The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 19

a Rack of Cloud

Life was sadder on the banks of the Oi as winter came on.

“This cannot continue,” said Genji. “You must move nearer.”

But the Akashi lady did not want to observe at close hand the coldness of which she had heard from afar. It would be the end of everything.

“I must make arrangements for the child, then. I have plans for her, and they would come to nothing if I were to leave her here. I have discussed the matter with the lady in the west wing at Nijō, who is most anxious to see her.” Murasaki might be asked, he said, to arrange unostentatiously for the ritual bestowing of trousers.

The Akashi lady had long known that something of the sort was on his mind. This declaration brought matters to a climax, while adding greatly to the uncertainty. “I have no doubt that you mean to treat her as if her mother were the noblest of your ladies, but of course people are sure to know who she really is, and behave accordingly.”

“You need not have the slightest fear that she will be mistreated. It is a matter of very great unhappiness for the lady at Nijō that after all these years she has no children of her own. The former high priestess of Ise is already a grown lady, and yet the Nijō lady insists on treating her like a child. She is sure to adore your little girl. That is her way.” He perhaps exaggerated Murasaki’s maternal tendencies a little.

Rumors of his amorous adventuring had reached Akashi, where there had been speculation upon the sort of grand love affair that might finally bring it to an end. Now it did seem to have vanished without a trace. The bond from an earlier life must be a very strong one, and the lady herself a paragon. She would think it most impertinent of the Akashi lady to come forward. Well, thought the latter, she must drive her own affairs from her mind, and think only of the child, whose future lay before her. In that Murasaki was best qualified to advise. Genji had said that the humane thing would be to take the child away while she was still an infant, and no doubt he was right. Yet she would worry, she knew, and what would she now have to relieve the tedium of her days? What reason Would Genji have to pay her the briefest and rarest visit? The only thing which seemed certain in this web of uncertainty was that she had been born under unhappy stars.

She consulted her mother, a very wise old lady.

“You fret over things that are so simple. It will not be easy to live without her, I know, but it is her interest we must consider, and it is her interest, I have no doubt at all, that His Lordship is most concerned about. You must put your trust in him and let her go. Even when a child has the emperor himself for its father, the mother’s station in life makes all the difference. Look at the case of His Lordship. He was the handsomest and the most gifted of them all, and still he was made a commoner. His maternal grandfather was just not important enough, and his mother was one of the lesser ladies at court. And if there are these distinctions among princes, think how much more extreme they are among us commoners. Even the daughter of a prince or a minister is at a great disadvantage if her mother’s family does not have influence. Her father cannot do the things that one might expect from his rank. Your own little girl can look forward to only one thing if a daughter is born to one of the grand ladies: she will be forgotten. The ones with a chance in the world are the ones whose parents give them that chance. I don’t care how much we spend on her, no one is going to pay the slightest attention off here in the hills. No, you must turn her over to His Lordship and see what he means to do for her.”

Through well-placed friends she consulted renowned fortunetellers and it was their uniform opinion, to her considerable distress, that the child should be put in Murasaki’s charge. Genji had of course long been of that opinion, but had not wished to seem unreasonable or importunate.

What did she propose, asked Genji, in the matter of the bestowing of trousers?

“It is of course as you say. It would be quite unfair to leave the child with a useless person like myself. And yet I fear for her. Might they not make fun of her if you were to take her away with you?”

He felt very sorry for her indeed.

He had a propitious day selected and quietly saw to arrangements for the move. The thought of giving up the child was almost more than the lady could bear, but she held herself under tight control, trying to keep everything from her mind but the future that was spreading before the child.

“And so you must leave?” she said to the nurse. “You have been my comfort through the loneliness and boredom. I shall be quite lost without you.”

The nurse too was in tears. “We must reconcile ourselves, my lady, to what must be. I shall not forget your unfailing kindness since we came together so unexpectedly, and I know that we shall continue to think of each other. I refuse to accept it as a final parting. The prospect of going out among strangers is very frightening, and my comfort will be the thought that we will soon be near each other again.”

The Twelfth Month came.

There were snow and sleet to add to the gloom. What sort of legacy was hers from other lives, asked the lady, that she must put up with so much in this one? She spent more time than ever with the little girl, combing her hair, changing her clothes. On a dark morning of drifting snows she went to the veranda and gazed out at the ice on the river, and thought of what was past and what was to come. It was not like her to expose herself so. She preferred the inner rooms of the house. Warmed by several soft white robes, she sat lost in thought; and the molding of her head and the flow of her hair and robes made her women feel sure that the noblest lady in the land could not be lovelier.

She brushed away a tear and said to the nurse: “This sort of weather will be even more trying now.

“These mountain paths will be closed by snow and clouds.

Do not, I pray you, let your tracks be lost.”

The nurse replied:

“And were you to move to deepest Yoshino,

I still would find you, through unceasing snow.”

The snow had melted a little when Genji paid his next visit. She would have been delighted except for the fact that she knew its purpose. Well, she had brought it on herself. The decision had been hers to make. Had she refused he would not have forced her to give up the child. She had made a mistake, but would not risk seeming mercurial and erratic by trying to rectify it at this late date.

The child was sitting before her, pretty as a doll. Yes, she was meant for unusual things, one could not deny it. Since spring her hair had been allowed to grow, and now, thick and flowing, it had reached the length that would be usual for a nun. I shall say nothing of the bright eyes and the glowing, delicately carved features. Genji could imagine the lady’s anguish at sending her child off to a distant foster mother. Over and over again he Sought to persuade her that it was the only thing to do.

“Please, you needn’t. I will be happy if you see that she becomes something more than I have been myself.” But for all her valiant efforts at composure she was in tears.

The little girl jumped innocently into the waiting carriage, the lady having brought her as far as the veranda to which it had been drawn up. She tugged at her mother’s sleeves and in charming baby talk urged her to climb in too.

“It is taken away, the seedling pine, so young.

When shall I see it grandly shading the earth?”

Her voice broke before she had come to the end.

She had every right to weep, thought Genji.

“A seedling, yes, but with the roots to give

The thousand years of the pines of Takekuma.

“You must be patient.”

He was right, of course. She resumed the struggle, which was not entirely successful, to control herself.

Only the nurse and a very personable young woman called Shōshō got into the little girl’s carriage, taking with them the sword which Genji had sent to Akashi and a sacred guardian doll. In a second carriage were several other handsome women and some little page girls. And so the Akashi lady saw them off.

Knowing how lonely she would be, Genji asked himself whether he was committing a crime for which he would one day be summoned to do penance. It was dark when they reached Nijō. He had feared that the suddenly lavish surroundings would intimidate these provincial women, but Murasaki had gone to a great deal of trouble. The west room of her west wing had been fitted most charmingly to resemble a doll’s house. She assigned the nurse a room on the north side of the adjoining gallery.

The girl had slept most of the way. She did not weep as she was taken from the carriage. When sweets had been set before her, she looked around and saw that her mother was not with her. The puckered little face was very pretty. Her nurse sought to comfort her.

Genji’s thoughts were on that mountain dwelling, where the gloom and tedium must be next to unbearable. But he had the child’s education to think about. A little jewel, quite flawless — and why had such a child not been born at Nijō?

She wept and hunted for her mother; but she was of a docile, affectionate nature, and soon she had quite taken to Murasaki. For Murasaki it was as if her last wish had been granted. She was always taking the child in her arms, and soon she and the nurse were very close friends. A second nurse, a woman of good family, had by now joined the household.

Though no very lavish preparations were made for bestowing the trousers, the ceremony became of its own accord something rather special. The appurtenances and decorations were as if for the finest doll’s house in the world. The stream of congratulatory visitors made no distinction between day and night — though one might not have found it remarkably different from the stream that was always pouring in and out of the Nijō mansion. The trousers cord, everyone said, was the most charming little detail of all.

The Akashi lady went on thinking that she had brought gratuitous sorrow upon herself. Her mother had been so brave and confident; but old people weep easily, and she was weeping, though pleased at news that the child was the center of such attention. What could they send by way of congratulation? They contented themselves with robes for the nurse and the other women, hoping that the colors gave them a certain distinction.

Oi continued to be much on Genji’s mind. It was just as she had thought it would be, the lady was no doubt saying to herself; and so he paid a quiet visit late in the year. Oi was a lonely place at best, and she had lost her dearest treasure. He wrote constantly. Murasaki’s old bitterness had left her. She had the child, and the account was settled.

The New Year came. The skies were soft and pleasant and nothing seemed wanting at the Nijō mansion, which had been refurbished for the holidays. On the seventh day there was a continious stream of venerable and eminent callers, and younger people too, all the picture of prosperity. No doubt there were dissatisfactions beneath the surface, but it was a surface of contentment and pleasure.

The lady of the orange blossoms was very happy indeed in the east lodge. Her retinue was efficient and well mannered and the mere fact of being near Genji had changed her life enormously. Sometimes when he had nothing else to do he would look in on her, though never with the intention of staying the night. She was an undemanding creature, and she asked nothing more. Her life was quiet, remarkably free of unsettling events, and as the seasonal observances came and went she had no reason to think that she was being slighted. In point of smooth and efficient service, indeed, she perhaps had the better of it over Murasaki.

He continued to worry about Oi and his inability to visit. Choosing a time when little was happening at court and taking more than usual care with his dress, he set off. His underrobes were beautifully dyed and scented, and over them he had thrown an informal court robe of white lined with red. Looking after him as he came to say goodbye, his radiance competing with the evening sunlight, Murasaki felt vaguely apprehensive.

The little girl clung to his trousers and seemed prepared to go with him.

“I’ve a twenty-acre field,” he sang, looking fondly down at her, “and I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Chujō was waiting in the gallery with a poem from her mistress:

“We shall see if you are back tomorrow,

If no one there essays to take your boat.”

Chūjō’s elocution was beautiful. He smiled appreciatively.

“I go but for a while, and shall return

Though she may wish I had not come at all.”

Murasaki no longer really thought a great deal about her rival. The little girl, scampering and tumbling about, quite filled her thoughts. Yet she did feel for the Akashi lady, knowing how desperate her own loneliness would be in such circumstances. Taking the little girl in her arms, she playfully offered one of her own small breasts. It was a charming scene. What had gone wrong? asked her women. Why was Genji’s daughter not hers? But such was the way of the world.

Life at Oi was quiet and dignified. The house was pleasing as country houses can be, and each time he saw the lady Genji thought how little there was to distinguish her from ladies of the highest rank. Judged by themselves her appearance and manner were beyond reproach. By herself she could compete — such things did happen — with the best of them, even though she had that very odd father. He wished he might find time someday for a really satisfying visit. “A bridge that floats across dreams?” he whispered, reaching for a koto. Always at such times their last night at Akashi came back to him. Diffidently she took up the lute which he pushed towards her, and they played a brief duet. He marveled again that her accomplishments should be so varied. He told her all about the little girl. Sometimes, though a great deal argued against it, he would take a light supper and stay the night. Katsura and his chapel provided the excuse. His manner toward the lady was not, it is true, his most gallant, but neither was it chilly or uncivil. One might have classed it as rather above the ordinary in warmth and tenderness. She understood and was content, and was careful to seem neither forward nor obsequiously deferential. She wanted to be what he wanted her to be, and she succeeded. Rumor had told her that he was stiffer and more formal with most women, and the wiser course seemed to be to keep her distance. If she were nearer she would be vulnerable, too easy a target for the other ladies. She would count it her good fortune that he troubled himself to visit her occasionally, and ask no more.

Her father had told her that last day that he was no longer a part of her life. Yet he worried, and from time to time he would send off a retainer to make quiet inquiry about Genji’s behavior. Some of the reports disturbed him, some pleased him.

At about this time Aoi’s father died. He had been a loyal and useful public servant, and the emperor was deeply grieved. He had been much missed when he retired from court even briefly, and now he was gone forever. Genji was sadder than anyone. He had had time for himself because he had shared the business of government with his father-in-law. Now it would all be his.

The emperor was mature for his age and his judgment was to be trusted. Yet he did need support and advice. To whom was he to look besides Genji? Sadly, Genji concluded that his plans for a life of quiet meditation would have to be deferred. He was even more attentive than the chancellor’s sons to the details of the funeral and memorial services.

It was a time of bad omens, erratic movements of the celestial bodies and unsettling cloud formations. The geomancers and soothsayers issued portentous announcements. Genji had his own very private reasons for disquiet.

Fujitsubo had been ill from early in the year, and from the Third Month her condition was grave. Her son, the emperor, called upon her. He had been very young when his father died and had understood little of what was happening. Now his sorrow made his mother grieve as if it were for someone else.

“I had been sure,” she said, her voice very weak, “that this would be a bad year for me. I did not feel so very ill at first, and did not wish to be one of those for whom the end always seems to be in sight. I asked for no prayers or services besides the usual ones. I must call on you, I kept telling Myself, and have a good talk about the old days. But it has been so seldom these last weeks that I have really felt myself. And so here we are.”

She seemed much younger than her thirty-seven years. It was even sadder, because she was so youthful, that she might be dying. As she had said, it was a dangerous year. She had been aware for some weeks of not being well but she had contented herself with the usual penances and retreats. Apologizing for His negligence, the emperor ordered numerous services.

Genji was suddenly very worried. She had always been sickly, and he had thought it just another of her indispositions.

Protocol required that the emperor’s visit be a short one. He returned to the palace in great anguish. His mother had been able to speak to him only with very great difficulty. She had received the highest honors which this world can bestow, and her sorrows and worries too had been greater than most. That the emperor must remain ignorant of them added to the pain. He could not have dreamed of the truth, and so the truth must be the tie with this world which would keep her from repose in the other.

Genji shared in the public concern at this succession of misfortunes in high places, and of course his private feelings were deep and complex. He overlooked nothing by way of prayer and petition. He must speak to her once again of what had been given up so long before. Coming near her curtains, he asked how she was feeling. In tears, one of her women gave an account.

“All through her illness she has not for a moment neglected her prayers. They have only seemed to make her worse. She will not touch the tiniest morsel of food, not the tiniest bit of fruit. We are afraid that there is no hope.”

“I have been very grateful,” she said to Genji, “for all the help you have been to the emperor. You have done exactly as your father asked you to do. I have waited for an opportunity to thank you. My gratitude is far beyond the ordinary, and now I fear it is too late.”

He could barely catch the words and was too choked with tears to answer. He would have preferred not to exhibit his tears to her women. The loss would have been a grievous one even if she had been, all these years, no more than a friend. But life is beyond our control, and there was nothing he could do to keep her back, and no point in trying to describe his sorrow.

“I have not been a very effective man, I fear, but I have tried, when I have seen a need, to be of use to him. The chancellor’s death is a great blow, and now this — it is more than I can bear. I doubt that I shall be in this world much longer myself.”

And as he spoke she died, like a dying flame. I shall say no more of his grief.

Among persons of the highest birth whose charity and benevolence seem limitless there have been some who, sheltered by power and position, have been unwitting agents of unhappiness. Nothing of the sort was to be detected in the comportment of the dead lady. When someone had been of service to her she went to no end of trouble to avoid the sort of recompense that might indirectly have unfortunate consequences. Again, there have since the day of the sages been people who have been misled into extravagant and wasteful attentions to the powers above. Here too matters were quite different with the dead lady. Her faith and devotion complete, she offered only what was in her heart to offer, always within her means. The most ignorant and insensitive of mendicant mountain priests regretted her passing.

Her funeral became the only business of court, where grief was universal. The colors of late spring gave way to unrelieved gray and black. Gazing out at his Nijō garden, Genji thought of the festivities that spring a dozen years before. “ This year alone, “ he whispered. Not wanting to be seen weeping, he withdrew to the chapel, and there spent the day in tears. The trees at the crest of the ridge stood clear in the evening light. Wisps of cloud trailed below, a dull gray. It was a time when the want of striking color had its own beauty.

“A rack of cloud across the light of evening

As if they too, these hills, wore mourning weeds.”

There was no one to hear.

The memorial rites were over, and the emperor still grieved. There was an old bishop who had had the confidence of successive empresses since Fujitsubo’s mother. Fujitsubo herself had been very close to him and valued his services highly, and he had been the emperor’s intermediary in solemn vows and offerings. A saintly man, he was now seventy. He had been in seclusion, making his own final preparations for the next life, but he had come down from the mountains to be at Fujitsubo’s side. The emperor had kept him on at the palace.

Genji too had pressed him to stay with the emperor through the difficult time and see to his needs as in the old days. Though he feared, replied the bishop, that he was no longer capable of night attendance, he was most honored by the invitation and most grateful that he had been permitted to serve royal ladies for so long.

One night, in the quiet before dawn, between shifts of courtiers on night duty, the bishop, coughing as old people will, was talking with the emperor about matters of no great importance.

“There is one subject which I find it very difficult to broach, Your Majesty. There are times when to speak the truth is a sin, and I have held my tongue. But it is a dilemma, since your august ignorance of a certain matter might lead to unknowing wrong. What good would I do for anyone if I were to die in terror at meeting the eye of heaven? Would it have for me the scorn which it has for the groveling dissembler?”

What might he be referring to? Some bitterness, some grudge, which he had not been able to throw off? It was unpleasant to think that the most saintly of hearts can be poisoned by envy.

“I have kept nothing from you since I learned to talk,” said the emperor, “and I shall not forgive easily if now you are keeping something from me.”

“It is wrong, I know, Your Majesty. You must forgive me. You have been permitted to see into depths which are guarded by the Blessed One, and why should I presume to keep anything from you? The matter is one which can project its unhappy influence into the future. Silence is damaging for everyone concerned. I have reference to the late emperor, to your late mother, and to the Genji minister.

“I am old and of no account, and shall have no regrets if I am punished for the revelation.

“I humbly reveal to you what was first revealed to me through the Blessed One himself. There were matters that deeply upset your mother when she was carrying you within her. The details were rather beyond the grasp of a simple priest like myself. There was that unexpected crisis when the Genji minister was charged with a crime he had not committed. Your royal mother was even more deeply troubled, and I undertook yet more varied and elaborate services. The minister heard of them and on his own initiative commissioned the rites which I undertook upon Your Majesty’s accession.” And he described them in detail.

It was a most astounding revelation. The terror and the sorrow were beyond describing. The emperor was silent for a time. Fearing that he had given offense, the old man started from the room.

“No, Your Reverence. My only complaint is that you should have concealed the matter for so long. Had I gone to my grave ignorant of it, I would have had it with me in my next life. And is there anyone else who is aware of these facts?”

“There are, I most solemnly assure you, two people and two people only who have ever known of them, Omyōbu and myself. The fear and the awe have been all the worse for that fact. Now you will understand, perhaps, the continuing portents which have had everyone in such a state of disquiet. The powers above held themselves in abeyance while Your Majesty was still a boy, but now that you have so perfectly reached the age of discretion they are making their displeasure known. It all goes back to your parents. I had been in awful fear of keeping the secret. “The old man was weeping. “I have forced myself to speak of what I would much prefer to have forgotten.”

It was full daylight when the bishop left.

The emperor’s mind was in turmoil. It was all like a terrible dream. His reputed father, the old emperor, had been badly served, and the emperor was serving his real father badly by letting him toil as a common minister. He lay in bed with his solitary anguish until the sun was high. A worried Genji came making inquiries. His arrival only added to the confusion in the emperor’s mind. He was in tears. More tears for his mother, surmised Genji, it being a time when there was no respite from tears. He must regretfully inform the emperor that Prince Shikibu had just died. Another bit of the pattern, thought the emperor. Genji stayed with him all that day.

“I have the feeling,” said the emperor, in the course of quiet, intimate talk, “that I am not destined to live a long life. I have a feeling too which I cannot really define that things are wrong, out of joint. There is a spirit of unrest abroad. I had not wished to upset my mother by subjecting her and all of you to radical change, but I really do think I would prefer a quieter sort of life.”

“It is out of the question. There is no necessary relationship between public order and the personal character of a ruler. In ages past we have seen the most deplorable occurrences in the most exemplary reigns. In China there have been violent upheavals during the reigns of sage emperors. Similar things have happened here. People whose time has come have died, and that is all. You are worrying yourself about nothing.”

He described many precedents which it would not be proper for me to describe in my turn.

In austere weeds of mourning, so much more subdued than ordinary court dress, the emperor looked extraordinarily like Genji. He had long been aware of the resemblance, but his attention was called to it more forcibly by the story he had just heard. He wanted somehow to hint of it to Genji. He was still very young, however, and rather awed by Genji and fearful of embarrassing or displeasing him. Though it turned on matters far less important, their conversation was unusually warm and affectionate.

Genji was too astute not to notice and be puzzled by the change. He did not suspect, however, that the emperor knew the whole truth.

The emperor would have liked to question Omyōbu; but somehow to bring her into this newest secret seemed a disservice to his mother and the secret she had guarded so long and so well. He thought of asking Genji, as if by way of nothing at all, whether his broad knowledge of history included similar examples, but somehow the occasion did not present itself. He pursued his own studies more diligently, going through voluminous Chinese and Japanese chronicles. He found great numbers of such irregularities in Chinese history, some of which had come to the public notice and some of which had not. He could find none at all in Japanese history — but then perhaps they had been secrets as well guarded as this one. He found numerous examples of royal princes who had been reduced to common status and given the name of Genji and who, having become councillors and ministers, had been returned to royal status and indeed named as successors to the throne. Might not Genji’s universally recognized abilities be sufficient reason for relinquishing the throne to him? The emperor turned the matter over and over in his mind, endlessly.

He had reached one decision, consulting no one: that Genji’s appointment as chancellor would be on the autumn lists. He told Genji of his secret thoughts about the succession.

So astonished that he could scarcely raise his eyes, Genji offered the most emphatic opposition. “Father, whatever may have been his reasons, favored me above all his other sons, but never did he consider relinquishing the throne to me. What possible reason would I now have for going against his noble intentions and taking for myself a position I have never coveted? I would much prefer to follow his clear wishes and be a loyal minister, and when you are a little older, perhaps, retire to the quiet pursuits I really wish for.”

To the emperor’s very great disappointment, he was adamant in his refusal.

Then came the emperor’s wish to appoint him chancellor. Genji had reasons for wishing to remain for a time a minister, however, and the emperor had to be content with raising him one rank and granting him the special honor of bringing his carriage in through the Great South Gate. The emperor would have liked to go a little further and restore him to royal status, but Genji’s inclinations were against that honor as well. As a prince he would not have the freedom he now had in advising the emperor, and who besides him was to perform that service? Tō no Chūjō was a general and councillor. When he had advanced a step or two Genji might safely turn everything over him to him and, for better or worse, withdraw from public life.

But there was something very odd about the emperor’s behavior. Suspicions crossed Genji’s mind. If they were valid, then they had sad implications for the memory of Fujitsubo, and they suggested secret anguish on the part of the emperor. Genji was overwhelmed by feelings of awed guilt. Who could have let the secret out?

Having become mistress of the wardrobe, Omyōbu was now living in the palace. He went to see her.

Had Fujitsubo, on any occasion, allowed so much as a fragment of the secret to slip out in the emperor’s presence?

“Never, my lord, never. She lived in constant tenor that he might hear of it from someone else, and in terror of the secret itself, which might bring upon him the disfavor of the powers above.”

Genji’s longing for the dead lady came back anew.

Meanwhile Akikonomu’s performance at court was above reproach. She served the emperor well and he was fond of her. She could be given perfect marks for her sensitivity and diligence, which to Genji were beyond pricing. In the autumn she came to Nijō for a time. Genji had had the main hall polished and refitted until it quite glittered. He now stood unapologetically in the place of her father.

A gentle autumn rain was falling. The flower beds near the veranda were a riot of color, softened by the rain. Genji was in a reminiscent mood and his eyes were moist. He went to her apartments, a figure of wonderful courtliness and dignity in his dark mourning robes. The recent unsettling events had sent him into retreat. Though making no great show of it, he had a rosary in his hand. He addressed her through only a curtain.

“And so here are the autumn flowers again with their ribbons all undone. It has been a rather dreadful year, and it is somehow a comfort that they should come back, not one of them forgetting its proper time.”

Leaning against a pillar, he was very handsome in the evening light. “When I think of her” — was the princess too thinking of her mother? He told her of the memories that had been so much with him these last days, and especially of how reluctant he had been to leave the temporary shrine that morning shortly before their departure for Ise. He heard, and scarcely heard at all, a soft movement behind the curtains, and guessed that she was weeping. There was a touching delicacy in it. Once more he regretted that he was not permitted to look at her. (It is not entirely admirable, this sort of regret.)

“All my life I have made trouble for myself which I could have avoided, and gone on worrying about ladies I have been fond of. Among all the affairs in which, I fear, my impulsiveness has brought pain to others, two have continued to trouble me and refused to go away.

“One was the case of your late mother. To the end she seems to have thought my behavior outrageous, and I have always known that to the end I shall be sorry. I had hoped that my being of service to you and enjoying your confidence as I hope I do might have comforted her. But it would seem that in spite of everything the smoke refused to clear, and I must continue to live with it.”

Two affairs, he had said; but he did not elaborate upon the second.

“There were those years when I was lost to the world. Most of the unfinished business which I took with me has since been put in order, after a fashion. There is the lady in the east lodge, for instance: she has been rescued from her poverty and is living in peace and security. Her amiable ways are well known to everyone, most certainly to me, and I should say that in that quarter mutual understanding prevails. That I am back in the city and able to be of some service to His Majesty is not, for me, a matter that calls for very loud congratulation. I am still unable to fight back the unfortunate tendencies of my earlier years as I would have wished. Are you aware, I wonder, that my services to you, such as they have been, have required no little self-control? I should be very disappointed indeed if you were to leave me with the impression that you have not guessed.”

A heavy silence succeeded these remarks.

“You must forgive me.” And he changed the subject. “How I wish that, for the remaining years that have been granted me, I might shut myself up in some retreat and lose myself in quiet preparations for the next world. My great regret would be that I would leave so little behind me. There is, as you may know, a girl, of such mean birth that the world cannot be expected to notice her. I wait with great impatience for her to grow up. I fear that it will seem inappropriate of me to say so, but it would give me much comfort to hope that you might number the prosperity of this house among your august concerns, and her, after I am gone, among the people who matter to you.”

Her answer was but a word, so soft and hesitant that he barely caught it. He would have liked to take her in his arms. He stayed on, talking affectionately until it was quite dark.

“But aside from house and family, it is nature that gives me the most pleasure, the changes through the seasons, the blossoms and leaves of autumn and spring, the shifting patterns of the skies. People have always debated the relative merits of the groves of spring and the fields of autumn, and had trouble coming to a conclusion. I have been told that in China nothing is held to surpass the brocades of spring, but in the poetry of our own country the preference would seem to be for the wistful notes of autumn. I watch them come and go and must allow each its points, and in the end am unable to decide between song of bird and hue of flower. I go further: within the limits allowed by my narrow gardens, I have sought to bring in what I can of the seasons, the flowering trees of spring and the flowering grasses of autumn, and the humming of insects that would go unnoticed in the wilds. This is what I offer for your pleasure. Which of the two, autumn or spring, is your own favorite?”

He had chosen another subject which produced hesitation, but one on which silence would seem merely rude.

“If Your Lordship finds it difficult to hand down a decision, how much more do I. It is as you say: some are of the one opinion and some of the other. Yet for me the autumn wind which poets have found so strange and compelling — in the dews I sense a fleeting link with my mother.”

He found the very muteness and want of logic deeply touching.

“Then we two feel alike. You know my secret:

For me it is the autumn winds that pierce.

“There are times when I find them almost more than I can bear.”

How was she to answer? She made it seem that she had not understood. Somehow he was in a complaining mood this evening. He caught himself just short of further indiscretion. She had every right to be unhappy with him, for he was behaving like a silly stripling. He sighed a heavy sigh, and even that rather put her off with its intrusive elegance. She seemed to be inching away from him.

“I have displeased you, and am sorry — though I doubt that most people of feeling would have been quite as displeased. Well, do not let the displeasure last. It could be very trying.”

He went out. Even the perfume that lingered on upset her.

“What a scent he did leave on these cushions — just have a whiff. I can’t find words to describe it.” Her women were lowering the shutters. “He brings everything all together in himself, like a willow that is all of a sudden blooming like a cherry. It sets a person to shivering.”

He went to Murasaki’s wing of the house. He did not go inside immediately, but, choosing a place on the veranda as far as possible from the lamps, lay for a time in thought. He exchanged desultory talk with several of her women. He was thinking of love. Had those wild impulses still not left him? He was too old for them, and angry with himself for the answer which the question demanded. He had misbehaved grievously, but he had been young and unthinking, and was sure that he would by now have been forgiven. So he sought to comfort himself; and there was genuine comfort in the thought that he was at least more aware of the dangers than he once had been.

Akikonomu was sorry that she had said as much as she had. Her remarks about the autumn must have sounded very poetic, and she should have held her tongue. She was so unhappy with herself that she was feeling rather tired. Genji’s robustness had not seemed to allow for fatigue. He was behaving more all the time as if he were her father.

He told Murasaki of this newly discovered preference for the autumn. “Certainly I can appreciate it. With you it is the early spring morning, and that too I understand. We must put together a really proper entertainment sometime to go with the blossoms and the autumn leaves. But I have been so busy. Well, it will not always be so. I will have what I want most, the life of the recluse. And will you be lonely, my dear? The possibility that you might is what really holds me back.”

He still thought a great deal about the Akashi lady, but his life was so constricted that he could not easily visit her. She seemed to have concluded that the bond between them meant nothing. By what right? Her refusal to leave the hills for a more conventional abode seemed to him a touch haughty. Yet he pitied her, and took every opportunity to attend services in his new chapel. Oi only seemed sadder as she came to know it better, the sort of place that must have a melancholy effect on even the chance visitor. Genji’s visits brought contradictory feelings: the bond between them was a powerful one, obviously, and it had meant unhappiness. She might have been better off without it. These are the sad thoughts which most resist consolation.

The torches of the cormorant fishermen through the dark groves were like fireflies on a garden stream.

“For someone not used to living beside the water,” said Genji, “I think it must be wonderfully strange and different.”

“The torches bobbing with the fisher boats

Upon those waves have followed me to Oi.

“The torches and my thoughts are now as they were then.”

And he answered:

“Only one who does not know deep waters

Can still be bobbing, dancing on those waves.

“Who, I ask you, has made whom unhappy?” So he turned her gentle complaint against her.

It was a rime of relative leisure when Genji could turn his thoughts to his devotions. Because his visits were longer, the Akashi lady (or so one hears) was feeling somewhat happier with her lot.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/murasaki-shikibu/tale-of-genji/chapter19.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09