The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 28

The Typhoon

In Akikonomu’s autumn garden the plantings were more beautiful by the day. All of the autumn colors were gathered together, and emphasized by low fences of black wood and red. Though the flowers were familiar, they somehow seemed different here. The morning and evening dews were like gem-studded carpets. So wide that it seemed to merge with the autumn fields, this autumn garden made the women forget Murasaki’s spring garden, which had so pleased them a few months before. They quite lost themselves in its cool beauties. The autumn side has always had the larger number of adherents in the ancient debate over the relative merits of spring and autumn. Women who had been seduced by the spring garden (so it is in this world) were now seduced by the autumn.

Akikonomu was in residence. Music seemed called for, but the anniversary of her father’s death came this Eighth Month. Though she was fearful for the well-being of her flowers as autumn deepened, they seemed only to be brighter and fresher. But then came a typhoon, more savage than in most years. Falling flowers are always sad, but to see the dews scatter like jewels from a broken strand was for her almost torment. The great sleeve which the poet had wanted as a defense against the spring winds she wanted against those of the autumn. The storm raged into the night, dark and terrible. Behind lowered shutters Akikonomu worried about her autumn flowers.

Murasaki’s southeast garden had been pruned and otherwise readied for winter, but the wind was more than “the little hagi” had been waiting for. Its branches turned and twisted and offered no place for the raindrops. Murasaki came out to the veranda. Genji was with his daughter. Approaching along the east gallery, Yūgiri saw over a low screen that a door was open at a corner of the main hall. He stopped to look at the women inside. The screens having been folded and put away, the view was unobstructed. The lady at the veranda — it would be Murasaki. Her noble beauty made him think of a fine birch cherry blooming through the hazes of spring. It was a gentle flow which seemed to come to him and sweep over him. She laughed as her women fought with the unruly blinds, though he was too far away to make out what she said to them, and the bloom was more radiant. She stood surveying the scene, seeing what the winds had done to each of the flowers. Her women were all very pretty too, but he did not really look at them. It almost frightened him to think why Genji had so kept him at a distance. Such beauty was irresistible, and just such inadvertencies as this were to be avoided at all costs.

As he started to leave, Genji came through one of the doors to the west, separating Murasaki’s rooms from his daughter’s.

“An irritable, impatient sort of wind,” he said. “You must close your shutters. There are men about and you are very visible.”

Yūgiri looked back. Smiling at Murasaki, Genji was so young and handsome that Yūgiri found it hard to believe he was looking at his own father. Murasaki too was at her best. Nowhere could there be a nearer approach to perfection than the two of them, thought Yūgiri, with a stabbing thrill of pleasure. The wind had blown open the shutters along the gallery to make him feel rather exposed. He withdrew. Then, going up to the veranda, he coughed as if to announce that he had just arrived.

“See,” said Genji, pointing to the open door. “You have been quite naked.”

Nothing of the sort had been permitted through all the years. Winds can move boulders and they had reduced the careful order to disarray, and so permitted the remarkable pleasure that had just been Yūgiri’s.

Some men had come up to see what repairs were needed. “We are in for a real storm,” they said. “It’s blowing from the northeast and you aren’t getting the worst of it here. The stables and the angling pavilion could blow away any minute.”

“And where are you on your way from?” Genji asked Yūgiri.

“I was at Grandmother’s, but with all the talk of the storm I was worried about you. But they’re worse off at Sanjō than you are here. The roar of the wind had Grandmother trembling like a child. I think perhaps if you don’t mind I’ll go back.”

“Do, please. It doesn’t seem fair that people should be more childish as they get older, but it is what we all have to look forward to.”

He gave his son a message for the old lady: “It is a frightful storm, but I am sure that Yūgiri is taking good care of you.”

Though the winds were fierce all the way to Sanjō, Yūgiri’s sense of duty prevailed. He looked in on his father and his grandmother every day except when the court was in retreat. His route, even when public affairs and festivals were keeping him very busy, was from his own rooms to his father’s and so to Sanjō and the palace. Today he was even more dutiful, hurrying around under black skies as if trying to keep ahead of the wind.

His grandmother was delighted. “In all my long years I don’t think I have ever seen a worse storm.” She was trembling violently.

Great branches were rent from trees with terrifying explosions. Tiles were flying through the air in such numbers that the roofs must at any moment be stripped bare.

“It was very brave of you.”

Yūgiri had been her chief comfort since her husband’s death. Little was left for her of his glory. Though one could not have said that the world had forgotten her, it does change and move on. She felt closer to Yūgiri than to her son, Tō no Chūjō.

Yūgiri was jumpy and fretful as he sat listening to the howl of the wind. That glimpse of Murasaki had driven away the image that was so much with him. He tried to think of other things. This would not do, indeed it was rather terrible. But the same image was back again a moment after he had driven it away. There could have been few examples in the past of such beauty, nor were there likely to be many in the future. He thought of the lady of the orange blossoms. It was sad for her, but comparison was not possible. How admirable it had been of Genji not to discard so ill-favored a lady! Yūgiri was a very staid and sober young man who did not permit himself wanton thoughts, but he went on thinking wistfully of the years it would add to a man’s life to be with such beauty day and night.

The storm quieted toward dawn, though there were still intermittent showers. Reports came that several of the outbuildings at Rokujō had collapsed. Yūgiri was worried about the lady of the orange blossoms. The Rokujō grounds were vast and the buildings grand, and Genji’s southeast quarter would without question have been well guarded. Less well guarded, the lady of the orange blossoms must have had a perilous time in her northeast quarter. He set off for Rokujō before it was yet full daylight. The wind was still strong enough to drive a chilly rain through the carriage openings. Under unsettled skies, he felt very unsettled himself, as if his spirit had flown off with the winds. Another source of disquiet had been added to what had seemed sufficient disquiet already, and it was of a strange and terrible kind, pointing the way to insanity.

He went first to the northeast quarter, where he found the lady of the orange blossoms in a state of terror and exhaustion. He did what he could to soothe her and gave orders for emergency repairs. Then he went to Genji’s southeast quarter. The shutters had not yet been raised Leaning against the balustrade of the veranda, he surveyed the damage. Trees had been uprooted on the hillocks and branches lay strewn over the garden. The flowers were an almost complete loss. The garden was a clutter of shingles and tiles and shutters and fences. The wan morning light was caught by raindrops all across the sad expanse. Black clouds seethed and boiled overhead. He coughed to announce his presence.

“Yūgiri is with us already.” It was Genji’s voice. “And here it is not yet daylight.”

There was a reply which Yūgiri did not catch, and Genji laughed and said: “Not even in our earliest days together did you know the parting at dawn so familiar to other ladies. You may find it painful at first.”

This sort of bedroom talk had a very disturbing effect on a young man. Yūgiri could not hear Murasaki’s answers, but Genji’s jocular manner gave a sense of a union so close and perfect that no wedge could enter.

Genji himself raised the shutters. Yūgiri withdrew a few steps, not wishing to be seen quite so near at hand.

“And how were things with your grandmother? I imagine she was very pleased to see you.”

“She did seem pleased. She weeps much too easily, and I had rather a time of it.”

Genji smiled. “She does not have many years left ahead of her. You must be good to her. She complains about that son of hers. He lacks the finer qualities of sympathy and understanding, she says. He does have a flamboyant strain and a way of brushing things impatiently aside. When it comes to demonstrating filial piety he puts on almost too good a show, and one senses a certain carelessness in the small things that really matter. But I do not wish to speak ill of him. He is a man of superior intelligence and insight, and more talented than this inferior age of ours deserves. He can be a bother at times, but there are not many men with so few faults. But what a storm. I wonder if Her Majesty’s men took proper care of her.”

He sent Yūgiri with a message. “How did the screaming winds treat you? I had an attack of chills just as they were their lunatic worst, and so the hours went by and I was not very attentive. You must forgive me.”

Yūgiri was very handsome in the early-morning light as he made his way along a gallery and through a door to Akikonomu’s southwest quarter. He could see from the south veranda of the east wing that two shutters and several blinds had been raised at the main hall. Women were visible in the dim light beyond. Two or three had come forward and were leaning against the balustrades. Who might they be? Though in casual dress, they managed to look very elegant in multicolored robes that blended pleasantly in the twilight. Akikonomu had sent some little girls to lay out insect cages in the damp garden. They had on robes of lavender and pink and various deeper shades of purple, and yellow-green jackets lined with green, all appropriately autumnal hues. Disappearing and reappearing among the mists, they made a charming picture. Four and five of them with cages of several colors were walking among the wasted flowers, picking a wild carnation here and another flower there for their royal lady. The wind seemed to bring a scent from even the scentless asters, most delightfully, as if Akikonomu’s own sleeves had brushed them. Thinking it improper to advance further without announcing himself, Yūgiri quietly made his presence known and stepped forward. The women withdrew inside, though with no suggestion of surprise or confusion. Still a child when Akikonomu had gone to court, he had had the privilege of her inner chambers. Even now her women did not treat him as an outsider. Having delivered Genji’s message, he paused to talk of more personal matters with such old friends as Saishō and Naishi. For all the informality, Akikonomu maintained proud and strict discipline, the palpable presence of which made him think of the ladies who so occupied and disturbed his thoughts.

The shutters had meanwhile been raised in Murasaki’s quarter. She was looking out over her flowers, the cause of such regrets the evening before and now quite devastated.

Coming up to the stairs before the main hall, Yūgiri delivered a message from Akikonomu.

“Her Majesty was sure that you would protect her from the winds?” he said to Genji, “and thought it very foolish that she should be feeling sorry for herself. She added that your inquiries brought great comfort.”

“It is true that she has a timid strain in her. I imagine that she felt very badly protected with only women around her — and rather resentful too.”

As Genji raised the blinds to go inside and change into court dress that he might call on her, Yūgiri saw sleeves under a low curtain very near at hand. He knew whose they would be. His heart raced. Ashamed of himself, he looked away.

“See how handsome he is in the morning light,” Genji said softly to Murasaki as he knelt before a mirror. “We all know how badly illuminated a father’s heart is, and no doubt I have my blind spots. Yet I do think he is rather pleasant to look at. He is still a boy, of course.”

Probably he was thinking that for all the accumulated years he was still rather pleasant to look at himself. He was feeling a little nervous. “I am always on my mettle when I call upon Her Majesty. There is nothing exactly intimidating about her, but she always seems to have so much in reserve. That gentle surface conceals a very firm core.”

Coming out, he found Yūgiri sunk in thought and not immediately aware of his presence. Very much alive to such details, he went inside again.

“Do you suppose he might have seen you in the confusion last night? The corner door was open, you know.”

“How could he possibly have?” Murasaki flushed. “I am very sure that there was no one outside.”

Very strange all the same, thought Genji.

While he was having his audience with Akikonomu, Yūgiri made light talk with the women who had gathered at the gallery door. They thought him unusually subdued.

Genji next went to inquire after the Akashi lady. Though she had not summoned her steward, there were competent gardeners among her women. They were down tending the flowers. Little girls, very pretty in informal dress, were righting the trellises over which her favored gentians and morning glories had been trained. She was at the veranda playing an impromptu elegy on her koto. He took note of her admirable attention to the proprieties: hearing him come up, she reached for a cloak on a nearby rack and slipped it over her soft robes. He sat down beside her and made his inquiries and was on his way once more.

She whispered to herself:

“Even the wind that rustles the leaves of the reeds

Is with me longer in my lonely vigil.”

In terror through much of the night, Tamakazura had slept late and was just now at her morning toilet. Genji silenced his men and came softly up beside her. Screens and other furnishings were stacked untidily in a corner and the rooms were in considerable disarray. The sunlight streamed in upon almost startlingly fresh beauty. Genji sat down to make his inquiries, and it annoyed her that he managed to give even them a suggestive note.

“Your behavior,” she said, “has been such that I rather hoped last night to be carried off by the wind.”

Genji was amused. “How rash of you — though I have no doubt that you had a particular destination in mind. So I displease you more and more all the time, do I? Well, that is as it should be.”

Her thoughts exactly. She too had to smile, a glowing smile that was very lovely indeed. A glow like a hōzuki berry came through rich strands of hair. If he had been searching for faults, he might have pointed out that she smiled too broadly; but it was a very small fault.

Waiting through this apparently intimate tête-à-tête, Yūgiri caught sight of a somewhat disarranged curtain behind the corner blinds. Raising it over the frame, he found that he had a clear view deep into the room. He was rather startled at what he saw. They were father and daughter, to be sure, but it was not as if she were an infant for Genji to take in his arms, as he seemed about to do. Though on ready alert lest he be detected, Yūgiri was spellbound. The girl turned away and sought to hide behind a pillar, and as Genji pulled her towards him her hair streamed over her face, hiding it from Yūgiri’s view. Though obviously very uncomfortable, she let him have his way. They seemed on very intimate terms indeed. Yūgiri was a little shocked and more than a little puzzled. Genji knew all about women, there could be no question of that. Perhaps because he had not had her with him to fret and worry over since girlhood it was natural that he should feel certain amorous impulses towards her. It was natural, but also repellent. Yūgiri felt somehow ashamed, as if it were in a measure his responsibility. She was a half sister and not a full sister and he saw that he could himself be tempted. She was very tempting. She was not perhaps the equal of the other lady of whom he had recently had a glimpse, but she brought a smile of pleasure all the same. She would not have seemed in hopeless competition with Murasaki. He thought of a rich profusion of yamabuki sparkling with dew in the evening twilight. The image was of spring and not autumn, of course, but it was the one that came to him all the same. Indeed she might be thought even more beautiful than the yamabuki, which after all has its ragged edges and untidy stamens.

They seemed to be talking in whispers, unaware, of course, that they were being observed.

Suddenly very serious, Genji stood up. He softly repeated a poem which the girl had recited in tones too low for Yūgiri to hear:

“The tempest blows, the maiden flower has fears

That the time has come for it to fade and die.”

It brought both revulsion and fascination. But he could stay no longer.

He hoped he had misunderstood his father’s answer:

“If it gives itself up to the dew beneath the tree,

It need not fear, the maiden flower, the winds.

“It should look to the example of the pliant bamboo.”

He went next to see the lady of the orange blossoms. Perhaps because the weather had suddenly turned chilly and she had not been expecting guests, her older women were at their sewing and her younger women were pressing bolts of cotton on long, narrow boxes of some description. Scattered about the room were red silks beaten to a soft luster and gossamers of a delicate saffron.

“Underrobes for Yūgiri? What a pity that you should have gone to so much trouble when the royal garden party is sure to be called off. Every- thing has been blown to pieces. We are going to have a wasted and unlovely sort of autumn.”

The fabrics were very beautiful indeed. She was every bit as accomplished at this sort of thing as Murasaki. A cloth with a floral pattern, just out of the dyeing vats, was to become an informal court robe for Genji himself. The dyes, from new flowers, were excellent.

“It would suit Yūgiri better,” he said as he left. “It is a little too youthful for me.”

Yūgiri was not happy at being taken on this round of calls. There was a letter which he wished to get off and soon it would be noon.

He went to his sister’s rooms.

“She is over in the other wing,” said her nurse. “She was so frightened at the storm that we could not get her out of bed this morning.”

“It was an awful storm. I meant to stay with you, but my grandmother was in such a state that I really couldn’t. And how did our dollhouses come through?”

The women laughed. “Even the breeze from a fan sends her into a terror, and last night we thought the roof would come down on us any minute. The dollhouses required a great deal of battening and shoring.”

“Do you have a scrap of paper? Anything will do. And maybe I could borrow an inkstone from one of you?”

A woman went to one of her mistress’s cupboards and came back with several rolls of paper laid out on a writing box.

“This is too good.” But he thought of the Akashi lady and decided that he need not feel overawed. He wrote his letter, choosing a purple tissue paper. He ground the ink carefully and was very handsome as he gazed meditatively at the tip of his brush. Yet his poem had a somewhat stiff and academic sound to it:

“Even on a night of raging tempests

I did not forget the one whom I do not forget.”

He tied it to a rush broken by the wind.

“The lieutenant of Katano,” said the women, “was always careful to have the flower or the grass match the paper.”

“I do not seem up to these fine distinctions. What flower or grass would you suggest?” He had few words for these women and kept them at a distance.

He wrote another note and gave both to a cavalry officer who in turn passed them on, with whispered instructions, to a pretty little page and a guardsman accustomed to such services. The young women were overcome with curiosity.

They were busy getting the rooms in order, for word had come that their mistress was returning. After the other beauties he had seen in recent hours, Yūgiri wondered what floral image his sister would call to mind. She had not much interested him, but now he took a crouched position behind a swinging door and, pulling a blind over himself, looked through an opening in the curtains. She came into the room. He was annoyed at the furniture that stood in the way and at all the women passing back and forth. But she was charming, a tiny thing in a lavender robe, her hair, which did not yet reach to her feet, spreading out like a fan. She had blossomed wonderfully in the two years since he had last seen her. What a beauty she would presently be! He had likened the other two ladies to the cherry and the yamabuki — and might he liken his sister to the wisteria? There was just such elegance in wisteria trailing from a high tree and waving in the breeze. How good if he could look upon these ladies quite as he wished, morning and night. He saw no reason why he should not, since it was all in the family, but Genji had other ideas and was very strict about keeping him away from them — and so created restless yearnings in this most proper of young men.

Going now to Sanjō, he found his grandmother at her devotions. The young women who waited upon her were far above the ordinary, but in manner and appearance they could not compete with the women at Rokujō. Yet a nunnery could have its own sort of somber beauty.

Lamps were lighted. Tō no Chūjō came for a quiet talk with his mother.

Everything made the old lady weep. “It seems altogether too much that you should keep Kumoinokari from me.”

“I will have her come and see you very soon. She is all tangled up in problems of her own making and has lost so much weight that we worry about her. I often think that a man does better not to have daughters. Everything they do brings new worries.”

He seemed to have an old grievance in mind. His mother concluded sadly that it would be well not to pursue the matter.

“I have found another daughter,” he smiled, “a somewhat outlandish and unmanageable one.”

“How very curious. I would certainly not have expected you to produce that sort of daughter.”

“I do have my troubles,” he replied (or so one is told). “I must arrange for you to meet your new granddaughter one of these days.”

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