tale of Genji 源氏物語

Chapter 29

The Royal Outing

Genji would have liked to put Tamakazura’s affairs in order, but the Silent Waterfall of his longing produced complications. It was beginning to seem that Murasaki’s fears had been well founded and that Genji would be the subject of scandalous rumors. Tō no Chūjō was a man who liked to have things clear and in the open. He could not bear subterfuge. How sheepish a son-in-law he himself would be, thought Genji, on the day when everything was revealed to his friend!

In the Twelfth Month there was a royal outing to Oharano. Like everyone else, the ladies of Rokujō set out in their carriages to watch. The procession, very splendid even for a royal outing, left the palace early in the morning and proceeded south along Suzaku and west on Gojō. Carriages lined the streets all the way to the river Katsura. The princes and high officials were beautifully fitted out. Their guards and grooms, very good-looking and of generally matching heights, were in the finest of livery. All the ministers and councillors and indeed the whole court had turned out for the occasion, the higher ranks dressed uniformly in yellowgreen robes and lavender singlets. Even the skies seemed intent on favoring the occasion, for there were flurries of snow. The princes and high courriers in charge of the falcons were in fine hunting dress. The falconers from the guards were even more interesting, all in printed robes of most fanciful design. Everything was very grand and very novel, and the carriages of the spectators fought for places. Some among the spindly carriages of the lesser ladies emerged from the struggle with broken wheels. The better carriages had gathered at the approaches to the floating bridge.

Tamakazura was among the spectators. As she surveyed the splendid courtiers in such intense competition, it was her verdict that no one compared with the emperor in his red robes. He looked neither to the right nor to the left. Then there was her own father, Tō no Chūjō (almost no one knew that he was her father). He was handsome and dignified, in the prime of manhood, though of course circumscribed in his dress by the codes relating to his office. He was quite the finest of the courtiers - but her eye returned to the royal palanquin. The generals and captains and other high officials who had most of the young women swooning interested her very little. Yes, the emperor was the best of them - though Genji so resembled him that they might have been mistaken for each other. Perhaps it was only her imagination that the emperor was a shade the grander of the two. She was sure that she would have to look very far, in any case, to find their equal. She had thought, because of Genji and Yūgiri, that men of good family were all endowed with superior looks, but the competition today exacted casualties in such numbers that she was inclined to dismiss most of the men she saw as scarcely human. Prince Hotaru was present, as also was General Higekuro, always very solemn and important, and today in very grand uniform, quiver and all. His face was dark and his beard heavy, and she did not think him pleasing - though it would have been too much to expect his roughness to meet the standards of carefully tended femininity. She sniffed contemptuously. Genji had suggested that she go to court. She had heard much about the embarrassments and insults which a court lady must be prepared to put up with, but now she wondered whether it might not after all be rather nice to serve His Majesty, though not as one of the ladies of the bedchamber.

The procession reached Oharano, where awnings had been put out. The high courtiers changed to informal court dress and hunting dress. Refreshments were brought from Genji’s Rokujō mansion. The emperor had invited Genji to join the hunt, but Genji had replied that a defilement made it impossible for him to go out. By a guards officer the emperor sent a brace of pheasants tied to a leafy branch. I shall not seek to record the contents of the royal letter, but this was the poem:

“Deep in the snows of this Mount Oshio
Are ancient pheasant tracks. Would you might see them.”

But I wonder if in fact precedent can be found for inviting a chancellor to be in attendance upon a royal hunt.

Genji received the messenger very ceremoniously and sent back this answer:

“The snows beneath the pines of Oshio
Have never known so mighty a company.”

These are the bits I gathered, and I may not have recorded them accurately.

Genji wrote to Tamakazura the next day. “I suppose you saw the emperor? Did you find yourself inclining a little in the direction I have suggested?”

It was a cozy, friendly sort of note on prim white paper, containing none of the usual innuendos. It pleased her and yet she smiled wryly. He had been very clever at reading her thoughts.

“It was all rather confused and unclear,” she wrote back.

“Amid deep snows upon a day of clouds
How does one see the radiance far above?”

Genji showed the letter to Murasaki. “I have, as you see, suggested that she go to court, but I already have the empress there and should perhaps refrain from sending another lady so soon. And if I were to reveal the secret to her father he would be faced with complications because of his other daughter. A girl who can do as she pleases is of course very eager to go to court once she has had a glimpse of His Majesty.”

“Don’t you think,” she said, smiling, “that however handsome His Majesty may be, it is good for girls to be a little less forward?”

“You may say so, but I should imagine that you yourself would be first in line.”

He got off an answer:

“The crimson glow is there in a cloudless sky.
Have you let yourself be blinded by the snow?

“You must make up your mind.”

There was first the matter of her initiation ceremonies. He was already making preparations, collecting the masterpieces of the finest craftsmen in the land. Ceremonies in which he had a part had a way of becoming very grand even when he did not pay much attention to them, and he was paying a great deal of attention to these, which were to be his occasion for informing Tō no Chūjō.

They were set for the Second Month. Even after a lady has reached adulthood and attracted considerable attention, it is not necessary, so long as she is living a quiet life at home, that she step forward and announce herself to the gods, and so Tamakazura’s position had remained ambiguous. But now, if Genji’s plans were to be realized, there was a danger of offending the god of Kasuga, patron of the Fujiwara family. Her true identity must be revealed. Not wishing to leave behind a name for furtiveness and duplicity because he had kept the secret so long, Genji even now considered alternative measures. Adoptions were not at all unusual these days among commoners. He finally decided, however, that the bond between parent and child is not easily severed and that Tō no Chūjō must be told everything. He wrote asking that Tō no Chūjō do him the honor of tying the ceremonial apron. The answer came back that Princess Omiya had been ill since late the preceding year and was not improving and that it would be unseemly for Tō no Chūjō to make ceremonial appearances. Yūgiri was, moreover, living at Sanjō to be with his grandmother and would not find it convenient to divide his attentions.

And so what was to be done? Life is uncertain. Princess Omiya might die, and Tamakazura would be guilty of sacrilege if she did not go into mourning for her grandmother. The princess must be informed. Genji set out for Sanjō, ostensibly to inquire after her health.

It was no longer possible for him to go out inconspicuously. His excursions these days tended to be even grander than royal outings. At the sight of him, so handsome that he scarcely seemed of this world, Princess Omiya felt her afflictions leave her. She got out of bed to receive him. She was very weak and needed the support of an armrest, but her speech was clear.

“What a pleasure it is to see that you are not as ill as I had feared?” said Genji. “My informant seems to have been an alarmist. He led me to fear the very worst. I do not even go to court these days except on very special occasions. I stay shut up at home quite as if I had no public duties, and lead an indolent, useless existence. Some men go on working when they are so bent with age that they can hardly carry themselves about. I was not born with great talents, and now I have added laziness to my disabilities.”

“It is a very long time since I first became aware that old age had overtaken me,” replied the princess, “but since the beginning of the year I have felt that I do not have much longer to live. It has made me very sad to think that I might not see you again. And here you are, and death does not seem so near after all. I have lived a long life and have no very great wish to live longer. The dearest ones have gone on ahead of me, and the others seem intent on showing me what a mistake it is to live so long. I have been quietly making my preparations. Yūgiri has been the exception. He is wonderfully kind and attentive. His problems have held me back and made me want to live on.”

Her voice was trembling. Her remarks might have sounded like the empty complaining of a dotard, but to Genji they seemed genuine. He was deeply moved.

They talked of many things, ancient and recent.

“I suppose your son comes to see you every day. It would please me enormously if he were to come today. There is something I have been wanting to speak to him about, but it is not easy to arrange a meeting when I do not have important business.”

“I do not see a great deal of him, I fear, perhaps because he does not have an overwhelming sense of filial duty. What might you wish to speak to him about? Yūgiri has his just grievances. I say to my son that however matters may once have been, rumors that have escaped do not come meekly home again. Nothing is to be gained at this late date by keeping the two apart. The end result could be to make us all look ridiculous. But he has never been an easy man to talk to, and I am by no means sure that he sees the point.”

Genji smiled. She always thought first of Yūgiri. “But I had heard that your good son was prepared to accept the facts. I made bold to drop a few hints of my own, and afterwards rather wished that I hadn’t, because they only got the boy a scolding. Things eventually come out clean in the wash, they say, and I have wondered why he has not seen fit to let the water do its work. But of course that is not entirely true. There are things that no amount of laundering does much for. They get worse the longer you wait. I am sorry for the damage that has already been done.

“But as a matter of fact,” he said, turning to his main business. “As a matter of fact, there is a girl who should have been his responsibility but who quite by accident has become mine. I did not at first know the truth and I was not as diligent as I might have been in seeking it out. Having so few children of my own, I convinced the girl in question that it need make no difference if she thought of herself as one of them. I did not try as hard as I might have to make her feel like one of the family, and time passed. Then one day - I cannot think how he heard about her - there was a summons from His Majesty.

“He told me very confidentially that he was concerned about the inner palace. If the ladies’ apartments do not have a competent wardress the ladies are left without proper guidance. There are two elderly assistant wardresses and there are other candidates as well, all of them most eagerly desiring the appointment, but His Majesty is not enthusiastic about any of them. It has been the practice to appoint someone of good birth who is not unduly encumbered by family problems. He could, he said, consider intelligence and attainments and promote someone who has served long and faithfully, but in the absence of remarkable promise he would prefer a younger lady who is beginning to attract favorable notice.

“I thought immediately of the young lady I have mentioned, and wondered how your son would feel about proposing her as a candidate. Ladies who go to court, whatever their rank, find themselves in competition for His Majesty’s affection, and the more prosaic work of seeing that the palace continues to function does not seem very attractive or challenging. But I have come to think myself that whether it is or is not depends on the lady whose responsibility it is. Having made further inquiry about the lady I had taken under my protection, I had concluded that her age identified her as someone who should more properly be under your son’s protection. I would like to discuss the matter quite frankly with him. I do not want anything as grand as a formal conference. I hoped I had found the occasion for informing him, but when I wrote inviting him to be present he was not enthusiastic and wrote back that your illness made it necessary for him to decline. I had to agree that my timing was less than ideal. But now I see that you are not as ill as my informant had led me to fear, and so I think I must insist. Could you so inform him, please?”

“How very interesting, and how very unlikely. I know that he has been rather indiscriminately collecting children who have claimed to be his. It is astonishing that this one went to the wrong father. Was she herself misinformed?”

“There is an explanation. I am sure that he will be familiar with the details. It is the sort of thing that happens in the untidy lives of the lower classes and is always being talked about. I have not told even Yūgiri. I hope that you will be as careful as I have been.”

Tō no Chūjō heard with surprise of Genji’s visit. “But they have far too few people at Sanjō to receive such a guest. Who will be looking after his man and seeing that he is properly entertained himself? I imagine Yūgiri will be with him.” He immediately sent off a few sons and several of their friends. “I ought to go myself, but I would not want to make too elaborate an affair of it.”

A letter came from Princess Omiya. “The Rokujō minister has been kind enough to inquire after my health. We are badly understaffed and cannot be making a good impression. Do you suppose I might ask you to come, as quietly as possible, without having it seem that I sent for you? He has said that there is something he wishes to speak to you about.”

What would it be? Yet more about Yūgiri? Princess Omiya did not have much longer to live and was making strong pleas in Yūgiri’s behalf. If Genji were to lodge a protest Tō no Chūjō would have great trouble turning it away. Tō no Chūjō had been thinking how unfortunate it would be to learn at this late date that Yūgiri’s ardor had died. He must find an occasion to let it be known that he might consider acceding to the young people’s wishes. If Genji and the princess were in collusion he would have very great trouble answering their arguments. He was a stubborn man, however, and a rather perverse man as well, and he did not want to surrender without a fight.

His mother had sent for him, and Genji would be waiting. He did not want to offend either of them. He would see what they had to say. He dressed very carefully and ordered a modest retinue, and presented a very grand figure as he set forth surrounded by sons. He was tall and strongly built and carried himself with magisterial dignity. In purple trousers surmounted by a very long train of white lined with red, he might almost have been accused of overdressing. By contrast, the easy informality of Genji’s dress, a robe of white Chinese brocade lined with red over several red singlets, suggested a prince who has ample time to cultivate his sensibilities. It might have been said that Genji had the finer material to work with and Tō no Chūjō worked harder with what he had.

His sons were also very handsome. He had two brothers with him, men of considerable eminence, a grand councillor and a chamberlain to the crown prince. Though he did not wish to seem ostentatious, he had in his retinue upwards of ten middle-ranking courtiers of unexceptionable name and family and very good taste, including two privy secretaries, two guards officers, and a moderator, and there were lesser courtiers in large numbers.

The wine flowed freely and pleasant intoxication was general, and the talk was of what a fortunate lady the old princess was.

It was also of course reminiscent, for Genji and Tō no Chūjō had not met in a very long time. When they did not see each other they were always finding themselves at odds over things that did not matter, but when they were together all the solid reasons for friendship reasserted themselves. They talked of happenings old and recent, and presently it was evening. Tō no Chūjō continued to press wine on his mother’s guests.

“I have hesitated to visit Mother without an invitation. And what would you have said if I had known you were here and not come?”

“Nothing at all, except to apologize for my own remissness - though I have at times, you know, had reason to be annoyed with you.”

The troublesome matter of the younger generation, thought Tō no Chūjō, retreating into polite silence.

“In the old days,” said Genji, “I never felt comfortable unless I had your opinion on every matter, public and private, large and small, and the two of us in His Majesty’s service seemed like two wings serving one bird. As the years went by there were from time to time things that rather went against my wishes. They were private. In matters of public policy I have never doubted our being on the same side, and I do not doubt it now. I find my thoughts turning more to the past, and I also find that we see less and less of each other. It is entirely proper that you should stand on the dignity of your office, and yet I do sometimes wish that in private matters ceremony might be dispensed with. There have been times when I have wished that you might come calling.”

“Yes, it is as you say. In the old days you must have thought it ill-mannered and inconsiderate of me to make such demands on your time. I had no secrets from you and I profited enormously from your advice. You praise me too highly when you suggest that I have ever performed as your companion wing. I have made use of your enormous abilities to support my own inadequate ones and so I have been privileged to be of service to His Majesty. You must not for a moment think that I am ungrateful. But it is once again as you say: we see far too little of each other.”

Genji presently found a chance to turn to his main subject.

“How perfectly extraordinary.” Tō no Chūjō was in tears. “I believe that my feelings once got the better of me and I told you of my search for the girl. As I have risen to my modest position in the world I have gathered my stupid daughters around me, not omitting the least-favored of them. They have found ways to make themselves known. And when I think of the lost ones, it is she who comes first to mind.”

As they remembered the confessions made and the conclusions reached that rainy night, they laughed and wept and the earlier stiffness disappeared. It was very late when they went their separate ways.

“The sight of you brings fond memories,” said Genji, “and I do not at all want to leave.” It was not like him to weep so easily. Perhaps he had had too much to drink.

Princess Omiya was weeping copiously. The sight of Genji, so much handsomer and grander than in the old years, made her think of her late daughter. It does seem to be true that a nun’s habit and briny waters have an affinity for each other.

Genji let the opportunity pass to touch upon Yūgiri’s affairs. It would have been in bad taste to introduce so clear a case of injustice on Tō no Chūjō’s part, and Tō no Chūjō himself thought the matter one for Genji to bring up. And so the tension between them was not after all completely dispelled.

“I know that I should see you home,” said Tō no Chūjō, “but you gave me such short notice, and I would not want to attract attention. I will call on you soon to tell you again how grateful I am for this visit.”

Genji replied that it had been a joy to find Omiya less ill than he had feared and that he would hold Tō no Chūjō most firmly to his engagement to bestow the ceremonial train.

They parted in the best of spirits, on the surface at least. Their retinues were very grand. The various sons and brothers in attendance would have liked very much to know what had been discussed. Both Genji and Tō no Chūjō seemed happy with the discussion, and so who might be expected to resign what office now, and in favor of whom? No one suspected what had in fact been the reason for the meeting.

Tō no Chūjō was badly unsettled. There were difficulties in the way of taking Tamakazura into his house immediately. It seemed highly unlikely, everything considered, that Genji had sought the girl out and brought her into his house and then left her quite untouched. Out of regard for his other ladies, Genji had probably refrained from adding her openly and formally to the company. Probably he was finding the clandestine affair unmanageable and was worried about gossip, and so had chosen to let Tō no Chūjō in on the secret. It was a pity, of course, but the girl’s reputation need not be thought irreparably damaged. People could hardly criticize Tō no Chūjō if he were to let Genji keep her. Genji’s suggestion that she be sent to court opened the possibility of unpleasantness for the sister already there. But be would respect Genji’s wishes, whatever Genji decided to do.

The meeting just described took place early in the Second Month. The sixteenth, at the beginning of the equinoctial services, was found to be a propitious day for initiation ceremonies. The soothsayers advised indeed that no better day would come for some time, and Princess Omiya’s illness did not at the moment seem serious.

In the course of the preparations Genji told Tamakazura in great detail of his conversation with her father. Genji’s kindness could not have been greater, she thought, if he had been her father, and at the same time she was delighted at the prospect of meeting her real father.

Genji took Yūgiri into his confidence. The pieces fell into place, num bers of puzzles were solved. Yūgiri now thought Tamakazura in pleasing contrast to the cold lady upon whom he had set his affections, and he thought himself very obtuse for not having guessed earlier. He was an honest and sensible boy, and he told himself that the possibilities introduced by the new situation must be dismissed from his mind.

On the day of the ceremony a secret messenger arrived bringing gifts from Princess Omiya. Despite the shortness of the notice, the princess had put together a fine collection of comb boxes and the like.

“Nuns do not write letters,” she said, “and so I shall be brief. I hope that I may persuade you to follow my example in living a long and full life. Perhaps it is improper of me to confess how deeply moved I was to learn of your circumstances. I would not wish in any way to offend you, but

“Whatever lid the jeweled comb box bears,
I still shall think it no one’s box but mine.”

It was in a tremulous old-fashioned hand. Busy with last-minute preparations and instructions, Genji was in Tamakazura’s rooms when it arrived.

“Yes, it is a little old-fashioned,” he said, “but it is very touching all the same. She has aged, poor thing. She used to write a very fine hand. See how it shakes and wanders.” He read it again and yet again, and laughed quietly. “One might charge her with making too much of her boxes. A box per line - I doubt that it would be possible to write a more box-filled poem.”

Akikonomu sent formal robes, a white train and a Chinese jacket and the rest, and other gifts as well, all of superb quality. There were combs for the formal coiffure and, as always, the best of Chinese perfumes in a variety of jars. And there were robes for Tamakazura from the other ladies at Rokujō, and combs and fans and the like for her attendants, all of them showing very clearly the tastes of the several ladies. One would have found it quite impossible to say that any one gift was superior to the others. A competition among ladies of taste can produce a most marvelous display.

Though the ladies in the east lodge at Nijō also heard of the preparations, it did not seem their place to offer congratulations. The safflower princess was the exception. Inflexible in her allegiance to good form, she must not let the occasion pass or have it seem that she was unconcerned - and one had to grant that such punctiliousness was in its way admirable. She sent a robe of a greenish drab, lined trousers of a dusty rose or some such color much admired by the ancients, and a faded purple jacket of a minute weave, all in a beautifully wrought wardrobe and elaborate wrapping.

Her letter was expansive. “I do not hope to make your acquaintance, but I would not for the world want it to seem that I am ignoring you. These poor garments will doubtless seem beneath your notice. If, however, you find an attendant who might be able to use them, please pass them on to her.”

Genji saw it and grimaced. “She is a strange old thing. It would be far better for us all if she were to let her shyness have its way and keep to herself. I fear I am blushing. You must answer, I suppose. She will be upset if you don’t. When I remember how fond her father was of her I find it impossible not to be kind to her.”

Attached to the jacket was a poem which showed the usual obsession with clothing.

“How very unhappy I am, for my Chinese sleeves
Cannot be friends with the sleeves of your Chinese robe.”

The hand was, as always, rather dreadful, cramped and rocklike and stiff and angular. Though discommoded, Genji could not help being amused as well. “I imagine that it took a great deal out of her. She has even less assistance in these endeavors than she used to have. I think I will compose your answer for you, busy though I am.”

“How very observant you are,” he wrote. “You notice things which escape the ordinary eye. Indeed I might almost wish you were a little less so.

“A Chinese robe, a Chinese robe once more,
And yet again a Chinese Chinese robe.”

“It pleases her to make these avowals,” he said, showing it to Tamakazura, “and I defer to her tastes.”

She laughed brightly. “Dare I suspect unkind wit?”

But I have lost myself in trivialities.

Tō no Chūjō had not been much interested in the ceremonies, but now he was very eager indeed to see the girl. He arrived early. Aware of and grateful for all the trouble Genji had gone to, he thought it rather odd even so. Late in the evening he was admitted to his daughter’s apartments. Refreshments were served. The lights were somewhat brighter than one might have expected, and the smallest detail was in careful order. The ritual did not permit more than a glimpse of his daughter, but he could hardly keep himself from staring openly as he bestowed the train.

“We shall not speak of things long over and done with,” said Genji, “and we would do well not to let the secret out quite yet. Please try to make it all seem as routine as possible.”

“I cannot thank you enough,” said Tō no Chūjō, raising his cup. “There can be no precedent for such kindness. And yet I must register a brief complaint that you have kept the secret so long.

“Bitter, bitter, that the fisherfolk
So long have hidden the treasures of the sea.”

It was accompanied by an illustrative shedding of tears.

The company of two such splendid gentlemen had reduced Tamakazura to silence. The answering poem came from Genji:

“The fisherfolk refusing to take them in,
The grasses drifted ashore as best they might.

“Your objection is not well taken, sir.”

Tō no Chūjō had to grant the truth in it. He had no answer.

The whole court was in attendance, including several of Tamakazura’s suitors. It struck them as odd that Tō no Chūjō should stay so long behind her curtains. Of his sons, only Kashiwagi and Kobai had some glimmering of the truth. They were disappointed and pleased, disappointed because they had themselves had certain designs upon the girl.

“I certainly am glad that I did not give myself away,” whispered Kobai.

“Genji has his own way of doing things,” said someone else. “Do you suppose he means to do for her what he did for the empress?”

“We must be careful that we do not emerge in an unfavorable light?” said Genji, overhearing. “People who are unencumbered with rank and office do all manner of strange things, I am sure, but we are vulnerable. We must let matters take their course until people are prepared to accept them for what they are.”

“I shall follow your wishes unquestioningly,” replied Tō no Chūjō. “There must have been some bond between the two of you from another life, that you should have found her and taken care of her with no help at all from me.”

He was of course richly and imaginatively rewarded for his services. As for the other gifts, Genji managed to add original touches to what precedent and regulation demanded. They were very splendid indeed. Because of Princess Omiya’s illness the concert after the ceremonies was simple.

Prince Hotaru so descended from his dignity as to plead his case openly. “The excuses which you have made,” he said, “would no longer seem to hold.”

“We have had overtures from His Majesty. We shall let you have an answer when we know what his reaction has been to our having felt constrained to decline so august an invitation.”

Tō no Chūjō was consumed with curiosity and impatience. He had had a glimpse of his daughter and he wanted a good, clear look at her. He was sure that if she had any serious defects Genji would not have gone to troubles that seemed almost exaggerated. In any event, that strange dream was now explained.

Tō no Chūjō took the daughter at court into his confidence. They did what they could to keep the secret, but gossip is what people like best. Rumors spread and presently reached the ears of his more unruly daughter.

“So Father has a new girl. Isn’t that nice. So she has both of them to look after her, Father and Genji. Just imagine. So her mother’s a poor thing like my own.”

Her sister could think of nothing to say

“I have no doubt,” said Kashiwagi, “that she deserves all the attention she is getting. But you should not be quite so open about it, my dear. Does it not occur to you that people might be listening?”

“Oh, do be quiet, please. I know as much about it as the next one. I know that Father’s going to send her to the palace and make her the grand high wardress. I’ve worked and slaved and hoped he would do something like that for me. I’ve done things when everybody else said no. And see how my own sister treats me.”

They had to smile. “I thought of asking for the position myself when it came vacant. But don’t you think it is rather bold of you to announce your candidacy so openly?”

The Omi lady was very annoyed indeed. “I know I don’t belong in this fine company. You. You’re the one. You came hunting me out and now you make fun of me. How can a body be in a place like this? Terrible is what it is. Terrible, terrible.” She withdrew to a corner of the room, whence she sent sidelong glances in the direction of her brothers. They may not have been spiteful glances, exactly, but they did suggest someone with strong opinions and purposes.

Kashiwagi no longer felt quite so amused. She was right: it would have been better for everyone if he had left her in Omi.

“I don’t think that anyone is making fun of you,” said Kobai, standing up to leave. “We do appreciate you. You are such a good worker. Just quietly bide your time. That is all you have to do. With your energy you should have no trouble making snow of the largest boulder. I am sure that all your prayers will be answered.”

“Though perhaps it might be better to stay shut up in your cave in the meantime,” said Kashiwagi, also getting up to leave.

“Terrible, terrible.” She was shedding angry tears. “My very own brothers. But I am working and slaving for you,” she said, turning to her sister. “You understand even if they don’t.”

And indeed she did work very hard, plunging into tasks from which the lowest menials tended to pull back. She dashed here and dashed there and quite lost herself in her labors. She once more announced her availability should the emperor wish to appoint her wardress of the ladies’ apartments. Her sister wondered whether she could be serious.

Tō no Chūjō laughed merrily when he heard of it.

“How would it be if we were to summon our Omi friend?” he said one day, in the course of a conversation with her sister.

“Oh, just fine,” said the lady herself, emerging noisily.

“I can see that you work hard and I think you would be a valuable addition to any office. Why did you not tell me of your wish to become wardress?”

He said it most solemnly. The lady was delighted. “I did want to feel you out. I was sure I could count on Sister here. But they say somebody else might get it. When I heard about it I felt like somebody that got rich and then found out it was a dream. But I have my fingers crossed.” There was no suggestion that she lacked confidence.

“As always, you are too self-effacing.” He tried not to smile. “If you had only told me, I would have made certain that your candidacy came first to His Majesty’s ears. It is true that the chancellor has a daughter, but I feel certain that His Majesty would not turn away a warm recommendation from me, whatever fine ladies might be in the running. It is still not too late. You must compose your formal application, making sure that it is in the most exalted language. In verse, perhaps. He could not possibly ignore a long poem, and he holds accomplished verse in the highest esteem.”

He was not being a very good father.

“I’m not much of a poet but I’ll give it a try. Just tell me in a general way what to put into it. I’ll put the meat on the bones. We’ll be partners, you and me. “ She brought her hands together by way of concluding the contract.

The women behind the curtains were choking and strangling. Some had to withdraw lest they disgrace themselves. The sister flushed scarlet.

“We can always count on our Omi lady to drive away the gloom,” said Tō no Chūjō.

People suspected that he was trying to conceal his discomfiture over the affairs of yet another daughter.


The Purple Trousers