The east lodge at Nijō was finished, and the lady of the orange blossoms moved in. Genji turned the west wing and adjacent galleries into offices and reserved the east wing for the Akashi lady. The north wing was both spacious and ingeniously partitioned, so that he might assign its various rooms to lesser ladies who were dependent on him, and so make them happy too. He reserved the main hall for his own occasional use.
He wrote regularly to Akashi. The time had come, he said firmly, for the lady's removal to the city. She was painfully aware of her humble station, however, and she had heard that he made even ladies of the highest rank more unhappy by his way of behaving coolly but correctly than if he had simply dismissed them. She feared that she could expect little attention from him. Her rank could not be hidden, of course, and her daughter would suffer for it. And how painful it would be, and what an object of derision she herself would be, if she had to sit waiting for brief and stealthy visits. But there was the other side of the matter: it would not do for her daughter to grow up in the remote countryside, a child of the shadows. So she could not tell Genji that he had behaved badly and be finished with him. Her parents understood, and could only add their worries to hers. The summons from their noble visitor only made them unhappier.
The old man remembered that his wife's grandfather, Prince Nakatsukasa, had had a villa on the river Oi to the west of the city. There had been no one to take charge after his death and it had been sadly neglected. He summoned the head of the family that had assumed custody.
“I had quite given up my ambitions and fallen quietly into country life, and now in my declining years something rather unexpected has come up. I must have a residence in the city once more. It would be too much of a change to move back into the great world immediately. The noise and the bustle would be very upsetting for a rustic like me. I need a sort of way station, a familiar place that has been in the family. Might you see to repairs and make the place reasonably livable? I will of course take care of all the expenses.”
“It has been deserted for so long that it is the worst tangle you can imagine. I myself patched up one of the outbuildings to live in. Since this spring there has been a real commotion, you never saw the likes of it. The Genji minister has been putting up a temple, several very big halls, and the place is swarming with carpenters. If it's quiet you're looking for, then I'm afraid this is not what you want.”
“It makes no difference at all. As a matter of fact, I'm rather counting on the minister for certain favors. I'll of course take care of all the expenses, the fittings and decorations and all. Just make it your business, please, to have it ready for occupancy as soon as you possibly can.”
“It's true that I've never had clear title, but there wasn't really anyone else to take over. We've just been following our quiet country ways over the years. The fields and the rest were going to waste, absolutely to ruin. So I paid the late Mimbu no Tayū what seemed like a reasonable amount and got his permission, and I've been working the fields ever since.” He was obviously worried about his crops. His nose and then the whole of his wary, bewhiskered face was crimson, and his mouth was twisted as if in a growl.
“It is not your fields I am concerned with. You can go on working them as you always have. I have a great many deeds and titles and the like, but I've rather lost track of them these last years. I'll look into them.”
The hint that Genji was an indirect party to the negotiations warned the man that he might be inviting trouble. The recompense being ample, he made haste to get the house in order.
Genji had been puzzled and upset by the lady's reluctance to move. He did not want people to associate his daughter with Akashi. Presently the Oi house was ready and he learned of it. Now he understood: the lady had been frightened at the thought of the great city. These precautions had been reasonable and indeed laudable.
He sent off Lord Koremitsu, his usual adviser and agent in confidential matters, to scout the grounds and see if further preparations were necessary.
“The setting is very good,” said Koremitsu. “I was reminded a little of Akashi.”
Nothing could be better. The temple which Genji was putting up was to the south of the Daikakuji, by a mountain cascade which rivaled that of the Daikakuji itself. The main hall of the Oi villa was simple and unpretentious, almost like a farmhouse, in a grove of magnificent pines beside the river. Genji himself saw to all the furnishings. Very quietly, he sent off trusted retainers to be the lady's escort.
So there was no avoiding it. The time had come to leave the familiar coast. She wept for her father and the loneliness he must face, and for every small detail of her old home. She had known all the sorrows, and would far rather that this manna had never fallen.
The hope that had been with the old man, waking and sleeping, for all these years was now to be realized, but the sadness was more than he would have thought possible now that the time had come. He would not see his little granddaughter again. He sat absently turning the same thought over and over again in his mind.
His wife was as sad. She had lived more with her daughter than her husband, and she would go with her daughter. One becomes fond, after a time, of sea and strand, and of the chance acquaintance. Her husband was a strange man, not always, she had thought, the firmest support, but the bond between them had held. She had been his wife, and Akashi had become for her the place to live and to die. The break was too sudden and final.
The young women were happy enough to be finished with country life, which had been mostly loneliness and boredom, but this coast did after all have a hold on them. With each advancing wave they wept that it would return, but they would not.
It was autumn, always the melancholy season. The autumn wind was chilly and the autumn insects sang busily as the day of the departure dawned. The Akashi lady sat looking out over the sea. Her father, always up for dawn services, had arisen deep in the night, much earlier than usual. He was weeping as he turned to his prayers. Tears were not proper or auspicious on such an occasion, but this morning they were general. The little girl was a delight, like the jade one hears of which shines in darkness. He had not once let her out of his sight, and here she was again, scrambling all over him, so very fond of him. He had great contempt for people who renounce the world and then appear not to have done so after all. But she was leaving him.
“The old weep easily, and I am weeping
As I pray that for her the happy years stretch on.
“I am very much ashamed of myself.” He drew a sleeve over his eyes.
No one could have thought it odd that his wife too was weeping.
“Together we left the city. Alone I return,
To wander lost over hill and over moor?”
The reasons did not seem adequate that she should be leaving him after they had been together so long.
The lady was begging her father to go with them as far as Oi, if only by way of escort.
“When do you say that we shall meet again,
Trusting a life that is not ours to trust?”
He counted over once more his reasons for refusing, but he seemed very apprehensive. “When I gave up the world and settled into this life, it was my chief hope that I might see to your needs as you deserved. Aware that I had not been born under the best of stars, I knew that going back to the city as another defeated provincial governor I would not have the means to put my hut in order and clear the weeds from my garden. I knew that in my private life and my public life I would give them all ample excuse to laugh, and that I would be a disgrace to my dead parents; and so I decided from the outset, and it seemed to be generally understood, that when I left the city I was leaving all that behind. And indeed I did rather effectively leave the world in the sense of giving up worldly ambitions. But then you grew up and began to see what was going on around you, and in the darkness that is the father's heart I was not for one moment free from a painful question: why was I hiding my most precious brocade in a wild corner of the provinces? I kept my lonely hopes and prayed to the god and the blessed ones that it not be your fate, because of an unworthy father, to spend your life among these rustics. Then came that happy and unexpected event, which had the perverse effect of emphasizing our low place in life. Determined to believe in the bond of which our little one here is evidence, I could see too well what a waste it would be to have you spend your days on this seacoast. The fact that she seems meant for remarkable things makes all the more painful the need to send her away. No, enough, I have left it all. You are the ones whose light will bathe the world. You have brought pleasure to us country people. We are told in the scriptures of times when celestial beings descend to ugly worlds. The time is past, and we must part.
“Do not worry about services when word reaches you that I have died. Do not trouble yourself over what cannot be avoided.” He seemed to have finished his farewells. Then, his face twisted with sorrow, he added: “Thoughts of our little one will continue to bring regrets until the evening when I too rise as smoke.”
A single progress by land, the escort said, would be unmanageable, and a succession of convoys would only invite trouble. So it had been decided that so far as possible the journey would be an unobtrusive one by boat. The party set sail at perhaps seven or eight in the morning.
The lady's boat disappeared among the mists that had so saddened the poet. The old man feared that his enlightened serenity had left him forever. As if in a trance, he gazed off into the mists.
The old woman's thoughts upon leaving home were in sad confusion.
“I want to be a fisherwife upon
A far, clean shore, and now my boat turns back.”
Her daughter replied:
“How many autumns now upon this strand?
So many, why should this flotsam now return?”
A steady seasonal wind was blowing and they reached Oi on schedule, very careful not to attract attention on the land portion of the journey. They found the Oi villa very much to their taste, so like Akashi, indeed, that it soothed the homesickness, though not, of course, dispelling it completely. Thoughts of the Akashi years did after all come back. The new galleries were in very good taste, and the garden waters pleasant and interesting. Though the repairs and fittings were not yet complete, the house was eminently livable.
The steward, one of Genji's more trusted retainers, did everything to make them feel at home. The days passed as Genji cast about for an excuse to visit. For the Akashi lady the sorrow was yet more insistent. With little to occupy her, she found her thoughts running back to Akashi. Taking out the seven-stringed Chinese koto which Genji had left with her, she played a brief strain as fancy took her. It was the season for sadness, and she need not fear that she was being heard; and the wind in the pines struck up an accompaniment.
Her mother had been resting.
“I have returned alone, a nun, to a mountain village,
And hear the wind in the pines of long ago.”
The daughter replied:
“I long for those who know the country sounds,
And listen to my koto, and understand.”
Uneasy days went by. More restless than when she had been far away, Genji could contain himself no longer. He did not care what people would think. He did not tell Murasaki all the details, but he did send her a note. Once again he feared that reports would reach her from elsewhere.
“I have business at Katsura which a vague apprehension tells me I have neglected too long. Someone to whom I have made certain commitments is waiting there. And my chapel too, and those statues, sitting undecorated. It is quite time I did something about them. I will be away perhaps two or three days.”
This sudden urge to visit Katsura and put his chapel in order made her suspect his actual motives. She was not happy. Those two or three days were likely to become days enough to rot the handle of the woodcutter's ax.
“I see you are being difficult again.” He laughed. “You are in a small minority, my dear, for the whole world agrees that I have mended my ways.”
The sun was high when he finally set out.
He had with him a very few men who were familiar with the situation at Oi. Darkness was falling when he arrived. The lady had thought him quite beyond compare in the rough dress of an exile, and now she saw him in court finery chosen with very great care. Her gloom quite left her.
And the daughter whom he was meeting for the first time - how could she fail to be a treasure among treasures? He was angry at each of the days and months that had kept them apart. People said that his son, the chancellor's grandson, was a well-favored lad, but no doubt an element of sycophancy entered into the view. Nothing of the sort need obscure his view of the bud before him now. The child was a laughing, sparkling delight.
Her nurse was much handsomer than when she had left for Akashi. She told Genji all about her months on the seashore. Genji felt somewhat apologetic. It had been because of him that she had had to live among the salt burners' huts.
“You are still too far away,” he said to the lady, “and it will not be easy for me to see you. I have a place in mind for you.”
“When I am a little more used to it all.” Which was not unreasonable of her.
They passed the night in plans and promises.
Genji gave orders for finishing the house. Since word had been sent that he would be at his Katsura villa, people had gathered from all his nearby manors, and presently sought him out at Oi. He set them to clearing the garden.
“What a jumble. It could be a rather distinguished garden - but why take the trouble? It is not as if you meant to spend the rest of your life here, and you know better than most what a mistake it is to get too attached to a place.”
He was so open, so sure of himself. She was more in love with him than ever.
The old nun grinned upon them. All her worries had departed. Personally supervising the work of clearing the brook that ran from under the east gallery, Genji had thrown off his cloak. The old lady thought him charming in his undersleeves. The holy vessels reminded him that she too had come. He was being rude. He sent immediately for his cloak.
“I am sure it is your prayers that have made our little girl into such perfection,” he said, coming up to her curtains. “I am very grateful. And I must thank you too, most sincerely, that you have left peace and serenity for what must be the ugliest sort of confusion. You left your saintly husband behind, all by himself, with nothing to occupy him but thoughts of you. It must have been very difficult.”
“Yes, I thought I had given all this up, and it was a little confusing. But your kindness and understanding make me feel that I am being rewarded for having lived so long.” There were tears in her voice. “I worried about the seedling pine on those unfriendly coasts. Its prospects have improved enormously, and yet I am afraid. Its roots are so very shallow.” She spoke in soft, courtly tones.
He asked her about the villa as it had been in Prince Nakatsukasa's day. The brook, now cleared of weeds and litter, seemed to have found the moment to announce itself.
“The mistress, long gone, is lost upon her return
To find that the brook has quite usurped her claims.”
A voice can seem affected as it trails off at the end of a poem, but the old nun's was genteel and courtly.
“Clean waters, bringing back the distant past
To one who comes to them in somber habit.”
As he stood gazing meditatively out over the scene, he seemed to the old nun the ultimate in noble dignity.
Going on to his chapel, he ordered bimonthly services in honor of Amitabha, Sakyamuni, and Samantabhadra, and interim services as well, and gave instructions for decorating the chapel and the images. He returned to Oi by moonlight.
Memories of similar nights in Akashi must not go unaccompanied. The lady brought out the Chinese koto he had given her. He plucked out a strain as he gave himself up to the memories. The tuning, as when he had given it to her, took him back to those days and to Akashi.
“Unchanged it is when now we meet again.
And do you not see changelessness in me?”
“Your promise not to change was my companion.
I added my sighs to those of the wind in the pines.”
She held her own very well in these exchanges, evidence, he thought, that she had been meant for unusual things. She had improved in looks and in bearing since last he had seen her. He could not take his eyes from the child. And what now? The mother was of inferior birth, and the disability must not be passed on to the daughter. It could be overcome if he were to take her to Nijō and see to her needs as he wished. Yet there were the feelings of the mother to be considered and of them he was uncertain. Choking with tears, he tried to bring the matter up.
The little girl, no more than a baby, was shy at first, but soon they were friends, and she was gurgling more happily and prettily all the time. Her mother meanwhile sat in mute gratitude. The future seemed to open limitlessly.
He overslept the next morning, when he was to return to the city. He had meant to go directly back, but great crowds had gathered at the Katsura villa, and several men from the city had even made their way to Oi.
“How very inconvenient and embarrassing,” he muttered as he dressed. “I had meant it to be rather more of a retreat.”
He had no choice but to go off with them. He stood in the doorway fondling the little girl, who was in her nurse's arms.
“It is very selfish of me, but I can see that I won't be able to let her out of my sight. What am I to do? Must you be so far away?”
“Yes,” said the nurse, “the fact that you are nearer only makes things worse.”
In her arms, the child was straining towards him.
“There seems to be no end to my troubles. I hate the thought of being away from you for even a minute, my sweet. But just look at this. You are sorry to see me go, but your mother does not seem to be. She could comfort me a little, if she chose.”
The nurse smiled and transmitted the message.
The lady hung back. This morning's farewell seemed more difficult than all the years away from him. There was just a little too much of the grand lady in this behavior, thought Genji. Her women, urging her on, had to agree. Finally she came forward. Her profile, half hidden by the curtain, was wonderfully soft and gentle. She might have been a princess. He pulled the curtain back and offered some last affectionate words of farewell. His men were in a great hurry to be off, and he was about to follow. He looked back again. Though she was remarkably good at hiding her emotions, she was gazing at him now with open regret. He seemed even handsomer than at Akashi. Then he had seemed a little slender for his height. He had filled out, and no one could have found fault with his proportions or his manner, the essence of mature dignity. Perfection from head to foot, she thought - though she may have been a prejudiced observer.
The young guards officer whose fortunes had sunk and risen with Genji's - he who had had reproachful words for the god of Kamo - now wore the cap of the Fifth Rank, and was in his glory. Waiting to take Genji's sword, he spied a woman inside the blinds.
“It may seem that I have forgotten the old days,” he said, rather self-importantly, one may have thought, “but that is because I have been on good behavior. The breezes that awoke me this morning seemed very much like the sea breezes at Akashi. I looked in vain for a way to tell you so.
“This mountain village, garlanded in eightfold mists, is not inferior, we have found, to that where the boat disappears among the island mists. All that had seemed wanting was that the pines were not the pines of old. It is a comfort to find that there is one who has not forgotten.”
Scarcely what he had hoped for - and he had been fond of her. “I will see you again,” he said, and returned to Genji's side.
Genji walked off to his carriage amid the shouts of his outrunners. He invitedTō no Chūjō and Hyōe no Kami to ride with him.
“You cannot know what a disappointment it is,” he said, in genuine annoyance,”to have people pour in on what you had hoped would be a hideaway.”
“Nor can you know our disappointment, my lord, at not being permitted to share the moon with you last night. That is why we fought our way through the autumn mists. Though the journey did have its pleasures. The autumn leaves are not quite at their best, perhaps, but the autumn flowers were very beautiful.” He went on to describe a falconing expedition that was keeping certain of his friends longer than they had planned.
“And so we must go to Katsura, I suppose,” said Genji, to the modest consternation of the stewards, who now had to put together an impromptu banquet.
The calls of the cormorant fishermen made him think of the fishermen at Akashi, their speech as incomprehensible as the chirping of birds. Back from their night upon the moors, the young falconers offered a sampling of their take, tied to autumn reeds. The flagons went the rounds so frequently that a river crossing seemed out of the question, and so of course a day of roistering must be passed at Katsura. Chinese poems were tossed back and forth. As moonlight flooded the scene the music was more boisterous, dominated by the flute, there being several fine flutists in the company. The stringed instruments were quieter, only the Japanese koto and the lute. The flute is an autumn instrument, at its best in the autumn breezes. Every detail of the riverbank rose clear and high and clean in the moonlight. A new party arrived from the palace, from the royal presence itself, indeed. The emperor had been much disappointed that Genji had not called at the end of the week-long retreat from which the court had just emerged. There was music once more, and surely, thought the emperor, Genji would appear. This was the emperor's personal message, delivered by a secretary after Genji had offered suitable excuses:
“Cleaner, more stately the progress of the moon
Through regions beyond the river Katsura.
“I am envious.”
Genji repeated his apologies, most elaborately. But this somehow seemed a better place for music than even the palace. They abandoned themselves to music and to wine.
The Katsura villa being inadequately supplied, Genji sent to Oi to see if there might not be quietly elegant cloths and garments with which to reward the messengers. Two chests came back from the Oi closets. There was a set of women's robes for the royal envoy, who returned immediately to the city.
Genji's reply to the emperor was an oblique hint that a royal visit would be welcomed:
It is not true to its name, this Katsura.
There is not moon enough to dispel the mists.”
“Katsura, at the heart of the eternal moon,” he added softly; and he thought too of Mitsune's “Awaji in the moonlight.”
“So near and clear tonight, is it the moon
Of far Awaji? We both have come back.”
This was the reply:
“All should now be peace. Then lost in clouds
The moon sends forth again its radiance.”
Sadaiben, an older official who had been in close attendance upon Genji's father, also had a poem:
“The midnight moon should still be in the heavens.
Gone is its radiance - hidden in what valley?”
There would seem to have been poems and poems, but I did not have the patience to set them all down. I could have enjoyed a millennium of Genji’s company, however, so serene and sure did he seem.
Today they must definitely go back, said Genji, and soon. No rotting ax handles, please.
Gifts were distributed as became the several ranks, and the waves of courtiers, coming and going, disappearing and reappearing in the morning mists, were like banks of autumn flowers. Some of the warrant officers were good poets and singers. Rather bored with elegance, they had moved on to ribaldry. Someone sang “Oh My Pony,” so successfully that courtier after courtier was seen stripping off robes and pressing them upon him. It was as if the wind had spread a brocade of autumn leaves over the garden. Echoes of this noisy departure reached Oi, and a sad lady. Genji was sorry that he had not been able to get off a letter.
Back at Nijō, he rested for a time and went to tell Murasaki of the excursion.
“I must apologize for having stayed away longer than I had planned. They hunted me down and dragged me off with them. I am exhausted.” He tried to be casual about what was too obvious, that she was not happy. “You have a way, my dear, of comparing yourself with people who simply are not in your class. Give yourself your just due, if you will.”
About to leave for court that evening, he turned his attention from her to his writing desk. She knew which lady demanded being written to, and could see that the letter was full of warm avowals.
He returned to Nijō late that night. Usually he would have spent the night at court, but he was worried about Murasaki. An answer had come from Oi which he could not hide from her. Fortunately it was a decorous one.
“Tear it up and throw it away if you will, please,” he said, leaning against an armrest. “I am too old to leave this sort of thing scattered around the house.” He gazed into the lamplight and his thoughts were in Oi.
Though he had spread the letter before her, Murasaki did not look at it.
He smiled. “You are very funny when you are pretending not to want to see.” He came nearer, quite exuding charm. “As a matter of fact, the child is a very pretty little girl, if you wish to know. I cannot help feeling that there is a legacy of some sort from another life, and that it is not to be dismissed. But I am worried. She has so much against her. Put yourself in my place, if you will, and make the decision for me. What do you think? Will you perhaps take her in? She has reached the years of the leech chi1d, but I cannot quite bring myself to behave as the leech child's parents did. She is still in diapers, one might say, and if they do not repel you, might I perhaps ask you to see to pinning them up?”
“If I sometimes sulk, it is because you ask me to, and I would not think of refusing.” She was smiling now. “I will love her, I am sure I will. Just at the dearest age.” She did love children, and longed even now to have the girl in her arms.
Genji was still worried. Should he bring her to Nijō? It was not easy for him to visit Oi. His chapel would offer the occasion for no more than two visits a month. Though better off, perhaps, than Princess Tanabata, the Akashi lady was certain to be unhappy.
A Rack of Cloud