tale of Genji 源氏物語

Chapter 26

Wild Carnations

It was a very hot day. Genji was cooling himself in the angling pavilion of the southeast quarter. Yūgiri and numerous friends of the middle court ranks were with him. They had offered to roast trout which had been brought from the Katsura and goby from nearer streams. Several of Tō no Chūjō’s sons, his constant companions, were among them.

“You came at a very good time,” said Genji. “I was feeling bored and sleepy.” Wine and ice water and other refreshments were brought, and it had become a very lively picnic. Though a pleasant wind was blowing, the air was heavy and the sun seemed to move more slowly than usual through a cloudless sky. The shrilling of cicadas was intense, almost oppressive. “It does not do us much good to be on top of the water. I am going to be rude.” He lay down. “Not even music helps in weather like this, and yet it is not very satisfying to go through a whole day doing nothing at all. You youngsters must have a hard time of it in your offices. Here at least you can undo yourselves and relax and bring me up on all the amusing gossip. I am old and out of things, and I must look to you to keep me informed and drive away the yawns.”

It seemed a heavy responsibility. Most of them had withdrawn to the verandas, where it was cooler.

He turned to Kōbai, Tō no Chūjō’s second son. “Where did I hear - I can’t think - that your father had found a stray daughter and is all in a ferment over her? Is it true?”

“Oh, I don’t think it’s a very interesting piece of news, really. There was a woman, it is true, who got wind of a dream Father had this spring and made it known that she had certain relevant matters to bring to his attention. My brother Kashiwagi went to see her and asked what evidence she had to support her claims. I am afraid I have not kept myself very well informed of all the details, though it does seem to be true, as you suggest, sir, that rather a big thing is made of it all. I do not think myself that it brings great honor to Father or to the family.”

So it was true. “Very greedy of him, going out after stray geese when the flock is so large already. My own is so small that I would be delighted to learn of strays. Perhaps my humble status discourages people from coming to me with similar claims. I have detected none, in any event. But isn’t it like your father?” He smiled. “He has stirred the waters rather a lot in his time, and one expects to find a muddy moon reflected from them.”

Yūgiri, who had heard the whole story, was smiling. Tō no Chūjō’s sons seemed to be in some discomfort.

“How about it, my young lord?” said Genji to Yūgiri. “Suppose you go pick up this fallen leaf. It would be better to have something in your bonnet than to be known as a complete failure. After all, she is one of us.”

Genji and Tō no Chūjō had always maintained an appearance of close friendship, but their differences were of long standing. Genji did not at all like the way Yūgiri had been treated, and would have been pleased to have Kōbai take home reports which would annoy his father. Genji was sure that Tamakazura would be received courteously and properly honored if Tō no Chūjō were to learn of her presence. He was a strong, decisive man, very definite in his opinions and inclined to be more emphatic than most in praising good and castigating evil. He would be severe in his judgment of Genji, but he would not turn away the daughter who suddenly presented herself to him. He was certain to treat her with the most scrupulous ceremony.

A cool breeze informed them that evening was finally at hand. The young men were reluctant to leave.

“Well, let us all have a good time. I am at an age when I fear I am not welcome in such company.” Genji started for Tamakazura’s northeast quarter.

They all followed, dressed very much alike and almost indistinguishable one from another in the twilight.

“Suppose you come out toward the veranda just a little,” he said, going in and addressing her in intimate tones not likely to be overheard. “Kōbai and several of his brothers have come with me. They are all mad for introductions, and our staid and opprobrious Yūgiri does nothing at all for them. Even a very undistinguished young lady, you know, can expect suitors while she is still under her father’s wing. Somehow everything in this house gets wildly blown up and exaggerated. We have not had young ladies to arouse their interest, and in my boredom I have thought it might be fun to see you at work on them. You have not disappointed me.”

He had avoided showy plantings in this northeast quarter, but the choicest of wild carnations caught the evening light beneath low, elegant Chinese and Japanese fences. The young men seemed very eager to step down and pluck them (and the flower within as well).

“They are knowledgeable, well-bred young men, all of them. They of course have their various ways. That is as it should be, and I find nothing to take serious exception to. Kashiwagi is perhaps the most serious of them. Indeed he sometimes makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Has he written to you? You must not be unkind to him.”

Yūgiri stood out even in so fine an assembly.

“I cannot think why my friend the minister dislikes him. Does he have such a high regard for his own proud name that he looks down on us offshoots of the royal family?”

“ ‘Come and be my bridegroom,’ everyone is saying. Or so I am told.”

“I do not ask that he be invited in for a banquet, only that he be admitted inside. A clean and innocent attachment is being frustrated, and that I do not like. Is it that the boy does not yet amount to much? That is a problem which he can safely leave to me.”

These matters seemed to complicate the girl’s life yet further. When, she wondered, would she be permitted to meet her own father?

There was no moon. Lamps were brought in.

“Not so close, please. Why don’t we have flares down in the garden?”

Taking out a Japanese koto and finding it satisfactorily tuned, he plucked out a few notes. The tone was splendid.

“If you have disappointed me at all, it has been because you have shown so little interest in music. Might I recommend the Japanese koto, for instance? It is a surprisingly bright and up-to-date sort of instrument when you play it with no nonsense and let it join the crickets in the cool moonlight of an autumn evening. For some reason it does not always seem entirely at home in a formal concert, but it goes very well with other instruments even so. A crude domestic product if you will - but just see how cleverly it is put together. It is for ladies who do not set much stock by foreign things. I warmly recommend it if you think you might want to begin taking music lessons. You must always look for new ways to make it go with other instruments. The basic techniques may seem simple, and indeed they are; but to put them to really good use is another matter. There is no better hand in the whole court than your father, the minister. He has only to give it the slightest muted pluck and there they all are, the grand, high tones of all the imported kotos.”

Already somewhat familiar with the instrument, she was eager to hear more. “Do you suppose we might have a concert here sometime and ask him to join us? It is the instrument all the country people play, and I had thought that there was not a great deal to it.” She did seem to be most eager. “You are right, of course. It is very different in the hands of someone who knows what he is doing.”

“It is also called the eastern koto, you know, and that brings up thoughts of the wild frontier. But when there is a concert at the palace the Japanese koto is always the first instrument His Majesty sends for. I do not know much about other countries, but in our own it must be called the grandfather of all the instruments, and you could not possibly find a better teacher than the minister. We see him here from time to time, but the trouble is that he is rather shy about playing. The really good ones always are. But you will have your chance to hear him one of these days.”

He played a few strains, the tone richer and cleaner than anything she had heard before. She wondered how her father could possibly be a better musician, and she longed more than ever to meet him, and to see him thus at home with his koto.

“Soft as the reed pillow,” he sang, very gently, “the waves of the river Nuki.” He smiled as he came to the passage about the uncooperative parent. There was wonderful delicacy in the muted chord with which he brought it to a conclusion.

“Now we must hear from you. In artistic matters modesty is not a virtue. I have, it is true, heard of ladies who keep ‘I Long for Him’ to themselves, but in other matters openness never seems brazen.”

But she had had lessons in the remote countryside from an old woman who said, though she gave no details, that she had been born in the capital and had royal blood in her veins. Such credentials did not inspire confidence, and the girl refused to touch the instrument.

“No, let me hear just a little more, and perhaps I will be clever enough to imitate it.” And so the japanese koto brought her close to him when other devices had failed. “Is it the wind that accounts for that extraordinary tone?” He thought her quite ravishing as she sat in the dim torchlight as if seeking an answer to her question.

“An extraordinary wind,” he said, smiling, “demonstrating that you are not after all deaf.”

He pushed the koto towards her, but he had given her reason to be out of sorts; and besides, her women were listening.

“And what of our young men? They did not pay proper attention to our wild carnations.” He was in a meditative mood. “I really must show this garden to my friend the minister sometime. Life is uncertain, of course. We are gone tomorrow. And yet all those years since he and I talked of your mother, and you yourself were our wild carnation - somehow an eternity can seem like nothing at all.

“Were he to see its gentle hues unchanging,
Would he not come to the hedge of the wild carnation?

“And that would complicate matters, and so I have kept you in a cocoon. I fear you have found it constraining.”

Brushing away a tear, she replied:

“Who would come to seek the wild carnation
That grew at such a rough and rustic hedge?”

The note of self-effacement made her seem very young and gentle.

“If he does not come,” whispered Genji, by no means sure how much longer he could control himself.

Uncomfortable about the frequency of his visits, he took to writing letters, which came in a steady stream. She was never out of his thoughts. Why, he asked himself, did he become so engrossed in matters which should not have concerned him? He knew that to let his feelings have their way would be to give himself a name for utter frivolity, and of course to do the girl great harm. He knew further that though he loved her very much she would never be Murasaki’s rival. What sort of life would she have as one of the lesser ladies? He might be the grandest statesman in the land, but a lesser lady was still a lesser lady. She would be better off as the principal wife of some middling councillor. Should he then let Hotaru or Higekuro have her? He might succeed in resigning himself to such an arrangement. He would not be happy, but - or so he sometimes thought - it might perhaps after all be best. And then he would see her, and change his mind.

He still visited her frequently. The Japanese koto was his excuse. Embarrassed at first to find herself his pupil, she presently began to feel that he did not mean to take advantage of her, and came to accept the visits as normal and proper. Rather prim and very careful to avoid any suggestion of coquetry, she pleased him more and more. Matters could not be left as they were.

Suppose then that he were to find her a bridegroom but keep her here at Rokujō, where he could continue to see her, clandestinely, of course. She knew nothing of men, and his overtures disturbed her. He had to feel sorry for her; but once she was better informed he would make his way past the most unblinking of gatekeepers and have his way with her. These thoughts may not seem entirely praiseworthy. The longing and fretfulness increased and invited trouble - it was a very difficult relationship indeed.

Tō no Chūjō had learned that his new daughter had not really been accepted as one of the family and that people thought her rather funny. Kōbai remarked in the course of a conversation that Genji had inquired about her.

“I have indeed brought home a daughter whom I allowed to grow up in the hills. I am not surprised that Genji asked about her. He seldom has a bad word for anyone, but for me and my family he has a few bad words on every occasion. We are much honored.”

“He has a new lady at Rokujō, you know, and everything suggests that she is a beauty, the next thing to perfection. Prince Hotaru seems very much interested in her. The gossip suggests that he has every right to be.”

“Oh, yes, I am sure everyone is interested in her. But that is only because she is Genji’s daughter. So it goes. I doubt that she is so very special, really. If she were he would have found her long before this. Yes, the great Genji, not a fleck of dust on his name and fame, much too good, everyone says, for our degenerate age. It seems a pity that his favorite lady, a perfect jewel, has no children. He must feel rather badly served. He seems to have ambitious plans for the little Akashi girl, even though her mother leaves something to be desired. Well, what will be will be. As for the new lady, a suspicious and cynical person might wonder whether she is in fact his daughter. He is a fine man but he has his little eccentricities, and it might all be sham and playacting.

“I wonder what plans he has for the new lady, and how Prince Hotaru might figure in them. They have been the closest of brothers, and I should think they would get on very well as father and son.”

Tō no Chūjō continued to be unhappy with Kumoinokari. He would have liked to make her the belle of the day, the rage of the court. Infatuated with a minor courtier like Yūgiri, she was not being cooperative. Perhaps if Genji were to step in with repeated and earnest supplications Tō no Chūjō could graciously give his consent. Yūgiri’s coolness and imperturbability did not help matters.

Tō no Chūjō went unannounced to Kumoinokari’s rooms. She was napping, very small and pretty, and managing to look cool in spite of the heat. Her skin was a soft glow through a gossamer singlet. One hand still held a fan most prettily, and her head was cradled on an arm. The hair that flowed behind her in natural tresses was neither too long nor troublesomely thick, and beautifully combed. Her women too were asleep, behind blinds and screens. They were not easily awakened. She looked innocently up at him as he tapped with his fan, her eyes round and startled, and the flush that came over her face delighted him.

“So here you are sleeping, and I have told you I can’t think how many times that constant vigilance is one of the marks of a lady. There is not a vigilant eye in this room. You are all looking very abandoned indeed. Not of course that I would want you to storm and glower. Vigilance is not to be recommended when it merely puts people off.

“They tell me that Genji is going to enormous trouble with the girl he means to send to court. He seems to have embarked upon a liberal and expansive program, giving her something of everything and not letting her specialize, seeing that she is ignorant of nothing and not asking that she be an expert. A very liberal sort of education. Yet we do all have our preferences, and no doubt hers will emerge as she gets older. I am eagerly awaiting the day when she appears at court.

“You have not made things easy for me, my dear, but do at least try to keep people from laughing at us. I have given very careful attention to reports about a number of young gentlemen. It is still too early for you to accept the tender pleas of any one of them. You must leave that to me.”

All the while he was lecturing he was thinking how pretty she was.

She was very sorry for the trouble she had caused, and would not for the world have wanted to seem unapologetic. She could not look at him. Her grandmother, Princess Omiya, complained of neglect, but it was just such paternal reproaches as these that made it difficult for her to visit the old lady.

Tō no Chūjō had been very happy at finding a daughter off in Omi, and he would not seem his usual sensible self if now that she had become a public joke he were to send her back again. Nor was the alternative very pleasing, to keep her here and make it seem that he had serious plans for her. Perhaps his daughter at court could use her, and everyone could have a good laugh over her. She was not so impossibly ill favored that she must be kept out of sight.

“I will make you a gift of her,” he said to the other daughter. “If she seems too completely silly, you can tell your older women that they have someone to educate, and maybe you can keep the younger ones from laughing unmercifully. I must admit that she does at times seem a little flight?”

“Oh, surely she is not as bad as all that. Kashiwagi led us to have high hopes for her, and it may be that she has not entirely lived up to them.” She was rather splendid. “Don’t you suppose it embarrasses the poor thing to be the center of so much attention?”

Though not the reigning beauty of the day, this other daughter had elegance and dignity and a pleasantly gentle manner. She was like a plum blossom opening at dawn. Her father loved the way she had of making it seem that a great deal was being left unsaid.

“Kashiwagi is young and naive, and he halted his investigations before he had come upon the obvious.” He was not being very kind to his new daughter.

He thought he would look in on her, since her room was not far away. He found her, blinds raised high, at a contest of backgammon.

Her hands at her forehead in earnest supplication, she was rattling off her prayer at a most wondrous speed. “Give her a deuce, give her a deuce.” Over and over again. “Give her a deuce, give her a deuce.”

This really was rather dreadful. Motioning his attendants to silence, he slipped behind a hinged door from which the view was unobstructed through sliding doors beyond.

“Revenge, revenge,” shrieked Gosechi, the clever young woman who was her opponent. Gosechi was not to be outdone in earnestness or shrillness. She shook and shook the dicebox and was not quick to make her throw.

If either of them had anything at all in her empty mind she was not showing it. The Omi daughter was small and pretty and had beautiful hair, and could by no means have been described as an unrelieved scandal - though a narrow forehead and a too exuberant and indeed a torrential way of speaking canceled out her good points. No beauty, certainly, and yet it was impossible not to recognize immediately whose daughter she was. It made Tō no Chūjō uncomfortable to realize that he might have been looking at his own mirror image.

“Are you feeling quite at home?” he presently asked. “Are they being good to you? I am very busy, I fear, and do not see you as often as I would wish.”

“Just being here is enough. No complaints, not a one.” The speed was undiminished. “All those years I just wanted to see your face. That’s all I wanted, all those years. But I still get the bad throws. I don’t get to look at you very much.”

“I am genuinely sorry. I rather keep to myself, and I had hoped that we would have a great deal of time for each other. But things have not so arranged themselves. You will have seen that ordinary ladies rather tend to get lost in the crowd, and it does not matter very much how they behave. That is very nice for them. But it sometimes happens that a lady comes from such a good family that people are always pointing her out, and it sometimes happens that she does not do full honor to the family name, and - ?”

The full significance of the final conjunction was lost upon the lady. “Oh no oh no. I don’t care if I don’t stand out in a crowd. I just tell myself family makes trouble and keep out of sight. Give me the chamber pot to empty and I’ll do it.”

A guffaw emerged from the minister. “Oh, that won’t be necessary, I think. But if you do wish to demonstrate your keen sense of duty, then see if you can’t manage to let your words have a little more room. Space them a little more generously. Let them be drawn out a little more and I will feel that the years of my life are being drawn out with them.” He smiled at his little joke.

“I’ve always had the fastest tongue. Mother scolded me for it, way back when I was a baby. The steward of the Myōhōji Temple, she said, it was all his fault. He was there when I was born way out in Omi, and he had the fastest tongue too, and that was where I got it. I’ll see what I can do about it.” She said it most solemnly, as if prepared to sacrifice anything in the cause of filial duty.

He was touched. “He did you a disservice, the good steward, in presiding at your birth. He sounds like someone who has much to atone for. The Lotus Sutra tells us that dumbness and stammering are punishment for blasphemy.”

He was in some awe of his daughter at court, and was having second thoughts about letting her see this new sister. The mistake had been Kashiwagi’s, in bringing the strange creature home before he knew what she was. People were laughing, and there was nothing to be done.

“Your sister is with us at the moment. Watch her carefully, and see how she behaves. Good manners have a way of spreading out from the center. Think of it that way, and see what she has to teach you.”

“I’d be delighted. Morning and night it’s the thing I asked for, just to be one of them and make them take me as one of them. Morning and night and months and years it’s what I’ve wanted. just tell her to make them make me one of them and I’ll do anything she tells me. I’ll bring in the water. I’ll bring it in on my head.” She had gathered such momentum that she was next to incomprehensible and somewhat intimidating.

“Oh, I doubt that she will ask you to cut the kindling. What will be asked of you is that you rid yourself of the good steward and find yourself a new model.”

She was not as alive as she might have been to irony, nor did she seem aware what a great man she was addressing. She did not share in the general awe.

“So when shall I go see her?”

“Suppose we pick a lucky day. No, we needn’t make such a thing of it. Just drop in on her when you feel like it, today if you wish.” And he went out.

Just see what a father she had found for herself. An ordinary turn around the house, and just look at all the Fourth Rankers and Fifth Rankers he had with him. “And I’m his own little girl. Why did I have to grow up in Omi?”

“Too fine a papa, really,” said Gosechi. “Don’t you think you might have been better off with an ordinary one who cared a little about you?”

“There you go. You always make everything turn out wrong. Well, just you remember something. You’re with your betters, and don’t you forget it. I’ve got big things ahead of me.”

One could not be angry with her. Commonness and honest, sturdy indignation could be charming. The trouble was with her speech. She had grown up among country people, and it was very inelegant. Pure, precise speech can give a certain distinction to rather ordinary remarks. An impromptu poem, for instance, if it is spoken musically, with an air at the beginning and end as of something unsaid, can seem to convey worlds of meaning, even if upon mature reflection it does not seem to have said much of anything at all. Torrential remarks have the opposite effect: the distinguished seems flat and vulgar. The overemphatic Omi speech patterns made everything seem less than serious. She had acquired them at her nurse’s breast and was not shy about using them; and they were all wrong. Yet she did have her little accomplishments. She could without warning rattle off poem after poem of approximately the right length, and if the top half did not seem to go with the bottom half, that was all right too.

“Father says I must go see Sister, and so that’s just what I’ll do. Wouldn’t want to disappoint him. Maybe I’ll go right away. No, maybe I’ll wait till dark. I’m father’s own little pet, but that won’t do me much good if we’re not chums, me and all the rest of them.”

The rest of them did not seem to be so eager.

She immediately set about composing a letter to her sister.

“Though here beside your fence of rushes, the fact I have not had the happiness of stepping on your shadow might be from a gate which says ‘Come not my way.’ It may be rude to mention Musashi when we haven’t been introduced yet but forgive me.” This last was followed by several ditto marks, and there were underlinings. Then there was a “please turn over,” and: “Yes, I forgot. I may come see you this evening because unfriendliness intensifies my longing. I’m all in a dither and writing poorly, very poorly. It must be I am like the Minase.” And there was a poem, and one final remark:

“Cape How of the grassy pastures of Hitachi
Says how can the waves of Farmer Beach come see you.

“And the waves of the river broad.”

It was on a single sheet of green paper in a somewhat impatient style, the style of what master one could not easily have said. Given to wanderings and extensions, it seemed in spite of everything much pleased with itself, though asking for a larger piece of paper. She smiled at her composition and, folding it into a demure little knot, fastened it to a wild carnation. For her messenger she chose a little scullery maid, pretty and confident though new to the service.

“This is for her,” said the messenger, marching in upon the ladies-in-waiting.

“A letter has come from the north wing.” The woman who took it recognized her and opened the letter.

Another woman, called Chūnagon, glanced curiously at the minister’s daughter, who smiled as she put it down. “It looks like a most stylish sort of letter.”

“I do not seem to be very good at the cursive style,” said the lady, handing it to her. “I can’t somehow quite get the thread of it. But she will look down upon me if I do not answer in a similarly sophisticated and literary vein. Work up a draft for me, if you will, please.”

The younger women were giggling.

“It was not easy,” said Chūnagon, presenting her draft, “to maintain the graceful, poetic tone. And we would not wish to insult her with anything from the hand of a scrivener.”

She had made it seem that the answer had come from the hand of the lady herself:

“It does indeed seem cruel that I should not have the pleasure of your company when you are so near.

“You waves of the Suma coast of Suruga
Hitachi, the pine of Hakosaki waits.”

“Oh, no! Everyone will think I wrote it.

“Few will make that mistake, my lady.”

And so it was put in an envelope and sent off.

“What a nice poem,” said the Omi lady. “What a nice poem. And she’s waiting for me, she says.”

She scented and rescented her robes, though the first scenting made them insistent, and put on crimson rouge and brushed furiously at her hair. Her completed toilet was very gay and rather charming.

No doubt there was a certain boldness too in her address.