The Suzaku emperor had been in bad health since his visit to Rokujō. Always a sickly man, he feared that this illness might be his last. Though it had long been his wish to take holy orders and retire from the world, he had not wanted to do so while his mother lived.
“My heart seems to be urging me in that direction - and in any event I fear I am not long for this world.” And he set about making the necessary preparations.
Besides the crown prince he had four children, all girls. The mother of the Third Princess had herself been born a royal princess, the daughter of the emperor who had preceded Genji’s father. She had been reduced to commoner status and given the name Genji. Though she had come to court when the Suzaku emperor was still crown prince and might one day have been named empress, her candidacy had no powerful backers. Her mother, of undistinguished lineage, was among the emperor’s lesser concubines, and not among the great and brilliant ladies at court. Oborozukiyo had been brought to court by her powerful sister, Kokiden, the Suzaku emperor’s mother, and had had no rival for his affection; and so the mother of the Third Princess had had a sad time of it. The Suzaku emperor was sorry and did what he could for her, but after he left the throne it was not a great deal. She died an obscure and disappointed lady. The Third Princess was the Suzaku emperor’s favorite among his children.
She was now some thirteen or fourteen. The Suzaku emperor worried about her more than about any of the others. To whom could she look for support when he finally withdrew from the world?
He had chosen his retreat, a temple in the western hills, and now it was ready. He was busy both with preparations for the move and with plans for the Third Princess’s initiation. He gave her his most prized treasures and made certain that everything she had, even the most trifling bauble, was of the finest quality. Only when his best things had gone to her did he turn to the needs of his other daughters.
Knowing of course that his father was ill and learning of these new intentions, the crown prince paid a visit. His mother was with him. Though she had not been the Suzaku emperor’s favorite among his ladies, she could not, as mother of the crown prince, be ignored. They had a long talk about old times. The Suzaku emperor offered good advice on the management of public affairs when presently his son’s time on the throne should begin. The crown prince was a sober, mature young man and his mother’s family was powerful. So far as his affairs were concerned, the Suzaku emperor could retire with no worries.
“It is your sisters. I fear I must worry about them to the end. I have heard, and thought it a great pity, that women are shallow, careless creatures who are not always treated with complete respect. Please do not forget your sisters. Be good to them when your day comes. Some of them have reliable enough sponsors. But the Third Princess - it is she I worry about. She is very young and she has been completely dependent on me. And now I am abandoning her.” He brushed away a tear.”What will happen to the poor child?’’
He also asked the crown prince’s mother to be good to her. He had been rather less fond of her than of the Third Princess’s mother, however, and there had been resentments and jealousies back in the days when his several ladies were competing for his attention. Though he surmised that no very deep rancor persisted, he knew that he could not expect her to trouble herself greatly in the Third Princess’s behalf.
Seriously ill as the New Year approached, he no longer ventured from behind his curtains. He had had similar attacks before, but they had not been so frequent or stubborn. He feared that the end might be near. It was true that he had left the throne, but he continued to be of service to the people he had once favored, and their regrets were genuine. Genji made frequent inquiries, and, to the sick man’s very great pleasure, proposed a visit.
Yūgiri came with the news and was invited behind the royal curtains for an intimate talk.
“During his last illness Father gave me all manner of advice and instructions. He seemed to worry most about your father and about the present emperor. There is a limit, I fear, to what a reigning monarch can do. My affection for your father continued to be as it had always been, but a silly little incident provoked me to behavior which I fear he has not been able to forgive. But I only suspect this to be the case. He has not through all the long years let slip a single word of bitterness. In happier times than these the wisest of men have sometimes let personal grievances affect their impartiality and cloud their judgment until a wish to even scores has lured them from the straight way of justice. People have watched him carefully, wondering when his bitterness might lead him similarly astray, but not for a moment has he ever lost control of himself. It would seem that he has the warmest feelings towards the crown prince. Nothing could please me more than the new bond between them. I am not a clever man, and we all know what happens to a father when he starts thinking about his children. I have rather withdrawn from the crown prince’s affairs, not wanting to make a fool of myself, and left them to your father.
“I do not think that I went against Father’s wishes in my behavior towards the emperor, whose radiance will shine through the ages and perhaps make future generations overlook my own misrule. I am satisfied. When I saw your father last autumn a flood of memories came back. It would please me enormously if I might see him again. We have innumerable things to talk about.” There were tears in his eyes. “Do insist that he come.”
“I fear that I am not as well informed as I might be on what happened long ago, but since I have been old enough to be of some service I have tried this way and that to inform myself in the ways of the world. Father and I sometimes have a good talk about important things and about trivialities as well, but I may assure you that I have not once heard him suggest that he was a victim of injustice. I have occasionally heard him say that since he retired from immediate service to the emperor and turned to the quiet pursuits he has always enjoyed most, he has become rather self-centered and has not been at all faithful to the wishes of your royal father. While Your Majesty was on the throne he was still young and inexperienced, he has said, and there were many more eminent and talented men than he, and so his accomplishments fell far short of his hopes. Now that he has withdrawn from public affairs he would like nothing better than a free and open interview with Your Majesty. Unfortunately his position makes it difficult for him to move about, and so time has gone by and he has neglected you sadly.”
Not yet twenty, Yūgiri was in the full bloom of youth, a very handsome boy indeed. The Suzaku emperor looked at him thoughtfully, wondering whether he might not offer a solution to the problem of the Third Princess.
“They tell me that you are now a member of the chancellor’s family. It worried me to see the matter so long in abeyance, and I was enormously relieved at news of your marriage. And yet it would be less than candid of me not to acknowledge that I felt certain regrets at the same time.”
What could this mean? Then Yūgiri remembered rumors about the Suzaku emperor’s concern for the Third Princess, and his wish to find a good husband for her before he took holy orders.
But to let it appear that he had guessed with no trouble at all might not be good manners. “I am not much of a prize,” he said as he took his leave, “and I fear that I was not very eagerly sought after.”
The women of the house had all gathered for a look at him.
“What a marvelous young man. And see how beautifully he carries himself.”
This sort of thing from the younger ones. The older ones were not so sure. “You should have seen his father when he was that age. He was so handsome that he left you quite giddy.”
The Suzaku emperor overheard them. “Yes, Genji was unique. But why do you say ‘that age’? He has only improved as the years have gone by. I often say to myself that the word ‘radiant’ was invented especially for him. In grand matters of public policy we all fall silent when he speaks, but he has another side too, a gentle sense of humor that is irresistible. There is no one quite like him. I sometimes wonder what he can have been in his other lives. He grew up at court and he was our father’s favorite, the joy and treasure of his life. Yet he was always a model of quiet restraint. When he turned twenty, I seem to remember, he was not yet even a middle councillor. The next year he became councillor and general. The fact that his son has advanced more rapidly is evidence, I should think, that the family is well thought of. Yūgiri’s advice in official matters has always been careful and solid. I may be mistaken, but I doubt that he does less well in that respect than his father.”
The Third Princess was a pretty little thing, still very young in her ways and very innocent. “How nice,” said the Suzaku emperor, “if we could find a good, dependable man to look after you. Someone who would see to your education too. There are so many things you need to know.”
He summoned her nurses and her more knowledgeable attendants for a conference about the initiation ceremonies. “It would be quite the best thing if someone could be persuaded to do for her what Genji did for Prince Hyobu’s daughter. I can think of no one in active court service. His Majesty has the empress, and his other ladies are all so very well favored that I would fear for her in the competition and worry about her lack of adequate support. I really should have dropped a hint or two while Yūgiri was still single. He is young but extremely gifted, and he would seem to have a brilliant future.”
“But he is such a steady, proper young man. Through all those years he thought only of the girl who is now his wife, and nothing could pull him away from her. He will doubtless be even more unbudgeable now that they are married. I should think that the chances might be better with his father. It would seem that Genji still has the old acquisitive instincts and that he is always on the alert for ladies of really good pedigree. I am told that he still thinks of the former high priestess of Kamo and sometimes gets off a letter to her.”
“But that is exactly what worries me - his eagerness for the hunt.”
Yet it would seem that the Suzaku emperor’s thoughts were running in much the same direction. There might be unpleasantness of some description, since there were all those other ladies; but he could do worse than ask that Genji take in the Third Princess much as he might have brought home a daughter.
“I’m sure that everyone with a marriageable daughter has the same thought, that when all is said and done Genji would not be a bad son-in-law. Life is short and a man wants to do what he can with it. If I had been born a woman I suspect I might have been drawn to him in a not too sisterly fashion. I used to think so when we were boys, and I have never been surprised at all when I have seen a lady losing her senses over him.”
It may have been that he was thinking of his own Oborozukiyo.
Among the princess’s nurses was a woman of good family whose elder brother was a moderator of the middle rank. He had long been among Genji’s more trusted followers and he had been of good service to the Third Princess as well. One day when he was with her his sister told him of the Suzaku emperor’s remarks.
“Perhaps you might find occasion to speak to His Lordship. It is a common enough thing for princesses to remain single, but it is good all the same when one of them finds a man who is fond of her and will look after her. My poor lady, only her father really cares about her. Except for us, of course - and what can we do? As a matter of fact, I would feel better if I were the only one concerned. There are other women with her, and one of them could easily bring about her ruin. It would be an enormous relief if something could be arranged while her father is still with us. Even a princess may be fated for unhappy things, and I do worry most inordinately. There are jealousies because she is her father’s favorite. I only wish it were in my power to protect her.”
“Genji is a more reliable man than you would imagine. When he has had an affair, even the most lighthearted sort of adventure, he ends up by taking the lady in and making her one of his own. The result is that he has a large collection. But no man can distribute his affections indefinitely, and it would seem that there is one lady who dominates them. I should imagine, though I cannot be sure, that there are numbers of ladies who feel rather neglected as a result. But if it should be the princess’s fate to marry him, I doubt that the one lady need be a dangerous threat to her. I must admit all the same that I have misgivings. I have heard him say, without making a great point of it, that his life has been too well favored in an otherwise poorly favored day, and that it would be greedy and arrogant of him to want more, but that he himself and others too have thought that in his relations with women he has not been completely successful. I think I can see what he means. Not one of his ladies need be ashamed of her family, and not one of them is of really the very best. They are all in some measure his inferior. I should think that your lady might be exactly what is needed.”
The nurse found occasion to speak of these matters to the Suzaku emperor. “My brother says that His Lordship at Rokujō would without question be friendly to a proposal from Your Majesty. He would see in it the fulfillment of all his wishes. With Your Majesty’s concurrence my brother would be happy to transmit a proposal. Yet we have misgivings. His Lordship is very kind to them all, after their various stations, but even a commoner who does not have her royal dignity to worry about finds it unpleasant to be one of many wives. I wonder if the strain on my lady might not perhaps be too much. I gather that she has other suitors. I hope that Your Majesty will consider all the possibilities very carefully before coming to a decision. Ladies tend these days to think first about their own convenience and to be indifferent to the claims of high birth. My own lady is really so very innocent and inexperienced, astonishingly so, indeed, and there is a limit to what we others can do for her. When we are conscientious we do our work under direction, and we find ourselves helpless if it begins to weaken.”
“I have worried a great deal, and think I am aware of all the arguments and considerations. It may be the more prudent course for a princess to remain single. The claims of birth cannot be relied upon to protect a marriage from bitterness and unhappiness. They are certain to come. And on the other hand there are unmarried princesses who suddenly find themselves alone in the world, quite without protection. In the old days people were diffident and respectful and would not have dreamed of violating the proprieties, but in our own day the most determined and purposeful lady cannot be sure that she is not going to be insulted. Such, in any event, has been the purport of the various discussions I have overheard. A lady who was until yesterday guarded by worthy and influential parents today finds herself involved in a scandal with an adventurer of no standing at all and brings dishonor upon her dead parents. Such instances are constantly coming to my attention. And so there are arguments on both sides. The fact that a lady was born a princess is no guarantee that things will go well for her. You cannot imagine how I have worried.
“When a lady has put herself in the hands of those who ought to know best, then she can resign herself to what must be, and if it is not happy then at least she does not have herself to blame. Or if she is not that sort of lady, affairs may shape themselves so that in the end she may congratulate herself upon her independence. Even then the initial secrecy and the affront to her parents and advisers are not good. They do injury to her name from which it is not easy to recover. What a silly, heedless girl, people say, even of a commoner. Or if a lady’s wishes should have been consulted but she finds herself joined to a man who does not please her, and people are heard to say that it is just as they thought it would be - then her advisers may be taxed with carelessness. I have reason to believe that the Third Princess is not at all reliable in these matters, and that you people are reaching out and taking her affairs into your own hands. If it were to become known that that is the case, the results could easily be disastrous.”
These troubled meditations, as he prepared to leave the world, did not make things easier for the princess’s women.
“I think I have been rather patient,” continued the Suzaku emperor, “waiting for her to grow up and become just a little more aware of things, but now I begin to fear that my deepest wish may be denied me. I can wait no longer.
“It is true that Genji has other ladies, but he is a sober and intelligent man, indeed a tower of strength. Let us not worry about the others. She must make a place for herself. It would be hard to think of a more dependable man.
“But let us consider the other possibilities.
“There is my brother, Prince Hotaru. He is a thoroughly decent man and certainly no stranger, nor is he someone we may consider we have any right to look down upon. But I sometimes think that his preoccupation with deportment rather diminishes his stature and even makes him seem less than completely serious. I doubt that we can depend on him in such an important matter.
“I have heard that the Fujiwara councillor would like to manage her affairs. I have no doubt that he would be a very loyal servant, and yet - might one not hope for a less ordinary sort of man? The precedents all suggest that true eminence is what matters, and that an eagerness to be of service is not quite enough.
“There is Kashiwagi. Oborozukiyo tells me that he suffers from secret longings. Perhaps he might someday do, but he is still very young and rather obscure. I am told that he has remained single because he wants the very best. No one else has been so dedicated to such high ambitions. He has studied hard, and I have no doubt that he will one day be among the most useful of public servants. But I doubt that he is quite what we want at the moment.”
No one troubled him with the affairs of his other daughters, who worried him much less. It was strange how reports of his secret anxiety had so spread that it had become a matter of public concern.
It came to the attention of Tō no Chūjō, who presented his addresses through Oborozukiyo, his sister-in-law. “Kashiwagi is still single because he is determined to marry a princess and no one else. You might point this fact out to the Suzaku emperor when he is making final plans for his daughters. If Kashiwagi were to be noticed I would feel greatly honored myself.”
Oborozukiyo did what she could to advance her nephew’s cause.
Prince Hotaru, having been rejected by Tamakazura, was determined to show her that he could do even better. It was not likely that the affairs of the Third Princess had escaped his notice. Indeed, he was very restless.
The Fujiwara councillor was very close to the Suzaku emperor, whose chief steward he had been for many years. With his master’s retirement from the world his prospects were bleak. It would seem that he was trying to call the Suzaku emperor’s attention to his claims as the man most competent to manage the princess’s affairs.
Yūgiri had of course been taken into the royal confidence. It excited him, apparently, to think that the Suzaku emperor, having said so much, could not shrug off a proposal from him. But Kumoinokari had joined her destinies to his. He had been steadfast through all the unfriendly years and could not admit the possibility of making her unhappy now. And of course marriage to the chancellor’s daughter limited his options. Action on two fronts, so to speak, could be very exacting and very unpleasant. Always the most prudent of young men, he kept his own counsel. Yet he watched each new development with great interest, and he was not at all sure that he would not be disappointed when a husband was finally chosen for the princess.
The crown prince too was well informed. He offered it as his view that one must be very careful about setting precedents. “You must deliberate on every facet of the case. However excellent a man may be, a commoner is still a commoner. But if Genji is to be your choice, then I think he should be asked to look after her as a father looks after a daughter.”
“I quite agree. I can see that you have thought the matter over carefully.”
Increasingly enthusiastic about Genji’s candidacy, the Suzaku emperor summoned the moderator, brother of the Third Princess’s nurse, and asked that Genji be made aware of his thoughts.
Genji was of course very much aware of them already. “I am sorry to hear it. He may fear that he has not much longer to live, but how can he be sure that I will outlive him? If we could be sure to die in the order in which we were born, then of course I might expect to be around for a little while yet. But I can look after her without marrying her. I could hardly be indifferent towards any of his children. If he is especially concerned about the Third Princess, then I will want to respect his wishes. Though of course nothing in this world is certain.
“I am overwhelmed by these evidences of trust and affection. But supposing I were to follow her father’s example and retire to a hermitage myself - would that not be sad for her? And she would be a strong bond tying me to a world I wish to leave.
“What of Yūgiri? He is still young and not very important, I know, but he will someday be one of the grand ministers. He has all the qualifications. If the Suzaku emperor is so inclined, I am not being frivolous, I most emphatically assure you, when I commend Yūgiri to his attention. Perhaps he has held back because he knows that the boy is a monogamous sort and that he already has his wife.”
Genji seemed to be withdrawing his candidacy. Knowing that the Suzaku emperor’s decision had not been hasty, the moderator was much distressed. He described all the deliberations in great detail.
Genji smiled. “Yes, he is very fond of her, and I can imagine how he must worry. But there is one unassailable way to end his worries: make her one of the emperor’s ladies. He has numbers of fine ladies already, I know, but they need not be a crucial consideration. It is by no means a firm rule that ladies who come to court later are at a disadvantage. He has only to look back to the days of our late father. The dowager empress was his first wife. She came to court when he was still crown prince and she seemed to have everything her way, and yet there were the years when she was quite overshadowed by Fujitsubo, the very last of his ladies. Your princess’s mother was, I believe, Fujitsubo’s sister, only less well endowed, people tell me, than she. With such fine looks on both sides of the family it cannot be doubted that your princess is very lovely.”
The Suzaku emperor took the last remark as evidence that Genji was himself not uninterested.
The year drew to an end. The Suzaku emperor made haste to get his affairs in order. The plans for the Third Princess’s initiation were so grand that it seemed likely to oust all other such affairs from the history books. The west room of the Oak Pavilion was fitted out for the ceremonies. Only the most resplendent imported brocades were used for hangings and cushions, and the results would have pleased a Chinese empress.
Suzaku had long before asked Tō no Chūjō to bestow the ceremonial train. He was such a busy man that one was reluctant to make demands upon his time, but he had never turned away a request from Suzaku. The other two ministers and all the high courtiers were also present, even some who had had previous engagements. Indeed the whole court was present, including the whole of the emperor’s private household and that of the crown prince. Eight royal princes were among the guests. For the emperor and the crown prince and many others too there was sadness mingled with the joy. It would be the last such affair arranged by the Suzaku emperor. The warehouses and supply rooms were searched for the most splendid of imported gifts. A large array of equally splendid gifts came from Rokujō, some in Genji’s own name and some in that of the Suzaku emperor. It was Genji who saw that Tō no Chūjō was properly rewarded for his services.
From Akikonomu came robes and combs and the like, all of them selected with the greatest care. She got out combs and bodkins from long ago and made sure that the necessary repairs did not obscure their identity. On the evening of the ceremony she dispatched them by her assistant chamberlain, who also served in the Suzaku Palace, with instructions that they be delivered directly to the Third Princess. With them was a poem:
“I fear these little combs are scarred and worn.
I have used them to summon back an ancient day.”
The Suzaku emperor chanced to be with the princess when the gift was delivered. The memories were poignant. Perhaps Akikonomu meant to share some of her own good fortune with the princess. It was a beautiful gift in any case. He got off a note of thanks from which he tried to exclude his own feelings:
“I only hope that she may be as you,
All through the myriad years of the boxwood comb.”
It was with a considerable effort of the will that he was present at the ceremonies, for he was in great pain. Three days later he took the tonsure. Even an ordinary man leaves grief and regret behind him, and in his case the regret was boundless.
Oborozukiyo refused to leave his side.
“My worries about my daughters may come to an end,” he said, “but how can I stop worrying about you?”
He forced himself to sit up. The grand abbot of Hiei shaved his head and there were three eminent clerics to administer the vows. The final renunciation, symbolized by the change to somber religious habit, was very sad indeed. Even the priests, who should long ago have left sorrow behind them, were unable to hold back their tears. As for the Suzaku emperor’s daughters and ladies and attendants high and low, the halls and galleries echoed with their laments. And even now, he sighed, he could not have the peace he longed for. The Third Princess was still too much on his mind.
He was of course showered with messages, from the emperor and from the whole court.
Hearing that he was a little better, Genji paid a visit. Genji’s allowances were now those of a retired emperor, but he was determined to avoid equivalent ceremony. He rode in a plain carriage and kept his retinue to a minimum, and preferred a carriage escort to the more ostentatious mounted guard. Delighted at the visit, the Suzaku emperor braved very great discomfort to receive him. He shared Genji’s wishes that the visit be informal and had places set out in his private parlor. Genji was shocked and saddened at the change in his brother. A shadow seemed to sweep over the past and on into the future, and he was in tears.
“Father’s death more than anything made me aware of impermanence and change. I resolved that I must leave the world. But I have never had much will power, and I have delayed, and so you see me unable to raise my head before you who have done the great thing first. I have known how much easier it should be for me than for you and I have made the resolve over and over again, and somehow regret for the world has always been stronger.”
The Suzaku emperor was also weeping. In an uncertain voice he talked of old and recent happenings. “For years I have had a persistent feeling that I would not last the night, and still the years have gone by. Fearing that I might die without accomplishing the first of my resolves, I have finally taken the step. Now that I have changed to these dark robes I know more than ever how little time I have ahead of me. I fear that I shall not go far down the way I have chosen. I must be satisfied with the easier route. I shall calm my thoughts for a time and invoke the holy name, and that will be all. I am not a man of very grand and rare substance, and I cannot think that I was meant for anything different. I must reprove myself for the years of lazy indecision.”
He described his plans and hopes and managed to touch upon the matter that worried him most. “I am sad for all of my daughters, but most of all for the most inadequately protected of them.”
Genji was sad for his brother, and in spite of everything rather interested in the Third Princess. “Yes, the higher a lady’s standing, the sadder it is for her to be without adequate defenses. I am very much aware that our crown prince is among our greatest blessings. The whole world looks upon him as more than this inferior day of ours has any right to expect, and I know perhaps better than anyone how unlikely he is to refuse Your Majesty’s smallest request. There is no cause for concern, none at all. Yet it is as Your Majesty has said: there is a limit to what even he can do. When his day comes he may be able to manage public affairs quite as he wishes, but there is no assurance that he can arrange things ideally for his own sisters. Yes, the safest thing by far would be to find someone whom the Third Princess can depend upon in everything. Let the vows be exchanged and the man charged with responsibilities he cannot deny. If Your Majesty will insist upon worrying about the whole of the vast, distant future, then a decision must be made and a suitable guardian chosen, promptly but quietly.”
“I quite agree. But it is by no means easy. Many princesses have been provided with suitable husbands while their fathers have still occupied the throne. The matter is more urgent for my own poor girl, and her affairs are the last which I still think of as my own. Promptly and quietly, you say - but they remain beyond my power either to ignore or to dispose of. And as I have worried my health has deteriorated, and days and weeks which will not return have gone by to no purpose.
“It is not easy for me to make the request, and no easier for you, I am sure, to be the object - but might I ask that you take the girl in your very special charge and, quite as you think appropriate, find a husband for her? I should have made a proposal to your son while he was still single, and it is a great source of regret that I was anticipated by the chancellor.”
“He is a serious, dependable lad, but he is still very young and inexperienced. It may seem presumptuous of me - but let us suppose that I were myself to take responsibility. Her life need not be much different from what it is now, though there is the disquieting consideration that I am no longer young, and the time may come when I can no longer be of service to her.”
And so the contract was made.
In the evening there was a banquet, for Genji’s party and the Suzaku household. The priest’s fare was unpretentious but beautifully prepared and served. The tableware and the trays of light aloeswood also suggested the priestly vocation and brought tears to the eyes of the guests. The melancholy and moving details were innumerable, but I fear that they would clutter my story.
It was late in the night when Genji and his men departed, the men bearing lavish gifts. The Fujiwara councillor was among those who saw them off. There had been a fall of snow and the Suzaku emperor had caught cold. But he was happy. The future of the Third Princess seemed secure.
Genji was worried. Murasaki had heard vague rumors, but she had told herself that it could not be. Genji had once been very serious about the high priestess of Ise, it seemed, but in the end he had held himself back. She had not worried a great deal, and asked no questions.
How would she take this news? Genji knew that his feelings towards her would not change, or if they did it would be in the direction of greater intensity. But only time could. assure her of that fact, and there would be cruel uncertainty in the meantime. Nothing had been allowed to come between them in recent years, and the thought of having a secret from her for even a short time made him very unhappy.
He said nothing to her that night.
The next day was dark, with flurries of snow.
“I went yesterday to call on the Suzaku emperor. He is in very poor health indeed.” It was in the course of a leisurely conversation that Genji brought the matter up. “He said many sad things, but what seems to trouble him most as he goes off to his retreat is the future of the Third Princess.” And he described that part of the interview. “I was really so extremely sorry for him that I found it impossible to refuse. I suppose people will make a great thing of it. The thought of taking a bride at my age has seemed so utterly preposterous that I have tried through this and that intermediary to suggest a certain want of ardor. But to see him in person and have it directly from him - I simply could not bring myself to refuse. Do you think that when the time does finally come for him to go off into the mountains we might have her come here? Would that upset you terribly? Please do not let it. Trust me, and tell yourself what is the complete truth, that nothing is going to change. She has more right to feel insecure than you do. But I am sure that we can arrange things happily enough for her too.”
She was always torturing herself over the smallest of his affairs, and he had dreaded telling her of this one.
But her reply was quiet and unassertive. “Yes, it is sad for her. The only thing that worries me is the possibility that she might feel less than completely at home. I shall be very happy if our being so closely related persuades her that I am no stranger.”
“How silly that this very willingness to accept things should bother me. But it does. It makes me start looking for complications, and I am sure I will feel guiltier as the two of you get used to each other. You must pay no attention to what people say. Rumors are strange things. It is impossible to know where they come from, but there they are, like living creatures bent on poisoning relations between a man and a woman. You must listen only to yourself and let matters take their course. Do not start imagining things, and do not torture yourself with empty jealousies.”
It was a tempest out of the blue which there was no escaping. Murasaki was determined that she would not complain or give any hint of resentment. She knew that neither her wishes nor her advice would have made any difference. She did not want the world to think that she had been crushed by what had to come. There was her sharp-tongued stepmother, so quick to blame and to gloat - she had even held Murasaki responsible for the curious solution to the Tamakazura problem. She was certain to gloat over this, and to say that Murasaki deserved exactly what had come to her. Though very much in control of herself, Murasaki was prey to these worries. The very durability of her relations with Genji was sure to make people laugh harder. But she gave no hint of her unhappiness.
The New Year came, and at the Suzaku Palace the Third Princess’s wedding plans kept people busy. Her several suitors were deeply disappointed. The emperor, who had let it be known that he would welcome her at court, was among them.
It was Genji’s fortieth year, to which the court could not be indifferent and which had long promised to send gladness ringing through the land. With his dislike for pomp and ceremony, Genji only hoped that the rejoicing would not be too loud.
The Day of the Rat fell on the twenty-third of the First Month. Tamakazura came with the new herbs that promise long life. She came very quietly, not letting anyone know of her intentions. Faced with an accomplished fact, Genji could hardly turn her and her gifts away. She too disliked ceremony, but the movements of so important a lady were certain to be noticed.
A west room of the main southeast hall was made ready to receive her. New curtains were hung and new screens set out, as were forty cushions, more comfortable and less ostentatious, thought Genji, than ceremonial chairs. In spite of the informality, the details were magnificent. Wardrobes were laid out upon four cupboards inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and there was a fine though modest array of summer and winter robes, incense jars, medicine and comb boxes, inkstones, vanity sets, and other festive paraphernalia. The stands for the ritual chaplets were of aloeswood and sandalwood, beautifully carved and fitted in the modern manner, with metal trimmings in several colors. Tamakazura’s touch was apparent everywhere. She was a lady of refinement and sensibility, and when she exerted herself the results were certain to be memorable - though she agreed with Genji that lavish display was in poor taste.
The party assembled and Genji and Tamakazura exchanged greetings, formal but replete with memories. Genji seemed so youthful that one wondered whether he might not have miscalculated his age. He looked more like her bridegroom than her foster father. She was shy at first, not having seen him in a very long time, but determined not to raise unnecessary barriers. She had brought her two sons with her, very pretty boys indeed. It rather embarrassed her to have had two sons in such quick succession, but Higekuro, her husband, had said that they must be introduced to Genji, and that there was not likely to be a better occasion. They were in identical dress, casual and boyish, and they still wore their hair in the page-boy fashion, parted in the middle.
“I try not to worry about my age,” said Genji , “and to pretend that I am still a boy, and it gives me pause to be presented with the new generation. Yūgiri has children, I am told, but he makes a great thing of not letting me see them. This day which you were the first to remember does after all bring regrets. I had hoped to forget my age for a little while yet.”
Tamakazura was very much the matron, in an entirely pleasant way. Her congratulatory poem was most matronly:
“I come to pray that the rock may long endure
And I bring with me the seedling pines from the field.”
Genji went through the ceremony of sampling the new herbs, which were arranged in four aloeswood boxes. He raised his cup.
“Long shall be the life of the seedling pines -
To add to the years of the herbs brought in from the fields?”
There was a large assembly of high officials in the south room. Prince Hyobu had been of two minds about coming. He finally decided, at about noon, that to stay away would be to attract attention to his daughter’s misfortunes. Yes, of course it was annoying that Higekuro should be making such a show of his close relations with Genji, but his other children, Prince Hyobu’s grandchildren, were doubly close to Genji, through their mother and through their stepmother, and had been assigned a conspicuous part in the celebrations.
There were forty baskets of fruit and forty boxes of food, presented by as many courtiers, with Yūgiri leading the procession. Genji poured wine for his guests and sampled a broth from the new herbs. Before him were four aloeswood stands, laid out with the finest tableware in the newest fashion.
Out of respect for the ailing Suzaku emperor, no musicians had been summoned from the palace. Tō no Chūjō had brought wind instruments, taking care from far in advance to choose only the best. “There is not likely to be another banquet so splendid,” he said.
It was an easy, informal concert. Tō no Chūjō had also brought the Japanese koto that was among his most prized treasures. He was one of the finest musicians of the day, and when he put himself out no one was his equal - certainly no one was eager to take up the Japanese koto when he had finished. At Genji’s insistence Kashiwagi did finally venture a strain, and everyone agreed that he was very little if at all his father’s inferior. There was something almost weirdly beautiful about his playing, to make people exclaim in wonder that though of course talent could be inherited no one would have expected so original a style to be handed from father to son. There is perhaps nothing so very mysterious about the secret Chinese repertory, for all its variety. The scores may be secret but they are fixed and not hard to read. It is rather the Japanese koto, the improvising after the dictates of one’s fancy, all the while deferring to the requirements of other instruments, that fills the listener with wonder. His koto tuned very low, Tō no Chūjō managed an astonishingly rich array of overtones. Kashiwagi chose a higher, more approachable tuning. Not informed in advance that he had such talents, the audience, princes and all, was mute with admiration.
Genji’s brother, Prince Hotaru, chose a seven-stringed Chinese koto, a palace treasure rich in associations, having been handed down from emperor to emperor. In his last years Genji’s father had given it to his eldest daughter, who numbered it among her dearest treasures. Tō no Chūjō had asked for it especially to honor the occasion. Prince Hotaru, who had drunk rather freely and was in tears, glanced tentatively at Genji and pushed the koto towards him. All this gaiety seemed to demand novel music, and though both Tamakazura and Genji had wished to avoid ostentation it was in the end a most remarkable concert. The singers, gathered at the south stairway, were all in fine voice. They presently shifted to a minor key, to announce that the hour was late and the music should be more familiar and intimate.”Green Willow“ was enough to make the warblers start from their roosts. Since the affair was deemed exempt from public sumptuary regulations, the gifts were of astonishing richness and variety, for Tamakazura and for all the other guests. She made ready to leave at dawn.
“I live quite apart from the world,” said Genji, “and I find myself losing track of time. Your very courteous reminder is also a melancholy one. Do stop by occasionally to see how I have aged. It is a great pity that an elder statesman cannot move about as he would wish, and so I do not see you often.”
Yes, the associations were both melancholy and happy. He thought it a pity that she must leave so soon, nor did she want to go. She honored her real father in a formal and perfunctory way, but it was to Genji that she owed the larger debt. He had taken her in and made a place for her, and her gratitude increased as the years went by.
The Third Princess came to Rokujō towards the middle of the Second Month. The preparations to receive her were elaborate. The west room of the main southeast hall in which Genji had sampled the new herbs became her boudoir. Very great attention had been given to appointing her women’s rooms as well, in the galleries and two wings to the west. The trousseau was brought from the Suzaku Palace with all the ceremony of a presentation at court, and it goes without saying that similar pomp accompanied the formal move to Rokujō. Her retinue was enormous, led by the highest courtiers. Among them was a reluctant one, the Fujiwara councillor who had hoped to take charge of her affairs. Genji broke with precedent by himself coming out to receive her. Certain limitations were imposed upon a commoner, and she was after all neither going to court nor receiving a prince as a bridegroom; and all in all it was a most unusual event.
Through the three days following, the nuptial ceremonies, arranged by the Suzaku and Rokujō households, were of very great dignity and elegance.
It was an unsettling time for Murasaki. No doubt Genji was giving an honest view of the matter when he said that she would not be overwhelmed by the Third Princess. Yet for the first time in years she felt genuinely threatened. The new lady was young and, it would seem, rather showy in her ways, and of such a rank that Murasaki could not ignore her. All very unsettling; but she gave no hint of her feelings, and indeed helped with all the arrangements. Genji saw more than ever that there was really no one like her.
The Third Princess was, as her father had said, a mere child. She was tiny and immature physically, and she gave a general impression of still greater, indeed quite extraordinary, immaturity. He thought of Murasaki when he had first taken her in. She had even then been interesting. She had had a character of her own. The Third Princess was like a baby. Well, thought Genji, the situation had something to recommend it: she was not likely to intrude and make Murasaki unhappy with fits of jealousy. Yet he did think he might have hoped for someone a little more interesting.
For the first three nights he was faithfully in attendance upon her. Murasaki was unhappy but said nothing. She gave herself up to her thoughts and to such duties, now performed with unusual care, as scenting his robes. He thought her splendid. Why, he asked himself, whatever the pressures and the complications, had he taken another wife? He had been weak and he had given an impression of inconstancy, and brought it all upon himself. Yūgiri had escaped because the Suzaku emperor had seen what an unshakable pillar of fidelity he was.
Genji was near tears. “Please excuse me just this one more night. I have no alternative. If after this I neglect you, then you may be sure that I will be angrier with myself than you can ever be with me. We do have to consider her father’s feelings.”
“Do not ask us bystanders,” she said, a faint smile on her lips, “to tell you how to behave.”
He turned away, chin in hand, to hide his confusion.
“I had grown so used to thinking it would not change.
And now, before my very eyes, it changes.”
He took up the paper on which she had jotted down old poems that fitted her mood as well as this poem of her own. It was not the most perfect of poems, perhaps, but it was honest and to the point.
“Life must end. It is a transient world.
The one thing lasting is the bond between us.”
He did not want to leave, but she said that he was only making things more difficult for her. He was wearing the soft robes which she had so carefully scented. She had over the years seen new threats arise only to be turned away, and she had finally come to think that there would be no more. Now this had happened, and everyone was talking. She knew how susceptible he had been in his earlier years, and now the whole future seemed uncertain. It was remarkable that she showed no sign of her disquiet.
Her women were talking as of the direst happenings.
“Who would have expected it? He has always kept himself well challenge. So things have been quiet. I doubt that our lady will let them defeat her - but we must be careful. The smallest mistake could make things very difficult.”
Murasaki pretended that nothing at all was amiss. She talked pleasantly with them until late in the night. She feared that silence on the most important subject might make it seem more important than it was.
“I am so glad that she has come to us. We have had a full house, but I sometimes think he has been a little bored with us, poor man. None of us is grand enough to be really interesting. I somehow hope that we will be the best of friends. Perhaps it is because they say that she is still a mere child. And here you all are digging a great chasm between us. If we were of the same rank, or perhaps if I had some slight reason to think myself a little her superior, then I would feel that I had to be careful. But as it is - you may think it impertinent of me to say so - I only want to be friendly.”
Nakatsukasa and Chūjō exchanged glances. “Such kindness,” one of them, I do not know which, would seem to have muttered. They had once been recipients of Genji’s attentions but they had been with Murasaki for some years now, and they were among her firmer allies.
Inquiries came from the ladies in the other quarters, some of them suggesting that they who had long ago given up their ambitions might be the more fortunate ones. Murasaki sighed. They meant to be kind, of course, but they were not making things easier. Well, there was no use in tormenting herself over things she could not change, and the inconstancy of the other sex was among them.
Her women would think it odd if she spent the whole night talking with them. She withdrew to her boudoir and they helped her into bed. She was lonely, and the presence of all these women did little to disguise the fact. She thought of the years of his exile. She had feared that they would not meet again, but the agony of waiting for word that he was still alive was in itself a sort of distraction from the sorrow and longing. She sought to comfort herself now with the thought that those confused days could so easily have meant the end of everything.
The wind was cold. Not wanting her women to know that she could not sleep, she lay motionless until she ached from the effort. Still deep in the cold night, the call of the first cock seemed to emphasize the loneliness and sorrow.
She may not have been in an agony of longing, but she was deeply troubled, and perhaps for that reason she came to Genji in his dreams. His heart was racing. Might something have happened to her? He lay waiting for the cock as if for permission to leave, and at its first call rushed out as if unaware that it would not yet be daylight for some time. Still a child, the princess kept her women close beside her. One of them saw him out through a corner door. The snow caught the first traces of dawn, though the garden was still dark. “In vain the spring night’s darkness,” whispered her nurse, catching the scent he had left behind.
The patches of snow were almost indistinguishable from the white garden sands. “There is yet snow by the castle wall,” he whispered to himself as he came to Murasaki’s wing of the house and tapped on a shutter. No longer in the habit of accommodating themselves to nocturnal wanderings, the women let him wait for a time.
“How slow you are,” he said, slipping in beside her. “I am quite congealed, as much from terror as from cold. And I have done nothing to deserve it.”
He thought her rather wonderful. She did nothing at all, and yet, hiding her wet sleeves, she somehow managed to keep him at a distance. Not even among ladies of the highest birth was there anyone quite like her. He found himself comparing her with the little princess he had just left.
He spent the day beside her, going over their years together, and charging her with evasion and deviousness.
He sent a note saying that he would not be calling on the princess that day. “I seem to have caught a chill from the snow and think I would be more comfortable here.”
Her nurse sent back tartly by word of mouth that the note had been passed on to her lady. Not a very amiable sort, thought Genji.
He did not want the Suzaku emperor to know of his want of ardor, but he did not seem capable even of maintaining appearances. Things could scarcely have been worse. For her part, Murasaki feared that the Suzaku emperor would hold her responsible.
Waking this time in the familiar rooms, he got off another note to the princess. He took great trouble with it, though he was not sure that she would notice. He chose white paper and attached it to a sprig of plum blossom.
“Not heavy enough to block the way between us,
The flurries of snow this morning yet distress me.”
He told the messenger that the note was to be delivered at the west gallery.
Dressed in white, a sprig of plum in his hand, he sat near the veranda looking at patches of snow like stragglers waiting for their comrades to return. A warbler called brightly from the rose plum at the eaves. “Still inside my sleeve,” he said, sheltering the blossom in his hand and raising a blind for a better look at the snow. He was so youthfully handsome that no one would have taken him for one of the great men of the land and the father of a grown son.
Sure that he could expect no very quick answer from the princess, he went to show Murasaki his sprig of plum. “Blossoms should have sweet scents. Think what the cherry blossom would be if it had the scent of the plum - we would have an eye for no other blossom. The plum comes into bloom when there is no contest. How fine if we could see it in competition with the cherry.”
An answer did presently come. It was on red tissue paper and folded neatly in an envelope. He opened it with trepidation, hoping that it would not be too irredeemably childish. He did not want to have secrets from Murasaki, and yet he did not want her to see the princess’s hand, at least for a time. To display the princess in all her immaturity seemed somehow insulting. But it would be worse to make Murasaki yet unhappier. She sat leaning against an armrest. He laid the note half open beside her.
“You do not come. I fain would disappear,
A veil of snow upon the rough spring winds.”
It was every bit as bad as he had feared, scarcely even a child’s hand - and of course in point of years she was not a child at all. Murasaki glanced at it and glanced away as if she had not seen it. He would have offered it up for what it was, evidence of almost complete uselessness, had it been from anyone else.
“So you see that you have nothing to worry about,” he said.
He paid his first daytime call upon the princess. He had dressed with unusual care and no doubt his good looks had an unusually powerful effect on women not used to them. For the older and more experienced of them, the nurse, for instance, the effect was of something like apprehension. He was so splendid that they feared complications. Their lady was such a pretty little child of a thing, reduced to almost nothing at all by the brilliance of her surroundings. It was as if there were no flesh holding up the great mounds of clothing. She did not seem shy before him, and if it could have been said that her openness and freedom from mannerism were for purposes of putting him at his ease, then it could also have been said that they succeeded very well. Her father was not generally held to be a virile sort of man, but no one denied his superior taste and refinement, and the mystery was that he had done so little by way of training her. And of course Genji, like everyone else, knew that she was his favorite, and that he worried endlessly about her. It all seemed rather sad. The other side of the matter was that she did undeniably have a certain girlish charm. She listened quietly and answered with whatever came into her mind. He must be good to her. In his younger days his disappointment would have approached contempt, but he had become more tolerant. They all had their ways, and none was enormously superior to the others. There were as many sorts of women as there were women. A disinterested observer would probably have told him that he had made a good match for himself. Murasaki was the only remarkable one among them all, more remarkable now than ever, he thought, and he had known her very well for a very long time. He had no cause for dissatisfaction with his efforts as guardian and mentor. A single morning or evening away from her and the sense of deprivation was so intense as to bring a sort of foreboding.
The Suzaku emperor moved into his temple that same month. Numbers of emotional letters came to Rokujō, for Genji and of course for the princess. He said several times that Genji must not think about him but must follow his own judgment in his treatment of the princess. He could not even so hide his disquietude. She was so very young and defenseless.
He also wrote to Murasaki. “I fear I have left an unthinking child on your hands. Do please be tolerant. I venture to comfort myself with the thought that the close relationship between you will make it difficult for you to reject her.
“Deep into these mountains I would go,
But thoughts of one I leave still pull me back.
“If I express myself foolishly it is because the heart of a father is darkness. You must forgive me.”
Genji was with her when it was delivered. It showed deep feeling, he said, and must be treated with respect. He ordered wine for the messenger.
Murasaki did not know how to reply. A long and elaborate letter somehow did not seem appropriate. She finally made do with an impromptu poem:
“If your thoughts are upon the world you leave behind,
You should not make a point of cutting your ties.”
She gave the messenger a set of women’s robes.
So fine was her handwriting that it set the Suzaku emperor to worrying anew. He should not have left his artless daughter in a house where the other ladies were so subtle.
There were sad farewells now that the time had come for his ladies to go their several ways. Oborozukiyo moved into Kokiden’s Nijō mansion. After the Third Princess she had been most on the Suzaku emperor’s mind. She thought of becoming a nun, but he dissuaded her, saying that a great rush to holy orders would be unseemly. She devoted more and more of her time to collecting holy images and otherwise preparing for the religious vocation.
The disastrous conclusion to their affair had made it impossible for Genji to forget her. He wanted very much to see her again. Their positions were such, however, that they must always be on good behavior, and the memory of the disaster was still vivid. He kept his wishes to himself. But he did want very much to know something of her thoughts now that she had cut the old entanglements. Though quite aware of the impropriety, he wrote to her from time to time, pretending that his letters, in fact rather warm, were routine inquiries after her health. Because they were no longer young, she sometimes answered. He could tell that she was much improved, and now he did want very much to see her. From time to time he got off a sad petition to her woman Chunagon.
He summoned Chunagon’s brother, the former governor of Izumi, and addressed him as if they were young adventurers again. “There is something I want very much to speak to your sister’s lady about, Something confidential. You must arrange a secret interview. I no longer go off keeping lighthearted rendezvous, and I am sure that she is as careful as I am, and that we need not worry about being detected.”
But she answered sadly that she could not even consider receiving him. As she had gown in her understanding of the world she had come to see rather better that she had been badly treated. And what had they to talk about now, save regret that the Suzaku emperor was leaving them? Yes, a meeting might be kept secret - but what was she to tell her own conscience?
She had welcomed his advances, however, back in the days when they had presented far greater difficulties. Though her solicitude for the Suzaku emperor, now off in his hermitage, was without doubt genuine, she could hardly say that she and Genji had been nothing to each other. She might now make a great thing of her chastity, but the telltale flock of birds, as the poet said, would not come back. He summoned his courage and hoped that he might rely for shelter on the grove of Shinoda.
“The Hitachi lady in the east lodge at Nijō has not been well,” he said to Murasaki. “I have been too busy to look in on her, and I have been feeling guilty. It would not do to raise a great stir in the middle of the day. I think a quiet evening visit is what is called for, something no one even need know about.”
She thought him improbably nervous about visiting a lady who had never meant a great deal to him. But a certain reserve had grown up between them and she let his explanation pass.
As for the Third Princess, he made do with an exchange of notes. He spent the whole day scenting his robes. It was well after dark when he set off with four or five close retainers. His carriage was a plain one covered with woven palm fronds, putting one in mind of his youthful exploits. The governor of Izumi had been sent ahead to announce his approach.
Oborozukiyo’s women informed her in whispers, and she was aghast. “What can the governor have told him?”
“You must receive him politely, my lady, and send him on his way. You have no alternative.”
Reluctantly, she had him shown in.
After inquiring about her health, he asked that intermediaries be dispensed with. “I will not object if you keep curtains between us, and I assure you that I am no longer the unthinking boy you once knew.”
She sighed and came forward. So, in spite of everything, she was not completely unapproachable - and they had known each other well enough that a certain excitement communicated itself through the barred door behind which she sat at the southeast corner of the west wing.
“Remember, please, that you have been in my thoughts for a sum of years which I can reckon up very easily. Do not be so girlish.”
It was very late. The call of a waterfowl and the answering call of its mate were like reminders of the old affair. The house, once so crowded and noisy, was almost deserted. He could not be accused of wishing to imitate Heichu as he brushed away a tear. He spoke with a calm self-possession of which he would not earlier have been capable, and yet he rattled irritably at the door.
“So many years, and we meet at Meeting Barrier.
A barrier it remains, but not to my tears.”
“Though tears may flow as the spring at Meeting Hill,
The road between us was long ago blocked off.”
She knew that she was not being very friendly. Memories came back and she asked herself who had been chiefly responsible for their misfortunes. It was not wrong of him to want to see her. She had become more aware of her own inadequacies as she had come to know more of the world. In public life and in private the occasions for guilt and regret had been numberless and had turned her more and more strongly in upon herself. Now the old affair seemed suddenly very near, and she was not capable of treating him coldly. She seemed as young and engaging as ever, and her very great reticence gave her a charm as fresh as upon their first meeting. He found it very difficult to leave her. Birds were already singing in an unusually beautiful dawn. The cherry blossoms had fallen and new leaves were a pale green through morning mists. He remembered a wisteria party long ago, at just this time of the year. All the years since seemed to come flooding back at once.
Chunagon saw him off. He turned back as he started to leave.
“How can wisteria be so beautiful? Just see what a magical color it is - and I must leave it.”
The morning sun was now pouring over the hills. He had always been a dazzlingly handsome man, thought Chunagon, and the years had only improved him. Why could he and her lady not have come together? Life at court was difficult and constricting and her lady had not reached the highest position. Kokiden had insisted on having things her own way, and the scandal had served no purpose at all. Nothing had come of her lady’s love for Genji.
Many things had still been left unsaid, but he was not master of his own movements. He feared prying eyes as the sun rose higher, and his men, who had had his carriage brought up to a gallery, were coughing politely but nervously. He had one of them break off a spray of wisteria.
“I have not forgotten the depths into which I plunged,
And now these waves of wisteria seek to engulf me.”
Chunagon was very sorry for him, leaning against a balustrade in an attitude of utter dejection. Though even more fearful than he of being seen, Oborozukiyo felt constrained to answer.
“No waves at all of which to be so fearful.
My heart, unchastened, sends out waves to join them.”
Genji regretted the harm his youthful heedlessness had done, and yet, perhaps encouraged by evidences that her gate was not very closely guarded, he took his leave only after she had promised to see him again. Why, after all, should he deny his feelings? She had been important to him, and the affair had been brief.
A very sleepy Genji returned to Rokujō. It was not hard for Murasaki to guess what had happened, but she gave no hint of her suspicions. Her silence was more effective than the most violent tantrum, and made Genji feel a little sorry for himself. Did she no longer care what he did? His avowals of undying love were more fervent than ever, and he so rejected the claims of secrecy, which he quite recognized, as to tell her a little of what had happened the night before. There had been a very short interview through screens, he said, and it had left him far from satisfied. He hoped that another might be arranged, so tastefully and discreetly that no one could reprove him for it.
A suggestion of a smile came to her lips. “Such a marvel of rejuvenation.” But her voice trembled as she went on: “An ancient affair is superimposed on a new one, and I am caught beneath.”
She was never lovelier than when on the verge of tears.
“Sulking is the one thing I cannot bear. Pinch me and beat me and pour out all your anger, but do not sulk. It is not what I trained you for.”
And presently, it would seem, the whole story came forth.
He was in no hurry to visit the Third Princess. She did not seem to care a great deal whether he came or not, but her women were unhappy. If she had made trouble he would probably have been more worried about her than about Murasaki; but as it was she worried him no more than a pretty, harmless toy.
Genji’s daughter, the crown princess, had not yet been permitted to come home from court. Young and pampered, she needed a rest, and as the warm weather came she began feeling unwell and thought it unkind of the crown prince not to let her go. Her condition was for the crown prince a most interesting and indeed exciting one. She was still very young, rather too young, people thought, to have children. Finally her request was granted and she came home to Rokujō.
She was given rooms on the east side of the main southeast hall, where the Third Princess was also living. Her mother, now blissfully happy, was with her.
Murasaki was to come calling. “Perhaps we might open the doors to the princess’s rooms,” she suggested to Genji, “and I can introduce myself. I have been looking for an occasion. I do want to be friendly, and I think it might please her.”
Genji smiled. “Nothing could please me more. You will find her a mere child. Perhaps you can make us all happy by being her teacher.”
As she sat before her minor she was less worried about the princess than about the Akashi lady. She washed her hair and brushed it carefully and took very great pains with her dress. Genji thought her incomparably lovely.
He went to the princess’s rooms. “The lady in the east wing will be going to see the lady who has just come from court, and she has said that she thinks it a good opportunity for the two of you to become friends. I hope you will see her. She is a very good lady, and so young that you should find no trouble in finding things to talk about.”
“I’m sure I will be very tongue-tied. Tell me what to say.”
“You will think of things. Just let the conversation take its course. You needn’t feel shy.”
He wanted the two of them to like each other. He was embarrassed that the princess should be so immature for her years, but very pleased that Murasaki had suggested a meeting.
And so she was being received in audience, thought Murasaki - but was she really so much the princess’s inferior? Genji had come upon her in unfortunate circumstances, and that was the main difference between them. Calligraphy was her great comfort when she was in low spirits. She would take up a brush and jot down old poems as they came to her, and the unhappiness in them would speak to her very directly.
Back from seeing the other two ladies, his daughter and his new wife
Genji was filled with wonder at this more familiar lady. They had been together for so many years, and here she was delighting him anew. She managed with no loss of dignity - and it was a noble sort of dignity - to be bright and humorous. He counted over the several aspects of beauty and found them here gathered together; and she was at her loveliest. But then she always seemed her loveliest, more beautiful each year than the year before, today than yesterday. It was her power of constant renewal that most filled him with wonder.
She slipped her jottings under an inkstone. He took them up. The writing was not perhaps her very best, but it had great charm and subtlety.
“I detect a change in the green upon the hills.
Is autumn coming to them? Is it coming to me?”
He wrote beside it, as if he too were at writing practice:
“No change do we see in the white of the waterfowl.
Not so constant the lower leaves of the hagi.”
She might write of her unhappiness, but she did not let it show. He thought her splendid.
Free this evening of obligations at Rokujō, he decided to hazard another secret visit to Nijō. Self-loathing was not enough to overcome temptation.
To the crown princess, Murasaki was more like a mother than her real mother. Murasaki thought her even prettier than when they had last met. They talked with all the old ease and intimacy.
Murasaki then went to see the Third Princess. Yes indeed - still very much a child. Murasaki addressed her in a motherly fashion and reminded her what close relatives they were.
She turned to the princess’s nurse, Chunagon. “It will seem impertinent of me to say so, but we do after all ‘wear the same garlands.’ I have been very slow about introducing myself, I am afraid, but I will hope to see a great deal of you, and I hope too that you will let me know immediately of any derelictions and oversights of which I am guilty.”
“You are very kind. My lady has been feeling rather disconsolate without her father, and nothing could be more comforting. It was his hope as he prepared to leave the world that you would not turn away from her, but would look upon her, still very much a child, as someone to educate and improve. My lady is being very quiet, but I know that she shares these hopes.”
“Ever since the Suzaku emperor honored me with a letter I have wanted to do something; but I have found, alas, that I am capable of so very little.”
Gently, she sought to draw the princess into conversation about illustrated romances and the like. Even at her age, she said, she still played with dolls. She left the princess feeling, in a childish, half-formed way, that this was a kind and gentle lady, not so old in heart and manner as to make a young person feel uncomfortable. Genji had been right. They frequently exchanged notes and from time to time Murasaki joined her in her games.
The world has an unpleasant way of gossiping about people in high places. How, everyone asked, was Murasaki responding to it all? Some lessening of Genji’s affection seemed inevitable, and some loss of place and prestige. When it became clear beyond denying that his affection had if anything increased, there were those who said that he really ought to be nicer to his princess. Finally it became clear that the two ladies were getting on very well together, and the world had to look elsewhere for its gossip.
In the Tenth Month, Murasaki made offerings in Genji’s honor, choosing a temple in Saga, to the west of the city. She had meant to respect his distaste for ceremony, but the images and sutras, the latter in wonderfully wrought boxes and covers, made one think of an earthly paradise. She commissioned a reading, very solemn and grand, of the sutras for the protection of the realm. The temple was a large one and the congregation was enormous and included most of the highest officials, in part, perhaps, because the fields and moors were at their autumn best. Already the carriages and horses sent up a wintry rustling through the dry grasses.
The other ladies at Rokujō also commissioned holy readings, each one seeking to outdo her fellows.
Genji ended his fast on the twenty-third. Unlike the other Rokujō ladies, Murasaki still thought of Nijō as her real home. It was there that she arranged a banquet. She herself saw to the arrangements, the festive dress and the like. The other ladies all volunteered their services. The occupants of the outer wings at Nijō were temporarily moved elsewhere and their rooms refitted to accommodate the important guests and their retinues, down to grooms and footmen. The chair of honor, decorated with mother-of-pearl, was put out on a porch before the main hall. Twelve wardrobe stands, on which were the usual summer and winter robes and quilts and spreads, were set out in the west room - though the observer was left to guess what might lie beneath the rich covers of figured purple. Before the chair of honor were two tables spread with a Chinese silk of a gradually deeper hue towards the fringes. The ceremonial chaplet was on an aloeswood stand with flared legs and decorations in metal appliqué gold birds in silver branches, designed by the Akashi lady and in very good taste indeed. The four screens behind, commissioned by Prince Hyobu, were excellent. Convention required landscapes of the four seasons, but he had been at pains to insure that they be more than routine. The array of treasures on four tiered stands along the north wall quite suited the occasion. The highest-ranking guests, the ministers and Prince Hyobu and the others, had seats near the south veranda of the main hall. As for the lower ranks, almost no one failed to appear. Awnings had been set out for the musicians in the garden, to the left and right of the dance platform. Gifts for the guests were laid out along the southeast verandas, viands in eighty boxes and robes in forty Chinese chests.
The musicians took their places in early afternoon. There were dances which one is not often privileged to see, “Myriad Years” and “The Royal Deer,” and, as sunset neared, the Korean dragon dance, to flute and drum. Yūgiri and Kashiwagi went out to dance the closing steps. The image of the two of them under the autumn leaves seemed to linger on long afterwards. For the older members of the audience it was joined to the image of a dance long before, “Waves of the Blue Ocean,” at the Suzaku Palace, in the course of that memorable autumn excursion. In face and manner and general repute the sons seemed very little if at all inferior to the fathers. Indeed, their careers were advancing rather more briskly. And how many years had it been since that autumn excursion? That the friendship of the first generation should be repeated in the second told of very close ties from other worlds. Genji was in tears as memories flooded back.
In the evening the musicians withdrew along the lake and hillock. The white robes which Murasaki’s stewards had given them from the Chinese chests were draped over their shoulders, and one thought of the white cranes that promise ten thousand years of life.
And now the guests began their own concert, and it too was very fine. The crown prince had provided the instruments, including a lute and a seven-stringed koto that had belonged to his father, the Suzaku emperor, all of them heirlooms with rich associations. It was long since Genji had last enjoyed such a concert, and each turn and phrase brought memories of his years at court. If only Fujitsubo had lived to permit him the pleasure of arranging just such a concert for her! He somehow felt that he had let her die without knowing what she had meant to him.
The emperor often thought of his mother, and his longing for her was intensified by the fact - indeed it was the great unhappiness of his life - that he was unable to do filial honor to his real father. He had hoped that the festivities might accommodate another royal progress to Rokujō, but finally acceded to Genji’s repeated orders that no one was to be inconvenienced.
Back at Rokujō towards the end of the year, Akikonomu arranged the final jubilee observances, readings at the seven great Nara temples and forty temples in and near the capital. To the former she sent forty bolts of cotton and to the latter four hundred double bolts of silk. She was much in Genji’s debt, and never again would she have such an opportunity to show her gratitude. She wanted everything to be as her late mother and father would have had it; but since Genji’s wish to avoid display had frustrated even the emperor’s hopes, she limited herself to a small part of what she would have wished to do.
“I have seen it happen so often,” said Genji. “People make a great thing of fortieth birthdays and promptly they die. Let us speak softly this time, and wait for something really memorable.”
But she was, after all, empress, and what she arranged was inevitably magnificent. She was hostess at a banquet in the main hall of her southwest quarter, similar in most of its details to Murasaki’s Nijō banquet. The gifts for the important guests were as at a state banquet. For royal princes there were sets of ladies’ robes, very imaginatively chosen, and, after their several ranks, the other guests received white robes, also for ladies, and bolts of cloth. Among the fine old objects (it was like a display of the very finest) were some famous belts and swords which she had inherited from her father and which were so laden with memory that several of the guests were in tears. We have all read romances which list every gift and offering at such affairs, but I am afraid that they rather bore me; nor am I able to provide a complete guest list.
The emperor still wanted a part in the festivities. A general having resigned because of ill health, he proposed a special jubilee appointment for Yūgiri. Genji replied that he was deeply grateful, and only hoped that Yūgiri was not too young for the honor.
And so there was another banquet, this time in the northeast quarter, where Yūgiri’s foster mother, the lady of the orange blossoms, was in residence. It was to be a small, private affair, but like the others it took on magnificence quite of its own accord. Under the personal supervision of the imperial secretariat and upon royal command, supplies were brought from the palace granaries and storehouses. Five royal princes were among the guests, as were both of the ministers and ten councillors, two of the first and three of the middle rank. Neither the crown prince nor the Suzaku emperor was present, but they sent most of their personal aides, and the court attended en masse. By royal command, Tō no Chūjō, the chancellor, was also present, and he had earlier given his attention to the table settings and decorations. It was a very special honor, for which Genji was deeply grateful. He and Tō no Chūjō sat opposite each other in the main hall. Tō no Chūjō was a tall, strongly built man who carried himself with all the dignity of his high office. And Genji was still the shining Genji.
Again there were screens for the four seasons. The polychrome paintings, on figured Chinese silk of a delicate lavender, were very fine, of course, but the superscriptions, by the emperor himself, were superb. (Or did they so dazzle because one knew from whose hand they had come?) The imperial secretariat had provided tiered stands on which were arranged musical instruments and other treasures attesting to Yūgiri’s new eminence. Darkness was falling as forty guardsmen lined up forty royal horses for review. The dances, “Myriad Years” and “Our Gracious Monarch,” were brief but by no means casual, for they did honor to the chancellor as royal emissary. Prince Hotaru took up his favored lute, and his mastery of the instrument was as always impressive. Genji chose a seven-stringed Chinese koto and the chancellor a Japanese koto. Genji had not heard his friend play in a very long time, and thought that he had improved. He kept back few of his own secret skills on the Chinese koto. There was talk of old times. They had been boyhood friends and there were new ties between them, and the cordiality could scarcely have been greater. The wine cups went the rounds time after time, the impromptu concert was an unmixed delight, and pleasant intoxication brought happy tears which no one tried very hard to hold back.
Genji gave Tō no Chūjō a fine Japanese koto, a Korean flute that was among his particular favorites, and a sandalwood book chest filled with Japanese and Chinese manuscripts. They were taken out to Tō no Chūjō’s carriage as he prepared to leave. There was a Korean dance by officials of the Right Stables to signify grateful acceptance of the horses. Yūgiri had gifts for the guardsmen. Once again Genji had asked that unnecessary display be avoided, but of course the emperor, the crown prince, the Suzaku emperor, and the empress were all very close to his house, and the splendor of the arrangements seemed in the end to have taken little account of his wishes.
He had only one son, but such a son, an excellent young man whom everyone admired, that he had little right to feel deprived. He thought again of the bitterness between the two mothers, Akikonomu’s and Yūgiri’s, and the fierceness of their rivalry. Fate had unexpected ways of working itself out.
This time the lady of the orange blossoms chose the festive robes and the like, entrusting many of the details to Kumoinokari. She had always felt somehow left out of family gatherings, and she had been a little frightened at the prospect of receiving such an array of grandees. Here they were and here she was, and it was all because of Yūgiri.
The New Year came and the crown princess’s time drew near. There were continuous prayers at Nijō and services were commissioned at numerous shrines and temples. Remembering Aoi’s last days, Genji was in terror. He had of course wanted Murasaki to have children, but at the same time he had been happy that she was spared the danger. The crown princess was very young and very delicate, a worry to everyone. She fell ill in the Second Month. The soothsayers ordered an immediate change of air. Not wanting to send her a great distance away, Genji moved her to the Akashi lady’s northwest quarter. It had two large wings and several galleries along which altars were put up. Prayers and incantations echoed solemnly through the quarter as famous and successful liturgists set about their work. The Akashi lady was perhaps the most apprehensive of all, for her whole past and future seemed to be coming up for judgment.
The birth of a great-grandchild was for the old Akashi nun a dream breaking in upon the slumbers of old age. She came immediately to the crown princess’s side and refused to leave. The princess had of course known the company of her mother over the years, but the Akashi lady had had little to say of the past. And here was this old woman, obviously very happy, talking on and on in a tearful, quavering voice. At first the girl gazed at her in distaste and surprise, but then she remembered hints from her mother that there was such a person at Rokujō. Tears streaming from her eyes, the old nun told of Genji’s stay on the Akashi coast and of the crown princess’s birth.
“We were at wits’ end when he left us and came back to the city. That was that, we said. Fate had been good to us up to a point and no further. But it brought you to redeem us all. Isn’t that a lovely thought?”
The girl too was in tears. Without the old lady to tell her, she might never have learned of those sad events so long ago. She began to see that she had no right to consider herself better than her rivals. Murasaki had prepared her for the competition. Otherwise she would not have escaped their open contempt. She had thought herself the grandest of them all, far and away the grandest. The others had scarcely seemed worth the trouble of a sneer. And what must they have been thinking of her all the while! Now she knew the whole truth. She had known that her mother was not of the best lineage, but she had not known that she herself had been born in a remote corner of the provinces. How stupid of her not to have inquired! (One must join her in these reproaches. She really should have been more curious.) She had much to think about: the sad story of her grandmother, for instance, now quite cut off from the world.
Her mother found her lost in these painful thoughts. The liturgists, in small groups, had resoundingly begun their noonday rites. There were few women in immediate attendance on the princess. The old nun had quite taken charge of her.
“But can’t you be just a little more careful? The wind is blowing a gale, and you might at least have had them bring something up to close the gaps in the curtains. And here you are hanging over her as if you were her doctor! Don’t you know that old people are supposed to keep out of sight?”
Though the old nun must have realized that she had outdone herself, she only cocked her head to one side as if trying to hear a little better. She was not as old as her daughter’s remarks suggested, only in her middle sixties. Her nun’s habit was in very good taste. Her tearful countenance informed her daughter, who was not at all pleased, that she had been dwelling upon the past.
“I suppose she has been rambling on about things that happened a very long time ago. She has a way of remembering things that never happened at all. Sometimes it all seems like a fantastic dream.”
She smiled down at the girl, who was very pretty and who seemed rather more pensive than usual. She could scarcely believe that anyone so charming could be her own daughter - and the old nun would seem to have upset her with sad talk of the past. It had been the lady’s intention to tell the whole story when the final goal was in sight. She doubted that anything the old nun had said could destroy the girl’s confidence, but she saw all the same that the conversation had been unsettling.
The holy men having left, the Akashi lady brought in sweets and urged her daughter to take just a morsel. So beautiful and so gentle, the girl brought a new flood of tears from the old nun. A smile suddenly cut a great gap across the aged face, still shining with tears. The Akashi lady tried to signal that the effect was less than enchanting, but to no avail.
“Old waves come upon a friendly shore.
A nun’s sleeves dripping brine - who can object?
“It used to be the thing, or so I am told, to be tolerant of old people and their strange ways.”
The crown princess took up paper and a brush from beside her inkstone.
“The weeping nun must take me over the waves
To the reed-roofed cottage there upon the strand.”
Turning away to hide her own tears, the Akashi lady set down a poem beside it:
“An old man leaves the world, and in his heart
Is darkness yet, there on the Akashi strand.”
How the princess wished that she could remember the morning of their departure!
For all the worry and confusion, the birth, towards the middle of the month, was easy. And the child was a boy. Genji was enormously pleased.
This northwest quarter seemed rather cramped and secluded for the celebrations that would follow, though no doubt it was for the old nun “a friendly shore.” The princess was soon moved back to the southeast quarter. Murasaki was with her, very beautiful, all in white, the baby in her arms as if she were its grandmother. She had no children of her own, nor had she ever before been present at a childbirth. It was all very new and wonderful. She kept the baby with her through the dangerous and troublesome early days. Quite giving over custody, the Akashi lady busied herself with arrangements for the natal bath. The crown prince was represented by his lady of honor, who watched the Akashi lady carefully and was most favorably impressed. She had known in a general way of the lady’s circumstances and had thought how unfortunate it would be for the crown princess to be burdened with an unacceptable mother. Everything convinced her that the lady had been meant for high honors. Natal ceremonies should be familiar enough that I need not go into the details.
It was on the sixth day that the princess was moved back to the southeast quarter. Gifts and other provisions for the seventh-night ceremonies came from the palace. Perhaps because the Suzaku emperor, the little prince’s grandfather, was in seclusion and could not do the honors, the emperor sent a secretary as his special emissary and with him gifts of unprecedented magnificence. The empress too sent gifts, robes and the like, more lavish than if the event had taken place at the palace, and princes and ministers seemed to have made the selection of gifts their principal work. No exhortations to frugality came from Genji this time. The pomp and splendor seem so to have dazzled the guests that they failed to notice the gentler, more courtly details that are really worth remembering.
“I have other grandchildren,” said Genji, taking the little prince in his arms, “but my good son refuses to let me see them. And now I have this pretty little one to make up for his niggardliness.” And indeed the child was pretty enough to justify all manner of boasting.
He grew rapidly, almost perceptibly, as if some mysterious force were giving him its special attention. The selection of nurses and maids had proceeded with great care and deliberation. Only cultivated women of good family were allowed near him.
The Akashi lady kept herself unobtrusively occupied. She knew when to stay in the background, and everyone thought her conduct unexceptionable. Murasaki saw her informally from time to time. Thanks to the little prince, the resentment of the earlier years had quite disappeared, and the Akashi lady was now among her more valued friends. Always fond of children, she made little guardian dolls for the child and more lighthearted playthings too. She seemed very young as she busied herself seeing to his needs.
It was the old nun, the baby’s great-grandmother, who felt badly treated. The brief glimpse she had had, she said, threatened to kill her with longing.
The news reached Akashi, where an enlightened old man still had room in his heart for mundane joy. Now, he said to his disciples, he could withdraw from the world in complete peace and serenity. He turned his seaside house into a temple with fields nearby to support it, and appointed for his new retreat certain lands he had acquired deep in a mountainous part of the province, where no one was likely to disturb him. His seclusion would be complete. There would be no more letters and he would see no one. Various small concerns had held him back, and now, with gods native and foreign to give him strength, he would make his way into the mountains.
He had in recent years dispatched messengers to the city only on urgent business, and when a messenger came from his wife he would send back a very brief note. Now he got off a long letter to his daughter.
“Though we live in the same world, you and I, it has been as if I had been reborn in another. I have sent and received letters only on very rare occasions. Personal messages in intimate Japanese are a waste of time, I have thought. They contribute nothing to and indeed distract from my devotions. I have been overjoyed all the same at news I have had of the girl’s career at court. Now she is the mother of a little prince. It is not for me, an obscure mountain hermit, to claim credit or to seek glory at this late date, but I may say that you have been constantly on my mind, and in my prayers morning and night your affairs have taken precedence over my own trivial quest for a place in paradise.
“One night in the Second Month of the year you were born I had a dream. I supported the blessed Mount Sumeru in my right hand. To the left and right of the mountain the moon and the sun poured a dazzling radiance over the world. I was in the shadow of the mountain, not lighted by the radiance. The mountain floated up from a vast sea, and I was in a small boat rowing to the west. That was my dream.
“From the next day I began to have ambitions of which I should not have been worthy. I began to wonder what the extraordinary dream could signify for one like myself. Your good mother became pregnant. I did not cease looking through texts in the true Buddhist writ and elsewhere for an explanation of the dream. I came upon strong evidence that dreams are to be taken seriously, and, as I have said, I began to have ambitions that might have seemed wholly out of keeping with my lowly station. Your future became my whole life. I withdrew to the countryside because there was a limit to what I could do in the city. Not even the waves of old age, I resolved, would be permitted to sweep me back. I passed long years here by the sea because my hopes were in you. I made many secret vows in your behalf, and the time has now come to fulfill them. Because your daughter is to be mother to the nation you must make pilgrimages to Sumiyoshi and the other shrines. What doubts need we have? My very last wish for the girl is certain to be granted, and I know beyond doubt that it too will be granted, my prayer to be reborn in the highest circle of the paradise to the west of the ten million realms. I await the day when I am summoned to my place on the lotus. Until then I shall devote myself to prayers among clean waters and grasses deep in the mountains. To them I now shall go.
“The dawn is at hand. The radiance soon will pour forth.
I turn from it to speak of an ancient dream.”
He had affixed the date, after which there was a postscript: “Do not be disturbed when my last day comes. Do not put on the mourning robes which have so long been customary. You must think of yourself as an avatar and offer a prayer or two, no more, for the repose of the soul of an aged monk. Do not, all the same, let the pleasures and successes of this world distract your attention from the other. We are certain to meet again in the realm to which we all seek admission. It will not be long, you must tell yourself, until we meet there on the far shore, having left these sullied shores behind us.”
For his wife there was only a short note: “On the fourteenth I shall leave this grass hut behind and go off into the mountains. I shall give my useless self to the bears and wolves. Live on, and see our hopes to their conclusion. We shall meet in the radiant land.”
The messenger, a priest, filled in some of the details. “The third day after he wrote the letter he went off into the mountains. We went with him as far as the foothills, where he made us turn back. Only a priest and two acolytes went on with him. I had thought when I saw him take his first vows that I knew the deepest possible sorrow, but still deeper sorrow lay ahead. He took up the koto and the lute that had kept him company through the years and played on them one last time, and when he said his last prayers in the chapel he left them there. He left most of his other personal possessions there too, after choosing several mementos, in keeping with our several ranks, for us who had joined him in taking holy orders. There were about sixty of us, all very close to him. The rest of his things have come to you here. And so we saw him off into the clouds and mists, and mourn for him in the house he left behind.”
The messenger had gone to Akashi as a boy. Still in Akashi, he was now an old man. It is not likely that he exaggerated his account of the sorrow and loneliness.
The most enlightened disciples of the Buddha himself, converted by the Hawk Mountain Sermon, were plunged into grief when finally the flame of his life went out. The old nun’s grief was limitless.
The Akashi lady slipped away from the southeast quarter when she heard what sort of letter had come. Her new eminence made it impossible for her to see as much of her mother as in earlier years, but she had to find out for herself what sad news had come. The old nun seemed heartbroken. The lady had a lamp brought near and read the letter, and she too was soon weeping helplessly.
She thought of little things that had happened over the years, things that could have meant nothing to anyone else, and her longing for her father was intense. She would not see him again. She now understood: he had put his faith in a dream as the true and sacred word. It had become an obsession, and a source of great unhappiness and embarrassment for the lady herself. She had feared at times that she might go mad - and now she saw that the cause of it all was one insubstantial dream.
The old nun at length controlled her weeping. “Because of you, we have had blessings and honors quite beyond anything we deserved. The sorrows and trials have been large in proportion. Though I certainly was not a person of any great distinction, I thought that our decision to leave the familiar city and live in Akashi was itself somehow a mark of distinction. I did not expect that I would be as I am now, a widow and not a widow. I had thought that we would be together in this world and that we would share the same lotus in the next world, where my chief hopes lay. Then your own life took that extraordinary turn and I was back in a city I thought I had left forever. I was happy for you and I grieved for him. And now I learn that we are not to meet again. Everyone thought him a very eccentric and unsociable man even before he left court, but two young people are a support for each other and the bond between us was especially strong. We had faith in each other. We are still almost within calling distance of each other, and we are kept apart. Why should it be?” The old lady’s face was twisted with grief.
Her daughter too was weeping bitterly. “What good are promises of great things? I do not consider myself worthy of any great honors, but it does seem too sad that he should end his days like a forgotten exile. It is easy to say that what must be must be. He has gone off into those wild mountains, and we cannot any of us be sure how long we will live. It all seems so empty and useless.”
They gave the night over to sad talk.
“Genji knows that I was in the southeast quarter last night,” said the lady. “I am afraid he will think it rude and selfish of me to have come away without leave. I do not care about myself, but I have her to think of.” She returned at dawn.
“And how is the baby?” asked her mother. “Don’t you suppose they might let me see him?”
“Oh, I am sure of it. You’ll see him before long. The princess speaks very fondly of you, and Genji remarked by way of something or other that if things go well - it was inviting bad luck to make distant predictions, he said, but if things go well he hopes that you will be here to enjoy them. I cannot be sure, of course, what he had in mind.”
The old lady smiled. “There you have it. For better or for worse, I seem to have been meant for peculiar things.”
The Akashi lady had someone take the letter box to the southeast quarter.
The crown prince was impatient to have the princess back at court. There were repeated summonses.
“I quite understand,” said Murasaki. “Such a happy event, and he is being left out of it.” She got the baby ready for a quiet visit to his father.
The princess had hoped for a longer stay at Rokujō. She was seldom permitted to leave court, and it had been a frightening experience for so young a lady. She was even prettier for the loss of weight.
“You have been kept so busy,” said her mother. “You need a good, quiet rest.”
“But I think he should see her before she begins putting on weight again,” said Genji. “He is sure to like her even better.”
In the evening, when Murasaki had returned to her wing of the house and the crown princess’s rooms were quiet, the lady spoke to her daughter of the box that had come from Akashi. “I should wait until everything is completely in order, I suppose, and all our hopes have been realized But life is uncertain and I may die, and I am not of such rank that I can be sure of a final interview. It seems best to tell you of these trivialities while I still have my wits about me. You will find that his vows are in a cramped and ugly hand, I fear, but do please glance over them. Keep them in a drawer beside you, and when the time seems right go over them again and see that all the promises are kept. Do not, please, speak of them to anyone who is not likely to understand. Now that your affairs seem in order, I too should think of leaving the world. I somehow feel that time is running out. Do not - and this I most genuinely beg of you - do not ever let anything come between you and the lady in the east wing. I have come to know what an extraordinarily gentle and thoughtful person she is and I pray that she will live a much longer life than l. It was clear from the outset that I would only do you harm by being with you, and so I let her have you. I worried, of course, because stepmothers are not famous for their kindness, but I finally came to see that I had nothing to worry about.”
It had been for her a long speech. She had always been very formal even with her daughter. The girl was in tears. The old man’s letter was indeed difficult. The five or six sheets of furrowed Michinoku paper were stiff and discolored with age, but they had been freshly scented. She turned half away. Her hair, now shining with tears, framed a lovely profile.
Genji came in from the Third Princess’s rooms. There was no time to hide the letter, but the lady pulled up a curtain frame and half hid herself.
“And is he awake? I want to rush back for another look at him when I have been away even a few minutes.”
The princess did not answer. Murasaki had taken the child, said her mother.
“You must not let her monopolize it. She is always carrying it around and so she is always having to change to dry clothes. She can come here if she wants to see it.”
“You are being unkind, and I do not think you have thought things through very carefully. I would have no doubts at all about letting her take a little girl off with her, and we can be much bolder with little boys even when they are princes. Is it your wise view that the two of them should be kept apart?”
“I shall defer to your wiser view, though not before protesting your treatment of me. I have no doubt that I am a pompous old fool, but you need not make me so aware of that fact by leaving me out of things and talking behind my back. I have no doubt that you say the most dreadful things about me.”
He pulled aside the curtain and found her leaning against a pillar, dignified and elegantly dressed. The box was beside her. She had not wished to attract his attention to it by pushing it out of sight.
“And what is this? Something of profound significance, no doubt. An endless poem from a lovelorn gentleman, all locked up in a strong box?”
“Again you are being unkind. You seem very young these days, and sometimes your humor is beyond the reach of the rest of us.”
She was smiling, but it was clear that something had saddened her. He was so openly curious, his head cocked inquiringly to one side, that she thought an explanation necessary.
“My father has sent a list of prayers and vows from his cave in Akashi. He thought that I might perhaps ask you to look at them sometime. But not quite yet, I think, if you don’t mind.”
“I can only imagine how hard he has worked at his devotions and what enormous wisdom and grace he must have accumulated over the years. I sometimes hear of a priest who has made a most awesome name for himself, and find on looking into the matter a little more closely that he still smells rather strongly of the world. Erudition is not enough, and in the matter of sheer dedication and concentration your father is, I am sure, ahead of all the others, and besides his learning and wisdom he has a feeling for the gentler things. And through it all he is a very modest man who makes no great show of his virtues. I thought when I knew him that he did not live in the same world as the rest of us, and now he is throwing off the last traces of our world and finding true liberation. How I would love to go off and have a quiet talk with him!”
“I am told that he has left the seacoast and gone off into mountains so deep that no birds fly singing overhead.”
“And this is his last will and testament? Have you had a letter from him? And your mother - what does she think of it all?” His voice trembled. “The bond between husband and wife is often stronger than that between parent and child. As the years have gone by and I have come to know a little of the world, I have felt strangely near him. I can only try to imagine what that stronger bond must be.”
The part about the dream, she thought, might interest him. “It is in an outlandish hand - it might almost be Sanskrit. Perhaps certain passages might be worth glancing at. I thought I was saying goodbye to it all, but there are some things, it would seem, that I did not after all leave behind.”
“It is a fine hand, still very young and strong.” In tears, he lingered over the description of the dream. “He is a very learned and a very talented man, and all that has been lacking is a certain political sense, a flair for making his way ahead in the world. There was a minister in your family, an extremely earnest and intelligent man, I have always heard. People who speak of him in such high terms have always asked what misstep may have been responsible for bringing his line to an end - though of course we have you, and even though you are a lady we cannot say that his line has come to a complete end. No doubt your father’s piety and devotion are being rewarded.”
The old man had been thought impossibly eccentric and wholly unrealistic in his ambitions. Genji had been in bad conscience about the whole Akashi episode. The crown princess’s birth had seemed to tell of a bond from a former life, but the future had seemed very uncertain all the same. He now saw how much that one fragile dream had meant to the old man. It had fed the apparently wild ambition to have Genji as a son-in-law. Genji had suffered in exile, it now seemed, that the crown princess might be born. And what sort of vows might the old man have made? Respectfully, he looked through the contents of the box.
“I have papers that might go with them,” he said to his daughter. “I must show them to you.” After a time he continued: “Now you know the truth, or most of it, I should think. You are not to let what you have learned make any difference in your relations with the lady in the east wing. A little kindness or a word of affection from an outsider can sometimes mean more than all the natural affection between husband and wife or parent and child. And in her case it has been far more. She took responsibility for you when she saw that everything was already in perfectly capable hands, and her affection has not wavered. The wise ones of the world have always taken it upon themselves to see that we are aware of pretense. There may be stepmothers, they tell us, who seem kind and well-meaning, but this is the worst sort of pretense. But even when a stepmother does in fact have sinister intentions a child can sometimes overcome them by the simple device of not seeing them, of behaving with quite open and unfeigned affection. What a horrid person she has been, says the stepmother of herself, and so she resolves to do better. There are basic and ancient hostilities, of course, that nothing can overcome, but most disagreements are the result of no great wrongdoing on either side. All that is needed for reconciliation is an acceptance of that fact. The most tiresome thing is to raise a great stir over nothing, to fume and complain when the sensible thing would have been to look the other way. I cannot pretend that my observations have been very wide and diverse, but I would give it to you as my conclusion that there is a level of competence to which most of us can attain and which is quite high enough. We all have our strong points - or in any event I have never myself seen anyone with none at all. Yet when you are looking for someone to fill your whole life there are not many who seem right. For me there has been the lady in the east wing, the perfect partner in everything. And it is unfortunately the case that even a lady of the most unassailable birth can sometimes seem a little wispy and undependable.” He left her to guess whom he might have in mind.
Speaking now in softer tones, he turned to the Akashi lady.”I know that your discernment and understanding leave nothing to be desired. The two of you must be the best of friends as you look after our princess here.”
“You need not even say it. I have been only too aware of her kindness, and I am always speaking of it. She could so easily have taken my presence as an affront and had nothing to do with me, but in fact her kindness has been almost embarrassing. It is she who has covered my inadequacies.”
“No very special kindness on her part, I should say. She has wanted to have someone with the girl, and that is all. You have not chosen to stand on your rights as a mother and that has helped a great deal. I have nothing to complain or worry about. It is amazing the damage that obtuseness and ill temper can do, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that these lamentable qualities are alien to both of you.”
He went back to the east wing, and the Akashi lady was left to meditate upon the interview. Yes, modesty and self-effacement had brought their rewards. As for Murasaki, she seemed to claim more and more of his attention, and her charms and attainments were such that one could not be surprised or wish it otherwise. His relations with the Third Princess seemed quite correct, and yet something was missing. He did not visit her as frequently as might have been expected - and she was after all a princess. She and Murasaki were very closely related, though her standing was perhaps just a little the higher. How sad for her. But ill of this the Akashi lady kept to herself. She did not gossip and she did not complain. She knew that she had done very well. Things did not always go ideally well for princesses even, and she was certainly no princess. Her only sorrow was for her father, now off in the mountain wilds. As for the old nun, she put her faith in “the seed that falls upon good ground.” She gave up thoughts of this world for thoughts of the next.
The Third Princess had not been beyond Yūgiri’s reach, and her marriage to Genji and her presence so close at hand had an unsettling effect on him. Performing this and that routine service for her, he was coming to see what sort of lady she was. She was very young and rather quiet, and that was all. Genji seemed determined to do what the world expected of him, but it was hard to believe that she really interested him very much. Nor did there seem to be women of substance among her attendants. Yūgiri thought them a flock of pretty young things forever preening themselves and chatting and playing games. It was a happy enough household, but if it contained women of a serious, meditative bent the outsider did not see them. The most melancholy of women would have been painted over with the same cheerful brush. Genji might not be enormously pleased at the sight of all these little girls at their games the whole day through, but he was by nature neither an uncharitable man nor a reformer, and he did not interfere. He did, however, give some attention to training the princess herself, and she was beginning to seem a little less heedless and immature.
Not many women, thought Yūgiri, were perfect. Only Murasaki had over the years seemed beyond criticism. She had quietly lived her own life and no scandal had touched her. She had treated no one maliciously or arrogantly, and had herself always been a model of graceful and courtly demeanor. He could not forget the one glimpse he had had of her. Kumoinokari, his own wife, was certainly pretty and pleasing enough, but she was in a way rather ordinary. She was without strong traits or remarkable accomplishments. Now that he had no more worries in that quarter he found his excitement waning and his interest moving back to Rokujō, where so many fine ladies, each outstanding in her way, were gathered together. The Third Princess’s pedigree was certainly the finest, but it seemed equally certain that Genji gave her a lower rating as a person than some of the others and was but keeping up appearances. Yūgiri was not exactly consumed with longing and curiosity, but he did hope that he might sometime have a glimpse of her too.
A frequenter of the Suzaku Palace, Kashiwagi had known all about the Third Princess and the Suzaku emperor’s worries. He had offered himself as a candidate for her hand. His candidacy had not been dismissed, and then, suddenly and to his very great disappointment, she had gone to Genji. He still could not reconcile himself to what had happened. He seems to have taken some comfort in exchanging reports with women whom he had known in her maiden days. He of course heard what everyone else heard, that she was no great competitor for Genji’s affection.
He was forever complaining to Kojiju, her nurse’s daughter. “I am much beneath her, I know, but I would have made her happy. I know of course that she was meant for someone far grander.”
Nothing in this world is permanent, and Genji might one day make up his mind to leave it. Kashiwagi kept after Kojiju.
Prince Hotaru and Kashiwagi came calling at Rokujō one pleasant day in the Third Month. Genji received them.
“Life is quiet these days, and rather dull, I fear. My affairs public and private go almost too smoothly. So how shall we amuse ourselves today? Yūgiri is devoted to that small-bow of his, and never misses a chance to take it out, and that would be a possibility. Where might he be? He had a collection of eminent young archers with him. Was he so unwise as to let them go?” He was told that Yūgiri and his friends, a large band of them, were at football in the northeast quarter. “Not a very genteel pastime, perhaps, but something to wake you up and keep you on the alert. Send for him, please.”
The summons was delivered and Yūgiri came bringing numbers of young gentlemen with him.
“Did you bring your ball? And who are all of you?”
Yūgiri gave the names.
“Fine. Let us see what you can do.”
The crown princess and her baby had gone back to the palace. Genji was in her rooms, now almost deserted. The garden was level and open here the brooks came together. It seemed both a practical and an elegant Tō no Chūjō’s sons, Kashiwagi and the rest, some grown men and some still boys, rather dominated the gathering. The day was a fine, windless one. It was late afternoon. Kobai at first seemed to stand on his dignity, but he quite lost himself in the game as it gathered momentum.
“Just see the effect it has on civil office,” said Genji. “I would expect you guardsmen to be jumping madly about and letting your commissions fall where they may. I was always among the spectators myself, and now I genuinely wish I had been more active. Though as I have said it may not be the most genteel pursuit in the world.”
Taking their places under a fine cherry in full bloom, Yūgiri and Kashiwagi were very handsome in the evening light. Genji’s less than genteel sport - such things do happen - took on something of the elegance of the company and the place. Spring mists enfolded trees in various stages of bud and bloom and new leaf. The least subtle of games does have its skills and techniques, and each of the players was determined to show what he could do. Though Kashiwagi played only briefly, he was clearly the best of them all. He was handsome but retiring, intense and at the same time lively and expansive. Though the players were now under the cherry directly before the south stairs, they had no eye for the blossoms. Genji and Prince Hotaru were at a corner of the veranda.
Yes, there were many skills, and as one inning followed another a certain abandon was to be observed and caps of state were pushed rather far back on noble foreheads. Yūgiri could permit himself a special measure of abandon, and his youthful spirits and vigor were infectious. He had on a soft white robe lined with red. His trousers were gently taken in at the ankles, but by no means untidy. He seemed very much in control of himself despite the abandon, and cherry petals fell about him like a flurry of snow. He broke off a twig from a dipping branch and went to sit on the stairs.
“How quick they are to fall,” said Kashiwagi, coming up behind him. “We much teach the wind to blow wide and clear.”
He glanced over toward the Third Princess’s rooms. They seemed to be in the usual clutter. The multicolored sleeves pouring from under the blinds and through openings between them were like an assortment of swatches to be presented to the goddess of spring.
Only a few paces from him a woman had pushed her curtains carelessly aside and looked as if she might be in a mood to receive a gentleman’s addresses. A Chinese cat, very small and pretty, came running out with a larger cat in pursuit. There was a noisy rustling of silk as several women pushed forward to catch it. On a long cord which had become badly tangled, it would not yet seem to have been fully tamed. As it sought to free itself the cord caught in a curtain, which was pulled back to reveal the women behind. No one, not even those nearest the veranda, seemed to notice. They were much too worried about the cat.
A lady in informal dress stood just inside the curtains beyond the second pillar to the west. Her robe seemed to be of red lined with lavender, and at the sleeves and throat the colors were as bright and varied as a book of paper samples. Her cloak was of white figured satin lined with red. Her hair fell as cleanly as sheaves of thread and fanned out towards the neatly trimmed edges some ten inches beyond her feet. In the rich billowing of her skirts the lady scarcely seemed present at all. The white profile framed by masses of black hair was pretty and elegant - though unfortunately the room was dark and he could not see her as well in the evening light as he would have wished. The women had been too delighted with the game, young gentlemen heedless of how they scattered the blossoms, to worry about blinds and concealment. The lady turned to look at the cat, which was mewing piteously, and in her face and figure was an abundance of quiet, unpretending young charm.
Yūgiri saw and strongly disapproved, but would only have made matters worse by stepping forward to lower the blind. He coughed warningly. The lady slipped out of sight. He too would have liked to see more, and he sighed when, the cat at length disengaged, the blind fell back into place. Kashiwagi’s regrets were more intense. It could only have been the Third Princess, the lady who was separated from the rest of the company by her informal dress. He pretended that nothing had happened, but Yūgiri knew that he had seen the princess, and was embarrassed for her. Seeking to calm himself, Kashiwagi called the cat and took it up in his arms. It was delicately perfumed. Mewing prettily, it brought the image of the Third Princess back to him (for he had been ready to fall in love).
“This is no place for our young lordships to be wasting their time,” said Genji. “Suppose we go inside.” He led the way to the east wing, where he continued his conversation with Prince Hotaru.
Still excited from the game, the younger men found places on the veranda, where they were brought simple refreshments, pears and oranges and camellia cakes, and wine and dried fish and the like to go with it.
Kashiwagi was lost in thought. From time to time he would look vacantly up at the cherries.
Yūgiri thought he understood. His friend must agree, he was also thinking, that it was unseemly for so fine a lady to step forward into such an exposed position. Murasaki would never have been so careless. Yūgiri could see, he feared, why Genji’s esteem for the princess seemed to fall rather short of that of the world in general. This childlike insouciance was no doubt charming, but it might cause trouble.
Kashiwagi was not thinking about the princess’s defects. He had seen her accidentally and very briefly, to be sure, but he had most certainly seen her. He was telling himself that there had to be a bond between them and that the steadfastness of his devotion was being rewarded.
“Tō no Chūjō and I were always in competition,” said Genji, in a reminiscent mood, “and football was the one thing I never succeeded in besting him at. It may seem flippant to speak of a football heritage, but I really believe that there must be such a thing, unusual talent handed down in a family. You quite dazzled us, sir.”
Kashiwagi smiled. “I doubt that the honor will mean very much to our descendants.”
“Surely you are wrong. Everything that is genuinely outstanding deserves to be chronicled. This would be a most interesting and edifying item for a family chronicle.”
Kashiwagi was wondering what sort of charms would be required to impress the wife of a man so youthful and handsome, to win her pity and sympathy. He was overwhelmed by sudden and hopeless feelings of inferiority.
He and Yūgiri left in the same carriage.
“We were right to pay our visit,” said Yūgiri. “I fear the poor man is bored. We must find time for another before the blossoms have fallen. Do come again and bring your bow with you, and help us enjoy the last of the spring.”
They agreed upon a day.
“I gather that your father spends most of his time in the east wing. His regard for the lady there seems really extraordinary.” And Kashiwagi went on to say perhaps more than he should have. “What effect do you suppose it has on the Third Princess? She has always been her father’s favorite. It must be a new experience for her.”
“Nonsense. It is true that the lady in the east wing has a rather particular place in his life, but that is because he took her in when she was still a child. But he is very good to the princess.”
“You needn’t try to distort the facts. I know quite well enough what they are. People tell me that she has a sad time of it. Nothing in her background can have prepared her.
“The generous warbler, moving from tree to tree,
Neglects the cherry alone among them all.”
And he added softly: “And the cherry, among them all, seems right for the bird of spring.”
This seemed downright impertinent, though Yūgiri did think he understood his friend’s reasons.
“The cuckoo building its nest in mountain depths
Does not, be assured, neglect the cherry blossom.
“Surely, sir, you are not asking that he give her the whole of his attention?”
Wishing to hear no more, he changed the subject, and presently they went their separate ways.
Kashiwagi still lived alone in the east wing of his father’s mansion. He had had his hopes, and though he remained a bachelor by his own choice he was sometimes bored and unhappy. He was good enough, he had still been able to tell himself, to have the lady he wanted if he only waited long enough. But now he was in anguish. When might he again see the Third Princess, even as briefly as on the evening of the football match? A lesser lady might have found an excuse for leaving the house, a taboo or something of the sort. But she was a princess, and he must contrive to send word of his longing through thick walls and curtains.
He settled upon the usual note to Kojiju. “The winds the other day blew me in upon your premises, to increase your lady’s hostility, no doubt. Since that evening I have been in deep despondency. I brood my days away for no good reason.
“The trees of sorrow seem denser from near at hand,
And my yearning grows for those blossoms in the twilight.”
Not knowing what “blossoms in the twilight“ he had reference to, Kojiju thought him a very moody young man indeed.
Choosing a time when the princess had few people with her, she delivered the note. “He seems a rather sticky sort,” she smiled. “I do not know why I take him seriously.”
“Aren’t you funny,” said the princess, glancing at the note, which Kojiju had opened for her.
Immediately recognizing the allusion and the incident upon which it was based, she flushed scarlet. And she thought of something else, how Genji was always reproving her for just such carelessness.
“You must not let Yūgiri see you,” he would say. “You are very young and you may not pay a great deal of attention to these things. But you really should.”
She was terrified. Had Yūgiri seen and told Genji? Would Genji scold her? She was indeed a child, that fear of Genji should come first.
Finding her lady even more unresponsive than usual, Kojiju did not press the matter. When she was alone she got off the usual sort of answer in a flowing, casual hand.
“Away you went, so very coolly. I was incensed. And what do you mean by suggesting that you see poorly? These innuendos are almost insulting.
“Do not let it be known, I pray of you,
That your eye has fallen on the mountain cherry.
“It will never do, never.”
The New Herbs: Part Two