The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 21

The Maiden

The New Year came, and the end of mourning for Fujitsubo. Mourning robes were changed for the bright robes of ordinary times. It was as if the warm, soft skies of the Fourth Month and the Kamo festival had everywhere brought renewal. For Asagao, however, life was sad and dull. The wind rustling the laurels made her think of the festival and brought countless memories to her young women as well.

On the day of the Kamo lustration a note came from Genji. It was on lavender paper folded with formal precision and attached to a spray of wisteria. “I can imagine the quiet memories with which you are passing this day.

“I did not think that when the waters returned

It would be to take away the weeds of mourning.”

It was a time of memories. She sent off an answer:

“How quick the change. Deep mourning yesterday,

Today the shallow waters of lustration.

“Everything seems fleeting and insubstantial”

Brief and noncommittal though it was, Genji could not put it down.

His gifts, addressed to her lady of honor, quite overflowed her wing of the Momozono Palace. She hated to have it seem that he was treating her as one of his ladies. If she had been able to detect anything which struck her as in the least improper she could have sent them back; but she had had gifts from him before, on suitable occasions, and his letter was most staid and proper. She could not think how to answer.

He was also very particular on such occasions about writing to the Fifth Princess.

“It seems like only yesterday that he was a little boy, and here he is so gallant and polite. He is the handsomest man I have ever seen, and so good-natured too, much nicer than any other young gentleman I know.” The young women were much amused.

Asagao was always the recipient of an outmoded description of things when she saw her aunt. “Such lovely notes as the Genji minister is always writing. No, please, now — whatever you say you can’t pretend that he’s only just now come courting. I remember how disappointed your father was when he married the other lady and we did not have the pleasure of welcoming him here. All your fault, your father was always saying. Your unreasonable ways lost us our chance. While his wife was still alive, I was not able to support my brother in his hopes, because after all she was my niece too. Well, she had him and now she’s gone. What possible reason can there be for not doing as your father wanted you to do? Here he is courting you again as if nothing ever happened. I think it must be your fate to marry him.”

I seemed stubborn while Father was alive. How would I seem now if I were suddenly to accede to your wishes?”

The subject was obviously one which distressed her, and the old lady pursued it no further.

Poor Asagao lived in constant trepidation, for not only her aunt but everyone in the Momozono Palace seemed to be on his side. Genji, however, having made the sincerity of his affections clear, seemed prepared to wait for a conciliatory move on her part. He was not going to demand a confrontation.

Though it would have been more convenient to have Yūgiri’s initiation ceremonies at Nijō, the boy’s grandmother, Princess Omiya, naturally wanted to see them. So it was decided that they would take place at Sanjō. His maternal uncles, Tō no Chūjō and the rest, were now all very well placed and in the emperor’s confidence. They vied with one another in being of service to Genji and his son. Indeed the whole court, including people whose concern it need not have been, had made the ceremony its chief business.

Everyone expected that Yūgiri would be promoted to the Fourth Rank. Genji deliberated the possibility and decided that rapid promotions when everyone knew they could be as rapid as desired had a way of seeming vulgar. Yūgiri looked so forlorn in his blue robes that Princess Omiya was angry for him. She demanded an explanation of Genji.

“We need not force him into adult company. I have certain thoughts in the matter. I think he should go to the university, and so we may think of the next few years as time out, a vacation from all these promotions. When he is old enough to be of real service at court it will be soon enough. I myself grew up at court, always at Father’s side. I did not know what the larger world was like and I learned next to nothing about the classics. Father himself was my teacher, but there was something inadequate about my education. What I did learn of the classics and of music and the like did not have a broad grounding.

“We do not hear in our world of sons who excel inadequate fathers, and over the generations the prospect becomes one of sad decline. I have made my decision. A boy of good family moves ahead in rank and office and basks in the honors they bring. Why, he asks, should he trouble himself to learn anything? He has his fun, he has his music and other pleasures, and rank and position seem to come of their own accord. The underlings of the world praise him to his face and laugh at him behind his back. This is very well while it lasts — he is the grand gentleman. But changes come, forces shift. Those who can help themselves do so, and he is left behind. His affairs fall into a decline and presently nothing is left.

“No, the safe thing is to give him a good, solid fund of knowledge. It is when there is a fund of Chinese learning that the Japanese spirit is respected by the world. He may feel dissatisfied for a time, but if we give him the proper education for a minister of state, then I need not worry about what will happen after I am gone. He may not be able to spread his wings for a time, but I doubt that, given the house he comes from, people will sneer at him as a threadbare clerk.”

The princess sighed. “Yes, I suppose you are right. I hadn’t thought things through quite so far. My sons have said that you are being very strict with him, and he did seem so very forlorn when all the cousins he has looked down on have moved from blue to brighter colors. I had to feel sorry for him.”

Genji smiled. “He is very grown-up for his age.” In fact, he thought Yūgiri’s behavior rather endearing. “But he’ll get over it when they’ve put a little learning into his head.”

The matriculation ceremonies were held in the east lodge at Nijō, the east wing of which was fitted out for the occasion. It was a rare event. Courtiers crowded round to see what a matriculation might be like. The professors must have been somewhat astonished.

“You are to treat him exactly as the rules demand,” said Genji. “Make no exceptions.”

The academic assembly was a strange one, solemn of countenance, badly fitted in borrowed clothes, utterly humorless of word and manner, yet given to jostling for place. Some of the younger courtiers were laughing. Fearing that that would be the case, Genji had insisted that the profes- sorial cups be kept full by older and better-controlled men. Even so, Tō no Chūjō and Prince Mimbu were reprimanded by the learned gentlemen.

“Most inadequate, these libation pourers. Do they propose to conduct the affairs of the land without the advice of the sages? Most inadequate indeed.”

There came gusts of laughter.

“Silence, if you please. Silence is called for Such improprieties are unheard of. We must ask your withdrawal.”

Everyone thought the professors rather fun. For courtiers who had themselves been to the university the affair was most satisfying. It was very fine indeed that Genji should see fit to give his son a university education. The professors put down merriment with a heavy hand and made unfavorable note of other departures from strict decorum. Yet as the night wore on, the lamps revealed something a little different, a little clownish, perhaps, or forlorn, under the austere professorial masks. It was indeed an unusual assembly.

“I am afraid, sirs, that I am the oaf you should be scolding,” said Genji, withdrawing behind a blind. “I am quite overcome.”

Learning that there had not been places enough for all the scholars, he had a special banquet laid out in the angling pavilion.

He invited the professors and several courtiers of a literary bent to stay behind and compose Chinese poems. The professors were assigned stanzas of four couplets, and the amateurs, Genji among them, were allowed to make do with two. The professors assigned titles. Dawn was coming on when the reading took place, with Sachūben the reader. He was a man of imposing manner and fine looks, and his voice as he read took on an almost awesome grandeur. Great things were to be expected from him, everyone said. The poems, all of them interesting, brought in numerous old precedents by way of celebrating so laudable an event, that a young man born to luxury and glory should choose to make the light of the firefly his companion, the reflection from the snow his friend. One would have liked to send them for the delectation of the land across the sea. They were the talk of the court.

Genji’s poem was particularly fine. His paternal affection showed through and brought tears from the company. But it would not be seemly for a woman to speak in detail of these scholarly happenings, and I shall say no more.

Then came the formal commencement of studies. Genji assigned rooms in the east lodge, where learned tutors were put at Yūgiri’s disposal. Immersed in his studies, he rarely went to call on his grandmother. He had been with her since infancy, and Genji feared that she would go on pampering him. Quiet rooms near at hand seemed appropriate. He was permitted to visit Sanjō some three times a month.

Shut up with musty books, he did think his father severe. His friends, subjected to no such trials, were moving happily from rank to rank. He was a serious lad, however, not given to frivolity, and soon he had resolved that he would make quick work of the classics and then have his career. Within a few months he had finished The Grand History. Genji conducted mock examinations with the usual people in attendance, Tō no Chūjō, Sadaiben, Shikibu no Tayū, Sachūben, and the rest. The boy’s chief tutor was invited as well. Yūgiri was asked to read passages from The Grand History on which he was likely to be challenged. He did so without hesitation, offering all the variant theories as to the meaning, and leaving no smudgy question marks behind. Everyone was delighted, and indeed tears of delight might have been observed. It had been an outstanding performance, though not at all unexpected. How he wished, said Tō no Chūjō, that the old chancellor could have been present.

Genji was not completely successful at hiding his pride. “There is a sad thing that I have more than once witnessed, a father who grows stupider as his son grows wiser. So here it is happening to me, and I am not so very old. It is the way of the world.” His pleasure and pride were a rich reward for the tutor.

The drinks which Tō no Chūjō pressed on this gentleman seemed to make him ever leaner. He was an odd man whose scholarly attainments had not been put to proper use, and life had not been good to him. Sensing something unusual in him, Genji had put him in charge of Yūgiri’s studies. These rather overwhelming attentions made him feel that life had begun again, and no doubt a limitless future seemed to open for him.

On the day of the examination the university gates were jammed with fine carriages. It was natural that no one, not even people who had no real part in the proceedings, should wish to be left out. The young candidate himself, very carefully dressed and surrounded by solicitous retainers, was so handsome a figure that people were inclined to ask again what he was doing here. If he looked a little self-conscious taking the lowest seat as the company assembled, that too was natural. Again stern calls to proper deportment emerged from the professors, but he read without misstep to the end.

It was a day to make one think of the university in its finest age. People high and low now competed to pursue the way of learning, and the level of official competence rose. Yūgiri got through his other examinations, the literary examination and the rest, with no trouble. He quite immersed himself in his studies, spurring his tutors to new endeavors. Genji arranged composition meets at Nijō from time to time, to the great satisfaction of the scholars and poets. It was a day when their abilities were recognized.

The time had come to name an empress. Genji urged the case of Akikonomu, reminding everyone of Fujitsubo’s wishes for her son. It would mean another Genji empress, and to that there was opposition. And Tō no Chūjō‘s daughter had been the first of the emperor’s ladies to come to court. The outcome of the debate remained in doubt.

Murasaki’s father, Prince Hyōbu, was now a man of importance, the maternal uncle of the emperor. He had long wanted to send a daughter to court and at length he had succeeded, and so two of the principal contenders were royal granddaughters. If the choice was to be between them, people said, then surely the emperor would feel more comfortable with his mother’s niece. He could think of her as a substitute for his mother. But in the end Akikonomu’s candidacy prevailed. There were many remarks upon the contrast between her fortunes and those of her late mother.

There were promotions, Genji to chancellor and Tō no Chūjō to Minister of the Center. Genji left the everyday conduct of government to his friend, a most honest and straightforward man who had also a bright side to his nature. He was very intelligent and he had studied hard. Though he could not hold his own with Genji in rhyme-guessing contests, he was a gifted administrator. He had more than a half score of sons by several ladies, all of them growing or grown and making names for themselves. It was a good day for his house. He had only one daughter, Kumoinokari, besides the lady who had gone to court. It could not have been said, since her mother came from the royal family, that she was the lesser of the two daughters, but the mother had since married the Lord Inspector and had a large family of her own. Not wishing to leave the girl with her stepfather, Tō no Chūjō had brought her to Sanjō and there put her in Princess Omiya’s custody. Though he paid a good deal more attention to the other daughter, Kumoinokari wag a pretty and amiable child. She and Yūgiri grew up like brother and sister in Princess Omiya’s apartments. Tō no Chūjō separated them when they reached the age of ten or so. He knew that they were fond of each other, he said, but the girl was now too old to have male playmates. Yūgiri continued to think of her, in his boyish way, and he was careful to notice her when the flowers and grasses of the passing seasons presented occasions, or when he came upon something for her dollhouses. She was not at all shy in his presence. They were so young, said her nurses, and they had been together so long. Why must the minister tear them apart? Yet one had to grant him a point in suspecting that, despite appearances, they might no longer be children.

In any event the separation upset them. Their letters, childish but showing great promise, were always falling into the wrong hands, for they were as yet not very skilled managers. But if some of her women knew what was going on, they saw no need to tell tales.

The round of congratulatory banquets was over. In the quiet that followed, Tō no Chūjō came visiting his mother. It was an evening of chilly showers and the wind sent a sad rustling through the reeds. He summoned Kumoinokari for a lesson on the koto. Princess Omiya, a fine musician, was the girl’s teacher.

“A lady is not perhaps seen at her most graceful when she is playing the lute, but the sound is rather wonderful. You do not often hear a good lute these days. Let me see now.” And he named this prince and that commoner who were good lutists. “I have heard from the chancellor that the lady he has out in the country is a very good hand at it. She comes from a line of musicians, but the family is not what it once was, and she has been away for a very long time. It is surprising that she should be so good. He does seem to have a high regard for her, to judge from the way he is always talking about her. Music is not like other things. It requires company and concerts and a familiarity with all the styles. You do not often hear of a self-taught musician.” He urged a lute upon his mother.

“I don’t even know where to put the bridge any more. “ Yet she took the instrument and played very commendably indeed.” The lady you mention would seem to have a great deal to distinguish her besides her good luck. She gave him the daughter he has always wanted. He was afraid the daughter would be handicapped by a rustic mother, they tell me, and gave her to a lady of quite unassailable position. I hear that she is a little jewel.” She had put the instrument down.

“Yes, you are right, of course. It was more than luck that got her where she is. But sometimes things don’t seem entirely fair. I cannot think of any respect in which the girl I sent to court is inferior to her rivals, and I gave her every skill she could possibly need to hold her own. And all of a sudden someone emerges from an unexpected quarter and overtakes her. I hope that nothing of the sort happens to this other one. The crown prince will soon be coming of age and I have plans. But do I once again see unexpected competition?” He sighed. “Once the daughter of this most fortunate Akashi lady is at court she seems even more likely than the empress to have everything her way.”

The old lady was angry with Genji for what had happened. “Your father was all wrapped up in his plans to send your little girl to court, and he thought it extremely unlikely that an empress would be named from any house but ours. It is an injustice which would not have been permitted if he had lived.”

Tōno ChūJjō gazed proudly at Kumoinokari, who was indeed a pretty little thing, in a still childish way. As she leaned over her koto the hair at her forehead and the thick hair flowing over her shoulders seemed to him very lovely. She turned shyly from his gaze, and in profile was every bit as charming. As she pushed at the strings with her left hand, she was like a delicately fashioned doll. The princess too was delighted. Gently tuning the koto, the girl pushed it away.

Tō no Chūjō took out a Japanese koto and tuned it to a minor key, and so put an old-fashioned instrument to modern uses. It was very pleasing indeed, the sight of a grand gentleman at home with his music. All eager to see, the old women were crowding and jostling one another behind screens.

“‘The leaves await the breeze to scatter them,’” he sang.”‘It is a gentle breeze.’ My koto does not, I am sure, have the effect of that Chinese koto, but it is a strangely beautiful evening. Would you let us have another?”

The girl played “Autumn Winds,” with her father, in fine voice, singing the lyrics. The old lady looked affectionately from the one to the other.

Yūgiri came in, as if to add to the joy.

“How very nice,” said Tō no Chūjō, motioning him to a place at the girl’s curtains. “We do not see as much of you these days as we would like. You are so fearfully deep in your studies. Your father knows as well as I do that too much learning is not always a good thing, but I suppose he has his reasons. Still it seems a pity that you should be in solitary confinement. You should allow yourself diversions from time to time. Music too has a proper and venerable tradition, you know.” He offered Yūgiri a flute.

There was a bright, youthful quality about the boy’s playing. Tō no Chūjō put his koto aside and quietly beat time with a fan. “My sleeves were stained from the hagi,” he hummed.

“Your father so loves music. He has abandoned dull affairs of state. Life is a gloomy enough business at best, and I would like to follow his lead and do nothing that I do not want to.”

He ordered wine. Presently it was dark. Lamps were lighted and dinner was brought.

He sent Kumoinokari off to her rooms. Yūgiri had not even been permitted to hear her koto. No good would come of these stern measures, the old women whispered.

Pretending to leave, Tō no Chūjō went to call on a lady to whom he was paying court. When, somewhat later, he made his stealthy way out, he heard whispering. He stopped to listen. He himself proved to be the subject.

“He thinks he is so clever, but he is just like any other father. Unhappiness will come of it all, you can be very sure. The ancients did not know what they were talking about when they said that a father knows best.”

They were nudging one another to emphasize their points.

Well, now. Most interesting. He had not been without suspicions, but he had not been enough on his guard. He had said that they were still children. It was a complicated world indeed. He slipped out, giving no hint of what he had heard and surmised.

The women were startled by the shouts of outrunners. “Just leaving? Where can he have been hiding himself? A little old for such things, I would have thought.”

The whisperers were rather upset. “There was that lovely perfume?” said one of them, “but we thought it would be the young gentleman. How awful. You don’t suppose he heard? He can be difficult.”

Tō no Chūjō deliberated the problem as he rode home. A marriage between cousins was not wholly unacceptable, of course, but people would think it at best uninteresting. It had not been pleasant to have his other daughter so unconditionally defeated by Genji’s favorite, and he had been telling himself that this one must be a winner. Though he and Genji were and had long been good friends, echoes of their old rivalry persisted. He spent a sleepless night. His mother no doubt knew what was going on and had let her darlings have their way. He had overheard enough to be angry. He had a straightforward masculinity about him and the anger was not easy to control.

Two days later he called on his mother. Delighted to be seeing so much of him, she had someone touch up her nun’s coiffure and chose her cloak with great care. He was such a handsome man that he made her feel a little fidgety, even though he was her own son, and she let him see her only in profile.

He was very much out of sorts. “I know what your women are saying and I do not feel at all comfortable about visiting you. I am not a man of very great talent, I know, but I had thought that as long as I lived I would do what I could for you. I had thought that we would always be close and that I would always keep watch over your health and comfort.” He brushed away a tear. “Now it has become necessary for me to speak about a matter that greatly upsets me. I would much prefer to keep it to myself.”

Omiya gazed at him in astonishment. Under her powder she changed color. “Whatever can it be? Whatever can I have done in my old age to make you so angry?”

He felt a little less angry but went on all the same. “I have grievously neglected her ever since she was a tiny child. I have thought that I could leave everything to you. I have been worried about the not entirely happy situation of the girl in the palace and have busied myself doing what I can for her, confident that I could leave the other to you. And now something very surprising and regrettable has come to my attention. He may be a talented and erudite young man who knows more about history than anyone else at court, but even the lower classes think it a rather dull and common thing for cousins to marry. It will do him no more good than her. He would do far better to find a rich and stylish bride a little farther afield. I am sure that Genji will be no more pleased than I am. In any event, I would have been grateful if you had kept me informed. Do please try a little harder to keep us from looking ridiculous. I must emphasize my astonishment that you have been so careless about letting them keep company.”

This was news to Omiya. “You are right to be annoyed. I had not suspected anything, and I am sure that I have a right to feel even more put upon than you do. But I do not think you should accuse me of collusion. I have been very fond of the children ever since you left them with me, and I have worked very hard to bring out fine points that you yourself might not be entirely aware of. They are children, and I have not, I must assure you, been blinded by affection into wanting to rush them into each other’s arms. But be that as it may, who can have told you such awful things? I do not find it entirely admirable of you to gather common gossip and make a huge issue of it. Nothing so very serious has happened, of that I am sure, and you are doing harm to the girl’s good name.”

“Not quite nothing. All of your women are laughing at us, and I do not find it pleasant.” And he left.

The better-informed women were very sorry for the young people. The whisperers were of course the most upset of all.

Tō no Chūjō looked in on his daughter, whom he found at play with her dolls, so pretty that he could not bring himself to scold her. “Yes,” he said to her woman,” she is still very young and innocent; but I fear that in my own innocence, making my own plans for her, I failed to recognize the degree of her innocence.”

They defended themselves, somewhat uncertainly. “In the old romances even the emperor’s daughter will sometimes make a mistake. There always seems to be a lady-in-waiting who knows all the secrets and finds ways to bring the young people together. Our case is quite different. Our lady has been with the two of them morning and night over all these years, and it would not be proper for us to intrude ourselves and try to separate them more sternly than she has seen fit to, and so we did not worry. About two years ago she does seem to have changed to a policy of keeping them apart. There are young gentlemen who take advantage of the fact that people still think them boys and do odd and mischievous things. But not the young master. There has not been the slightest suggestion of anything improper in his behavior. What you say comes as a surprise to us.”

“Well, what is done is done. The important thing now is to see that the secret does not get out. These things are never possible to keep completely secret, I suppose, but you must pretend that it is a matter of no importance and that the gossips do not know what they are talking about. I will take the child home with me. My mother is the one I am angry with. I do not imagine that any of you wanted things to turn out as they have.”

It was sad for the girl, thought the women, but it could have been worse. “Oh, yes, sir, you may be sure that you can trust us to keep the secret. What if the Lord Inspector were to hear? The young master is a very fine boy, but it is not after all as if he were a prince.”

The girl still seemed very young indeed. However many stem injunctions he might hand down, it did not seem likely that she would see their real import. The problem was to protect her. He discussed it with her women, and his anger continued to be at his mother.

Princess Omiya was fond of both her grandchildren, but it seems likely that the boy was her favorite. She had thought his attentions toward his cousin altogether charming, and here Tō no Chūjō was talking as if they were a crime and a scandal. He understood nothing, nothing at all. He had paid very little attention to the girl and it was only after Omiya herself had done so much that he had commenced having grand ideas about making her crown princess. If his plans went astray and the girl was after all to marry a commoner, where was she likely to find a better one? Where indeed, all through the court, was his equal in intelligence and looks? No, the case was the reverse of what her good son took it to be: the boy was the one who, if he chose, could marry into the royal family. Wounded affection now impelled her to return her son’s anger ih good measure. He would no doubt have been even angrier if he had known what she was thinking.

Ignorant of this commotion, Yūgiri came calling. He chose evening for his visit. There had been such a crowd that earlier evening that he had been unable to exchange words with Kumoinokari, and so his longing was stronger.

His grandmother was usually all smiles when she received him, but this evening she was stern. “I have been put in a difficult position because your uncle is displeased with you,” she said, after solemn prefatory remarks. “You have brought trouble because it seems you have ambitions which it would not do for people to hear about. I would have preferred not to bring the matter up, but it seems necessary to ask whether you have anything on your conscience.”

He flushed scarlet, knowing at once what she was referring to. “What could it be? I wonder. I have been shut up with my books and I have seen no one. I cannot think of anything that Might have upset him.”

He was unable to look at her. She thought his confusion both sad and endearing. “Very well. But do be careful, please.” And she moved on to other matters.

He saw that it would be difficult even to exchange notes with his cousin. Dinner was brought but he had no appetite. He lay down in his grandmother’s room, unable to sleep. When all was quiet he tried the door to the girl’s room. Unlocked most nights, it was tightly locked tonight. No one seemed astir. He leaned against the door, feeling very lonely. She too was awake, it seemed. The wind rustled sadly through the bamboo thickets and from far away came the call of a wild goose.

“The wild goose in the clouds — as sad as I am?” Her voice, soft and girlish, spoke of young longing.

“Open up, please. Is Kojijū there?” Kojijū was her nurse’s daughter.

She had hidden her face under a quilt, embarrassed that she had been overheard. But love, relentless pursuer, would be after her however she might try to hide. With her women beside her she was afraid to make the slightest motion.

“The midnight call to its fellows in the clouds

Comes in upon the wind that rustles the reeds, and sinks to one’s very bones.”

Sighing, he went back and lay down beside his grandmother. He tried not to move lest he awaken her.

Not up to conversation, he slipped back to his own room very early the next morning. He wrote a letter to the girl but was unable to find Kojijū and have it delivered, and of course he was unable to visit the girl’s room.

Though vaguely aware of the reasons for the whole stir, the girl was not greatly disturbed about her future or about the gossip. Pretty as ever, she could not bring herself to do what seemed to be asked of her and dislike her cousin. She did not herself think that she had behaved so dreadfully, but with these women so intent on exaggerating everything she could not write. An older boy would have found devices, but he was even younger than she, and could only nurse his wounds in solitude.

There had been no more visits from the minister, who was still very displeased with his mother. He said nothing to his wife. Looking vaguely worried, he did speak to her of his other daughter.

“I am very sad for her indeed. She must feel uncertain and very much out of things, what with all these preparations to proclaim the new empress. I think I will ask if we may bring her home for a while. She is with the emperor constantly in spite of everything, and some of her women have told me what a strain it is on all of them.” And very abruptly she was brought home.

The emperor was reluctant to let her go, but Tō no Chūjō insisted.

“I fear you will be bored,” he said to her. “Suppose we ask your sister to come and keep you company. I know that her grandmother is taking fine care of her, but there is that boy, growing up too fast for his own good. They are at a dangerous age.” And with equal abruptness he sent for Kumoinokari.

Omiya was naturally upset. “I did not know what to do with myself when your sister died, and I couldn’t have been happier when you let me have the girl. I thought that I would always have her with me, a comfort in my declining years. I would not have thought you capable of such cruelty.”

He answered most politely. “I have informed you of certain matters that have been troubling me. I do not think I have done anything that might be described as cruel. The other girl is understandably upset at what is happening at court and so she came home a few days ago. And now that she is there I am afraid she finds precious little to keep her entertained. I thought the two of them might think of things, music and the like. That is all. I mean to have her with me for only a very short time. I certainly do not wish to minimize your services in taking care of her all these years and making her into the fine young lady she is.”

Seeing that his mind was made up and that nothing she said was likely to change it, she shed tears of sorrow and chagrin. “People can be cruel. In this way and that the young people have not been good to me. But one expects such things of the young. You ought to be more understanding, but you go blaming me for everything, and now you are taking her away from me. Well, we will see whether she is safer under your watchful eye.”

Yūgiri picked this unfortunate time to come calling. He called frequently these days, hoping for a few words with Kumoinokari. He saw Tō no Chūjō‘s carriage and slipped guiltily off to his own room.

Tō no Chūjō had several of his sons with him, but they were not permitted access to the women’s quarters. The late chancellor’s sons by other ladies continued to be attentive, and various grandsons were also frequent callers. None of them rivaled Yūgiri in looks. He was her favorite grandchild. Now that he had been taken away Kumoinokari was the one she kept beside her. And Kumoinokari too was being taken away. The loneliness would be too much.

“I must look in at the palace,” said Tō no Chūjō. “I will come for her in the evening.”

He was beginning to think that he must act with forbearance and presently let the two have their way. But he was angry. When the boy had advanced somewhat in rank and presented a somewhat more imposing figure, he might see whether they were still as fond of each other. Then, if he chose to give his permission, he would arrange a proper wedding. In the meantime he could not be sure — for children were not to be trusted — that his orders would be obeyed, and he had no confidence in his mother. So, with the other daughter his main material, he put together a case which he argued before his wife and his mother, and brought Kumoinokari home.

Omiya sent a note to her granddaughter: “Your father may be angry with me, but you will understand my feelings. Do let me have another look at you.”

Beautifully dressed, she came to her grandmother’s apartments. She was fourteen, still a child but already endowed with a most pleasing calm and poise.

“You have been my little plaything all these mornings and nights. I have scarcely let you out of my sight. I Will be very lonely without you.” She was weeping. “I have thought a great deal about what is to come and who will see you through it all. I am sorry for you. Who will you have now that they are taking you away?”

Also in tears and much embarrassed, the girl was unable to look at her grandmother.

Saishō, the boy’s nurse, came in. “I had thought of myself as serving both of you,” she said softly. “I am very sorry indeed that you are leaving. Whatever plans your esteemed father may have for marrying you to someone else, do not let him have his way.”

Yet more acutely embarrassed, Kumoinokari looked at the floor.

“We must not speak of such difficult things,” said Omiya. “Life is uncertain for all of us.”

“That is not the point, my lady,” replied Saishō indignantly. “His Lordship dismisses the young master as beneath his contempt. Well, let him go asking whether anyone is thought better.”

Yūgiri was observing what he could from behind curtains. Usually he would have been afraid of being apprehended, but today sorrow had overcome caution. He dabbed at his eyes.

It was all too sad, thought Saishō. With Omiya’s connivance, she took advantage of the evening confusion to arrange one last meeting.

They sat for a time in silent tears, suddenly shy before each other.

“Your father is being very strict. I will do as he wishes. But I know I will be lonely without you. Why did you not let me see more of you when it was possible?”

“I only wish I had.”

“Will you think of me?” There was an engaging boyishness in the gently bowed figure.

Lamps were lighted. A great shouting in the distance proclaimed that the minister was on his way back from court. Women darted here and there preparing to receive him. The girl was trembling.

If they wanted to be so noisy, thought the boy, let them; but he would defend her.

Her nurse found him in this defiant attitude. Outrageous — and Princess Omiya had without a doubt known of it.

“It will not do, my lady,” she said firmly. “Your father will be furious. Your young friend here may have many excellent qualities. Of them I do not know. I do know that you were meant for someone better than a page boy dressed in blue.”

A page boy in blue! Anger drove away a part of the sorrow.

“You heard that?

“These sleeves are crimson, dyed with tears of blood.

How can she say that they are lowly blue?

It was very unkind.”

“My life is dyed with sorrows of several hues.

Pray tell me which is the hue of the part we share.”

She had scarcely finished when her father came to take her away.

Yūgiri was very angry and very unhappy. He went to his own room and lay down. Three carriages hurried off into the distance, the shouting somewhat more deferential than before. He was unable to sleep, but when his grandmother sent for him he sent back that he had retired for the night.

It was a tearful night. Early in the morning, while the ground was still white with frost, he hurried back to Nijō. He did not want anyone to see his red eyes, and he was sure that his grandmother would be after him again. He wanted to be alone. All the way home his thoughts were of the troubles he had brought upon himself. It was not yet full daylight. The sky had clouded over.

“It is a world made grim by frost and ice,

And now come tears to darken darkened skies.”

Genji was this year to provide a dancer for the Gosechi dances. It was a task of no very great magnitude, but as the day approached, his women were busy with robes for the little flower girls and the like. The women in the east lodge were making clothes for the presentation at court. More general preparations were left to the main house, and the empress was very kind in seeing to the needs of the retinue. Indeed it seemed, so lavish were the preparations, that Genji might be trying to make up for the fact that there had been no dances the year before. The patrons of the dancers, among them a brother of Tō no Chūjō, the Lord Inspector, and, on a somewhat less exalted level, Yoshikiyo, now governor of Omi and a Moderator of the Left, so vied with one another that their endeavors were the talk of the whole court. The emperor had deigned to give orders that the dancers this year be taken into the court service. As his own dancer Genji had chosen one of Koremitsu’s daughters, said to be among the prettiest and most talented girls in the city. Koremitsu, now governor of Settsu and of the western ward of the city as well, was somewhat abashed at the proposal, but people pointed out that the Lord Inspector was offering a daughter by an unimportant wife and so there was no need at all to feel reticent. Meaning to send the girl to court in any case, he concluded that she might as well make her debut through the Gosechi dances. She practiced diligently at home, her retinue was chosen with great care, and on the appointed day he escorted her to Nijō.

The retinue came from the households of Genji’s various ladies, and to be selected was thought a considerable honor. Genji ordered a final rehearsal for the presentation at court. He said he could not possibly rank them one against the others, they were all so pretty and so well dressed. The pity was, he laughed, that he did not have more than one dancer to patronize. Gentleness of nature and delicacy of manner had had a part in the selection.

Yūgiri had quite lost his appetite. He lay brooding in his room and the classics were neglected. Wanting a change of air, he slipped out and wandered quietly through the house. He was well dressed and very good-looking, and calm and self-possessed for his age. The young women who saw him were entranced. He went to Murasaki’s wing of the house but was not permitted near her blinds. Remembering his own past behavior, Genji was taking precautions. Yūgiri lived in the east lodge and was not on intimate terms with Murasaki’s women; but today he took advantage of the excitement to slip into her part of the house, where he stood watching from behind a screen or blind of some sort.

The Gosechi dancer was helped from her carriage to an enclosure of screens that had been put up near the veranda. Yūgiri made his way behind a screen. Apparently tired, she was leaning against an armrest. She was about the same height as Kumoinokari, or perhaps just a little taller. She may have been just a little prettier. He could not say, for the light was not good; but she did so remind him of his love that, though it would have been an exaggeration to say that he transferred his affections on the spot, he found himself strongly drawn to her. He reached forward and tugged at a sleeve. She was startled, by the tugging and by the poem which followed:

“The lady who serves Toyooka in the heavens

Is not to forget that someone thinks of her here.

“I have long been looking through the sacred fence.”

It was a pleasant young voice, but she could not identify it. She was frightened. just then her women came in to retouch her face, and he reluctantly withdrew.

Ashamed of his blue robes and in general feeling rather out of things, he had been staying away from court. For the festivities, however, regulations assigning colors to ranks had been relaxed. He was mature for his years, and as he strolled around the palace in his bright robes he was perhaps the most remarked-upon lad present. Even the emperor noticed him.

The dancers were at their best for the formal presentation, but everyone said that Genji’s dancer and the Lord Inspector’s were the prettiest and the best dressed. It was very difficult to choose between the two of them, though perhaps a certain dignity gave the nod to Koremitsu’s daughter. She was so lavishly and stylishly dressed that one would have been hard put to guess her origins. The dancers being older than in most years, the festival seemed somehow grander.

Genji remembered a Gosechi dancer to whom he had once been attracted. After the dances he got off a note to her. The reader will perhaps guess its contents, which included this poem:

“What will the years have done to the maiden, when he

Who saw her heavenly sleeves is so much older?”

It was a passing thought as he counted over the years, but she was touched that he should have felt constrained to write.

This was her reply:

“Garlands in my hair, warm sun to melt the frost,

So very long ago. It seems like yesterday.”

The blue paper was the blue of the dancers’ dress, and the hand, subtly shaded in a cursive style to conceal the identity of the writer, was better than one would have expected from so modest a rank.

That glimpse of Koremitsu’s daughter had excited Yūgiri. He wandered about with certain thoughts in his mind, but was not permitted near. Still too young to devise stratagems for breaching the blockade, he felt very sorry for himself. She was pretty indeed and could be a consolation for the loss of Kumoinokari.

It has already been said that the dancers were to stay on in court service. Today, however, they went back to their families. In the recessional the competition was also intense. Yoshikiyo’s daughter went off to Karasaki for her lustration, Koremitsu’s to Naniwa. The inspector had already arranged for his daughter’s return to court. People criticized Tō no Chūjō‘s brother for having offered a daughter unworthy of the occasion, but she was received into court service with the others.

There being a vacancy on the empress’s staff, Koremitsu asked Genji whether his daughter might not be favored with appointment. Genji said that he would see what could be done. This was disappointing news for Yūgiri. She was being taken beyond his reach. Though the disappointment was not of a really devastating sort, new sorrow was added to old.

The girl had a brother who was a court page. Yūgiri had occasionally made use of his services.

One day Yūgiri addressed him in a friendlier manner than usual.” And when may we hope to see your sister at court?”

“By the end of the year, I am told.”

“I thought her very pretty. I envy you, able to see her whenever you want to. Do you suppose I might ask you to let me see her myself sometime?”

“I am afraid it would be very difficult. I am her brother and even I am kept at a distance. I am afraid it would be very difficult indeed.”

“At least give her this letter.”

The boy had long been under very stern instructions to have no part in such maneuvers, but Yūgiri was insistent.

The Gosechi dancer, perhaps a little precocious, was delighted with the letter, which was on delicate blue paper very tastefully folded with papers of several colors. The hand, though young, showed great promise.

“Were you aware of it as you danced in the sunlight,

The heart that was pinned upon the heavenly sleeves?”

Koremitsu came in as they were admiring it.

“What’s this? Who’s it from?” They flushed. There had been no time to hide it. “You know very well that I do not permit this sort of thing.”

He blocked the boy’s escape.

“The chancellor’s son asked me to deliver it.”

“Well, now. What an amusing little prank. You are the same age, and I only wish you had a few of his talents.” His anger having quite left him, he went off to show the letter to his wife. “If he is still interested when he is a little older, she would be better off in his hands than at court. I kno His Lordship well. Once a woman has attracted his attention he never forgets her. This could be a very good thing. Look at the Akashi lady.”

But they could think of little these days except preparations for sending the girl to court.

Yūgiri was filled with thoughts of the far better placed young lady to whom he could not write. His longing grew. Would he ever see her again? He no longer enjoyed visiting his grandmother and kept to himself at Nijō. He remembered the room that had been his for so long, the room where they had played so happily together. The very thought of the Sanjō house became oppressive.

Genji asked the lady of the orange blossoms to look after the boy. “His grandmother does not have a great many years ahead of her. The two of you have known each other so long — might I ask you to take over?”

It was her way to do everything Genji asked of her. Gently but with complete dedication she put herself into the work of keeping house for Yūgiri.

He would sometimes catch a glimpse of her. She was not at all beautiful, and yet his father had been faithful to her. Was it merely silly, his own inability to forget the beauty of a girl who was being unkind to him? He should look for someone of a similarly compliant nature. Not, however, someone who was positively repulsive. Though Genji had kept the lady of the orange blossoms with him all these years, he seemed quite aware of her defects. When he visited her he was always careful to see that she was as fully ensheathed as an amaryllis bud, and that he was spared the need to look upon her. Yūgiri understood. He had an eye for these things that would have put the adult eye to shame. His grandmother was still very beautiful even now that she had become a nun. Surrounded from infancy by beautiful women, he naturally took adverse notice of a lady who, not remarkably well favored from the start, was past her prime, a bit peaked and thin of hair.

The end of the year approached. Omiya occupied herself with his New Year robes to the exclusion of everything else. They were very splendid and very numerous, but they only added to his gloom.

“I don’t see why you’re going to so much trouble. I’m not at all sure that I will even go to court.”

“Whatever are you talking about? You are behaving like a defeated old man.”

“I may not be old,” he said to himself, brushing away a tear, “but I certainly am defeated.”

His grandmother wanted to weep with him. She knew too well what was troubling him.

“They say that a man is only as low as his thoughts. You must pull yourself out of it. All this mooning, I can’t think what good it will ever do you.”

“You needn’t worry. But I know that people are calling me the unpromoted marvel, and I don’t enjoy going to court. If Grandfather were still alive they wouldn’t be laughing at me. Father is Father, I know, and I know I should be going to him with my problems. But he is so stiff and remote and he doesn’t come to the east lodge all that often. The lady there is very good to me, but I do wish sometimes that I had a mother of my own.”

He was trying to hide his tears, and she was now weeping openly. “It is sad for anyone, I don’t care who, to lose his mother, but people do grow up and follow their own destinies, and these little stings and smarts go away. You must not take them so seriously. I agree that it would have been nice if your grandfather had lived a little longer. Your father should be doing just as much for you, but in some ways he does rather leave something to be desired. People say what a fine figure of a man your uncle, the minister, is, but I only think myself that he is less and less like the boy I used to know. When I see you so unhappy, and your whole future ahead of you, I wonder if I haven’t lived too long. You are letting yourself get worked up over nothing at all, I know, but I do get angry for you.”

His presence not being required at court, Genji spent a pleasant New Year at home. He followed the precedent of Chancellor Yoshifusa and reviewed the white horses on his own Nijō grounds, where the observances were no less grand than at court. Some of the details even went beyond what precedent required.

Late in the Second Month the emperor paid a visit to the Suzaku Palace of the retired emperor. The full bloom of the cherries would have coincided with the anniversary of Fujitsubo’s death, but the early blossoms were very beautiful. The Suzaku Palace had been carefully repaired and redecorated. The court, even princes of the blood, wore uniform dress, green over white lined with red. The emperor wore red, as did Genji, present by royal summons. People seemed to carry themselves with greater dignity than on most occasions. The two of them, emperor and chancellor, looked so radiantly alike that they could almost have been mistaken for each other. The Suzaku emperor had improved with age. He had a soft, gentle sort of grace that was all his own.

Though no professed men of letters had been invited, ten and more university scholars were present, young men who were already making their marks as poets. The emperor assigned subjects from the official examinations. It was a mock examination for the benefit of the chancellor’s son, people suspected. Fidgeting nervously, the scholars were sent off to deliberate on their topics, each in a separate boat on the lake. They seemed to be having trouble. Musicians were rowed out on the lake as the sun was setting. A sudden wind came down from the hills to enliven the tuning of the instruments. Yūgiri was angry with the world. Only he was forbidden to sing and to joke.

“Spring Warbler” brought back memories of a spring festival many years before.

“I wonder if we will ever again see such an affair,” said the Suzaku emperor.

Genji was lost in memories of his father’s reign. When the dance was over he offered a cup to the Suzaku emperor, and with it a verse:

“The warblers are today as long ago,

But we in the shade of the blossoms are utterly changed.”

The Suzaku emperor replied:

“Though kept by mists from the ninefold-garlanded court,

I yet have warblers to tell me spring has come.”

Prince Hotaru filled the emperor’s cup and offered this poem:

“The tone of the flute is as it always has been,

Nor do I detect a change in the song of the warbler.”

It was very thoughtful and tactful of him to suggest that not all was decline.

With awesome dignity, the emperor replied:

“The warbler laments as it flies from tree to tree —

For blossoms whose hue is paler than once it was?”

And that I have no more poems to set down — is it because, the occasion being a formal one, the flagons did not make the complete rounds? Or is it that our scrivener overlooked some of them?

The concert being at such a distance that the emperor could not hear very well, instruments were brought into the royal presence: a lute for Prince Hotaru, a Japanese koto for Tō no Chūjō, for the retired emperor a thirteen-stringed Chinese koto, and for Genji, as always, a seven-stringed Chinese koto. They must all play for him, said the emperor. They were accomplished musicians and they outdid themselves, and the concert could not have been finer. Numerous courriers were happy to sing the lyrics, “How Grand the Day” and “Cherry–Blossom Girl” and the rest. A misty moon came up, flares were set out on the island, and the festivities came to an end.

Though it was very late, the emperor thought it would be rude to ignore Lady Kokiden, the Suzaku emperor’s mother. He looked in on her as he started back for the palace. Genji was with him. An old lady now, she was very pleased. Genji thought of Fujitsubo. It seemed wrong that of his father’s ladies the one should be living so long and the other should have died so soon.

“I am old and forgetful,” said Kokiden, weeping, “but your kind visit brings everything back.”

“Having lost the ones whom I so depended upon,” the emperor replied, “I have scarcely been able to detect the arrival of spring, but this interview quite restores my serenity. I shall call upon you from time to time, if I may.”

Genji too said that he would call again. Kokiden was disconcerted by the grandeur of the procession as they made a somewhat hasty departure. What sort of memories would Genji have of her and her better days? She was sorry now for what she had done. It had been his destiny to rule, and she had been able to change nothing. Her sister Oborozukiyo, with little else to occupy her thoughts, found them turning to the past, in which there was much to muse upon and be moved by. It would seem that she still contrived, on this occasion and that, to get off a note to Genji. Kokiden was always finding fault with the management of her stipends and allowances, and grumbling about her misfortune in having lived on into so inferior a reign. She complained so much, indeed, that not even her son could bear her company.

Yūgiri’s graduation poem was proclaimed a masterpiece and he received his degree. Only the most advanced and promising scholars were permitted to take the examinations and only three of them passed. At the autumn levy he was promoted to the Fifth Rank and made a chamberlain. Kumoinokari was never out of his thoughts, but he was not prepared to take the extreme measures that would be necessary to elude her watchful father. He was unhappy, of course, and so was she.

Genji had been thinking that he needed more room for the leisurely life which was now his. He wanted to have everyone near him, including the people who were still off in the country. He had bought four parks in Rokujō, near the eastern limits of the city and including the lands of the Rokujō lady.

Prince Hyōbu, Murasaki’s father, would be fifty next year. She busied herself with preparations for the event. Genji had concluded that further aloofness would be mean-spirited. He gave orders that his new Rokujō place be finished in time for the celebrations.

With the New Year they occupied still more of Murasaki’s time. There was a division of effort, Genji troubling himself with dancing and music for the banquet after the religious services and Murasaki concentrating on the services themselves, the decorations for the scriptures and images, the robes, the offerings, and the like. The lady of the orange blossoms was a great help to her. On better terms than ever, they kept up a lively and elegant correspondence.

Prince Hyōbu presently heard of these preparations, of which everyone was talking. Though Genji was generally thought to be a kind and thoughtful man, his kindness had thus far not reached the prince. Indeed, Genji seemed almost to devise occasions for humiliating him and his family. Unpleasantness followed unpleasantness until the prince had to conclude that Genji harbored singularly durable grudges. It was good all the same that Murasaki should be his favorite. Not much of the glory brushed off on the prince, but still she was his daughter. And now all this, the whole world was talking. It was an unexpected honor in his declining years.

His wife was not so easily pleased. Indeed, she was more resentful than ever. Her own daughter had gone to court, and what had Genji done for her?

The new Rokujō mansion was finished in the Eighth Month and people began moving in. The southwest quarter, including her mother’s lands, was assigned to Akikonomu as her home away from the palace. The northeast quarter wag assigned to the lady of the orange blossoms, who had occupied the east lodge at Nijō, and the northwest quarter to the lady from Akashi. The wishes of the ladies themselves were consulted in designing the new gardens, a most pleasant arrangement of lakes and hills.

The hills were high in the southeast quarter, where spring-blossoming trees and bushes were planted in large numbers. The lake was most ingeniously designed. Among the plantings in the forward parts of the garden were cinquefoil pines, maples, cherries, wisteria, yamabuki, and rock azalea, most of them trees and shrubs whose season was spring. Touches of autumn too were scattered through the groves.

In Akikonomu’s garden the plantings, on hills left from the old garden, were chosen for rich autumn colors. Clear spring water went singing off into the distance, over rocks designed to enhance the music. There was a waterfall, and the whole expanse was like an autumn moor. Since it was now autumn, the garden was a wild profusion of autumn flowers and leaves, such as to shame the hills of Oi.

In the northeast quarter there was a cool natural spring and the plans had the summer sun in mind. In the forward parts of the garden the wind through thickets of Chinese bamboo would be cool in the summer, and the trees were deep and mysterious as mountain groves. There was a hedge of mayflower, and there were oranges to remind the lady of days long gone. There were wild carnations and roses and gentians and a few spring and autumn flowers as well. A part of the quarter was fenced off for equestrian grounds. Since the Fifth Month would be its liveliest time, there were irises along the lake. On the far side were stables where the finest of horses would be kept.

And finally the northwest quarter: beyond artificial hillocks to the north were rows of warehouses, screened off by pines which would be beautiful in new falls of snow. The chrysanthemum hedge would bloom in the morning frosts of early winter, when also a grove of “mother oaks” would display its best hues. And in among the deep groves were mountain trees which one would have been hard put to identify.

The move was made at about the time of the equinox. The plan was that everyone would move together, but Akikonomu was loath to make such an occasion of it and chose to come a few days later. The lady of the orange blossoms, docile and unassertive as ever, moved on the same evening as Murasaki.

Murasaki’s spring garden was out of its season but very beautiful all the same. There were fifteen women’s carriages in her procession. The attendants, in modest numbers, were of the Fourth and Fifth ranks and less prominently of the Sixth Rank, all of them men who had long been close to Genji and his house. Genji did not want to be criticized for extravagance or ostentation, and the arrangements were generally austere. The two ladies were given virtually the same treatment, with Yūgiri seeing to the needs of the lady of the orange blossoms. Everyone thought this most proper.

The women’s rooms were apPointed with great care, down to the smallest details. How nice everything was, they said, and their own arrangements were the nicest of all.

Akikonomu moved into her new lodgings five or six days later. Though she had specified that the arrangements be simple, they were in fact rather grand. She had of course been singled out for remarkable honors, but she was of a calm and retiring nature, much esteemed by the whole court.

There were elaborate walls and galleries with numerous passageways this way and that among the several quarters, so that the ladies could live apart and still be friendly.

The Ninth Month came and Akikonomu’s garden was resplendent with autumn colors. On an evening when a gentle wind was blowing she arranged leaves and flowers on the lid of an ornamental box and sent them over to Murasaki. Her messenger was a rather tall girl in a singlet of deep purple, a robe of lilac lined with blue, and a gossamer cloak of saffron. She made her practiced way along galleries and verandas and over the soaring bridges that joined them, with the dignity that became her estate, and yet so pretty that the eyes of the whole house were upon her. Everything about her announced that she had been trained to the highest service.

This was Akikonomu’s poem, presented with the gift:

“Your garden quietly awaits the spring.

Permit the winds to bring a touch of autumn.”

The praise which Murasaki’s women showered on the messenger did not at all displease her. Murasaki sent back an arrangement of moss on the same box, with a cinquefoil pine against stones suggesting cliffs. A poem was tied to a branch of the pine:

“Fleeting, your leaves that scatter in the wind.

The pine at the cliffs is forever green with the spring.”

One had to look carefully to see that the pine was a clever fabrication. Akikonomu was much impressed that so ingenious a response should have come so quickly. Her women were speechless.

“I think you were unnecessarily tart,” said Genji to Murasaki. “You should wait until your spring trees are in bloom. What will the goddess of Tatsuta think when she hears you belittling the best of autumn colors? Reply from strength, when you have the force of your spring blossoms to support you.” He was looking wonderfully young and handsome.

There were more such exchanges, in this most tasteful of houses.

The Akashi lady thought that she should wait until the grand ladies had moved and then make her own quiet move. She did so in the Tenth Month. With an eye on his daughter’s future, Genji took great care that nothing about her retinue or the appointments of her rooms suggest inferiority.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/murasaki-shikibu/tale-of-genji/chapter21.html

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