child was sobbing. Seeing at last that there was nothing else to be done, Shōnagon took up several of the robes they had been at work on the night before, changed to presentable clothes of her own, and got into the carriage.
It was still dark when they reached Nijo, only a short distance away. Genji ordered the carriage brought up to the west wing and took the girl inside.
“It is like a nightmare,“ said Shōnagon. “What am I to do?”
“Whatever you like. I can have someone see you home if you wish.”
Weeping helplessly, poor Shōnagon got out of the carriage. What would her lady’s father think when he came for her? And what did they now have to look forward to? The saddest thing was to be left behind by one’s protectors. But tears did not augur well for the new life. With an effort she pulled herself together.
Since no one was living in this west wing, there was no curtained bedchamber. Genji had Koremitsu put up screens and curtains, sent someone else to the east wing for bedding, and lay down. Though trembling violently, the girl managed to keep from sobbing aloud.
“I always sleep with Shōnagon,“ she said softly in childish accents.
“Imagine a big girl like you still sleeping with her nurse.”
Weeping quietly, the girl lay down.
Shōnagon sat up beside them, looking out over the garden as dawn came on. The buildings and grounds were magnificent, and the sand in the garden was like jewels. Not used to such affluence, she was glad there were no other women in this west wing. It was here that Genji received occasional callers. A few guards beyond the blinds were the only attendants.
They were speculating on the identity of the lady he had brought with him. “Someone worth looking at, you can bet.”
Water pitchers and breakfast were brought in. The sun was high when Genji arose. “You will need someone to take care of you. Suppose you send this evening for the ones you like best.“ He asked that children be sent from the east wing to play with her. “Pretty little girls, please.“ Four little girls came in, very pretty indeed.
The new girl, his Murasaki, still lay huddled under the singlet he had thrown over her.
“You are not to sulk, now, and make me unhappy. Would I have done all this for you if I were not a nice man? Young ladies should do as they are told.“ And so the lessons began.
She seemed even prettier here beside him than from afar. His manner warm and fatherly, he sought to amuse her with pictures and toys he had sent for from the east wing. Finally she came over to him. Her dark mourning robes were soft and unstarched, and when she smiled, innocently and unprotestingly, he had to smile back. She went out to look at the trees and pond after he had departed for the east wing. The flowers in the foreground, delicately touched by frost, were like a picture. Streams of courtiers, of the medium ranks and new to her experience, passed back and forth. Yes, it was an interesting place. She looked at the pictures on screens and elsewhere and (so it is with a child) soon forgot her troubles.
Staying away from court for several days, Genji worked hard to make her feel at home. He wrote down all manner of poems for her to copy, and drew all manner of pictures, some of them very good. “I sigh, though I have not seen Musashi,“ he wrote on a bit of lavender paper. She took it up, and thought the hand marvelous. In a tiny hand he wrote beside it:
“Thick are the dewy grasses of Musashi,
Near this grass to the grass I cannot have.”
“Now you must write something.”
“But I can’t.“ She looked up at him, so completely without affectation that he had to smile.
“You can’t write as well as you would like to, perhaps, but it would be wrong of you not to write at all. You must think of me as your teacher.”
It was strange that even her awkward, childish way of holding the brush should so delight him. Afraid she had made a mistake, she sought to conceal what she had written. He took it from her.
“I do not know what it is that makes you sigh.
And whatever grass can it be I am so near to?”
The hand was very immature indeed, and yet it had strength, and character. It was very much like her grandmother’s. A touch of the modern and it would not be at all unacceptable. He ordered dollhouses and as the two of them played together he found himself for the first time neglecting his sorrows.
Prince Hyobu went for his daughter on schedule. The women were acutely embarrassed, for there was next to nothing they could say to him. Genji wished to keep the girl’s presence at Nijo secret, and Shōnagon had enjoined the strictest silence. They could only say that Shōnagon had spirited the girl away, they did not know where.
He was aghast. “Her grandmother did not want me to have her, and so I suppose Shōnagon took it upon herself, somewhat sneakily I must say, to hide her away rather than give her to me.“ In tears, he added: “Let me know if you hear anything.”
Which request only intensified their confusion.
The Prince inquired of the bishop in the northern hills and came away no better informed. By now he was beginning to feel some sense of loss (such a pretty child); and his wife had overcome her bitterness and, happy at the thought of a little girl to do with as she pleased, was similarly regretful.
Presently Murasaki had all her women with her. She was a bright, lively child, and the boys and girls who were to be her playmates felt quite at home with her. Sometimes on lonely nights when Genji was away she would weep for her grandmother. She thought little of her father. They had lived apart and she scarcely knew him. She was by now extremely fond of her new father. She would be the first to run out and greet him when he came home, and she would climb on his lap, and they would talk happily together, without the least constraint or embarrassment. He was delighted with her. A clever and watchful woman can create all manner of difficulties. A man must be always on his guard, and jealousy can have the most unwelcome consequences. Murasaki was the perfect companion, a toy for him to play with. He could not have been so free and uninhibited with a daughter of his own. There are restraints upon paternal intimacy. Yes, he had come upon a remarkable little treasure.