The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 30

Purple Trousers

Everyone was urging Tamakazura to become wardress of the ladies’ apartments, but she did not feel safe even from Genji, who had put himself in charge of her affairs. She feared that she would be helpless if untoward incidents were to arise at court and that she would be an embarrassment to the sister already there. She still did not know either of the two gentlemen, Genji or Tō no Chūjō, well enough to feel that she could count on him. The world did not hold her in such high esteem that it would refrain from laughing if irregularities were to be detected in her affairs. Everywhere she looked she saw difficulties. Old enough to be aware of all the implications, she felt completely alone.

It was true that Genji was treating her well enough, but the difficulties in her relations with him were enormous. She only hoped that she might emerge unscathed from arrangements that must seem very odd to everyone.

Out of deference to Genji, Tō no Chūjō did not seem prepared to assume paternal responsibilities. There were difficulties on both sides, and so it seemed that romantic tangles and gossip must be her lot. The fact that her real father now knew of her circumstances seemed to have released her foster father from his inhibitions and so made matters worse.

She had no mother to whom she might have revealed at least a part of her troubles. Genji and Tō no Chūjō were so grand and remote that they had little time for her. She was very beautiful indeed as she sat out near the veranda looking up into a sad evening sky, lost in thought about her remarkably complex problems. She was in light-gray mourning, her beauty the more striking for the want of color. Her women smiled with Pleasure.

Yūgiri came calling, very handsome in informal court robes of a somewhat deeper gray. The ribbons of his cap were tied up in sign of mourning. She had been friendly enough in the days when he had thought her his sister, and it did not seem right to be suddenly cool and distant. She received him at her curtains as before and dispensed with the services of an intermediary. He had been sent by Genji with a message from the emperor.

She was friendly but cautious, ladylike though mindful of her own interests. He had not forgotten the glimpse he had had of her the morning after the typhoon. At the time he had not thought it proper to be interested in her, but now the situation seemed to demand action. He could not understand why Genji wanted her to go to court. Perhaps her beauty was causing difficulties here at Rokujō.

He managed to hide his excitement. “I was informed that the matter must be considered highly confidential,” he said, looking pointedly at the women, who looked away as they withdrew behind curtains.

In great detail and very plausibly, he gave instructions from Genji which in fact he had made up. The emperor, he said, had intentions against which she must be on her guard. He thought her sighs charming, indeed irresistible, as she sought in vain for an answer.

“We were to come out of mourning this month, but it seems that examination of the almanacs did not yield an auspicious day. Father has said that he means to go to the river on the thirteenth and end his own mourning. I am to go along.”

“I think it would perhaps attract attention if I were to go with you. Perhaps I should arrange my own services, as quietly as possible.” She was being very careful indeed, not yet wanting to make public avowal of her reasons for having gone into mourning.

“You are too cautious. But I hate the thought myself of changing these dark clothes. They are reminders of a lady who was very dear to me. I must confess that I do not know why you are still living here. If you were not in mourning I might not know even now whose daughter you are.”

“I am not very quick at these things and I am sure that I am more puzzled than you are. Dark clothes do bring on sad thoughts.” She seemed more subdued than usual. She delighted him.

Perhaps thinking that there would not be another occasion to let her know of his interest, he had come provided with a fine bouquet of “purple trousers.”

“We may find in these flowers a symbol of the bond between us.” He pushed them under her curtains and caught at her sleeve as she reached for them.

“Dew-drenched purple trousers: I grieve as you do.

And long for the smallest hint that you understand.”

Was this his own hint that he hoped for a union at “journey’s end?” Not wanting to show her displeasure openly, she pretended that she did not understand and withdrew a little deeper into the room.

“It grew, if you ask, in the dews of a distant moor.

That purple is false which tells of anything nearer.

“I think perhaps this conversation will mark our nearest approach.”

He smiled, “You are a lady of discrimination. The fact is that I have held myself back because I feared full knowledge of the truth would make you more difficult. The truth is that not even the august summons to court has been enough to quell my ardor. Perhaps I should follow the suggestion of the channel buoys.

“Did you know that Kashiwagi was interested in you? And can you have thought that his interest did not interest me? Now that our positions are reversed I feel quite powerless, and rather envious of him, free to see you for a friendly talk whenever he wishes. Do at least pity me.”

He said a great deal more, but of such a questionable nature that I shall not try to describe it.

She withdrew yet further into the room.

“This is very unfriendly of you. You must know that I am not a man to do anything rash.” Though he had not finished, she said that she was not feeling well and withdrew. With many a deep sigh he left.

He was beginning to fear that he had overreached himself. What a pleasure, he thought wistfully as he went to Genji’s rooms, if even through curtains he might hear the voice of the lady more beautiful even than Tamakazura.

“I rather think,” said Genji, “that Prince Hotaru was making progress. He is a very experienced man and he seems to have pleaded his case very eloquently. In any event, she had not been enthusiastic about going to court. And so he is to be disappointed? A pity; but that glimpse of His Majesty seems to have changed her mind completely. A glimpse is enough be so when I made these arrangements for her.”

“Which of the two solutions would best fit her temperament? I wonder. Her Majesty has no real competition for His Majesty’s affections, and the other lady is in a very strong position because of her father. I really doubt very much that Tamakazura can make enough of an impression on His Majesty to join in the competition. Prince Hotaru does seem to be very much drawn to her, and people are saying what a pity it would be if anything were to come between two brothers as close as you and he. They expect him to be very disappointed indeed even if she does not become one of the ladies of the bedchamber.” These were very mature remarks from so young a gentleman.

“It is very difficult. Higekuro seems to be annoyed with me too, quite as if her arrangements were mine to make. Her life is very complicated and I thought I should do what I could for her. And the result is that I am unjustly reproached by both of them. I should have been more careful. I could not forget her mother’s last request, and one day I heard that she was off in the far provinces. When she said that her father refused to listen to her troubles, I had to feel sorry for her and offer to help her. I think her father is finally beginning to treat her like a human being because of the interest I have taken in her.” It was a consistent enough account of what had happened.

“I think she might make my brother a good wife,” he continued. “She is a lively, modern sort of girl, much too clever to make any serious mistakes. They would get on very well together, I am sure. And on the other hand she seems beautifully qualified for service at court. She is pretty and efficient and even-tempered and well informed in matters of ceremony and precedent — exactly what His Majesty is looking for.”

Yūgiri wished to probe further. “People seem a little curious about your reasons for being so good to her. Even her father hinted to a messenger from General Higekuro at what he thought might be your deeper reasons.”

Genji smiled. “People imagine too much. I shall defer entirely to her father’s wishes. I shall be quite happy if he sends her to court, and if he finds a husband for her that will be splendiettoo. A woman must obey three men in her life, and it would not do for her to get the order wrong.”

“Someone I know was saying the other day that Tō no Chūjō is filled with secret admiration at the way you have arranged things. You have several ladies whose place in your life cannot be challenged, he seems to be thinking, and it would not do to add to their number at this late date; and so you mean to get her an appointment at court and still keep her for yourself.” He could not have been accused of indirection. he So matters would doubtless seem to Tō no Chūjō. Genji was sorry that it should be so.

“He has a suspicious sort of mind, probably because it is at the same time such a thorough mind. But he will see the truth soon enough if we let things take their course. Yes, a very thoroughgoing sort of man.”

Though his father’s manner was cheerfully open, Yūgiri still had doubts. Genji himself could not dismiss the problem quite as easily as he pretended. It would serve neither Tamakazura’s interests nor his own to play the role which rumor had evidently assigned him. He must find an opportunity to assure Tō no Chūjō of his real intentions. And he was uncomfortable that Tō no Chūjō had guessed certain of his reasons for leaving Tamakazura’s position at court somewhat equivocal and badly defined.

She had emerged from mourning. Since the Ninth Month would not be propitious for her court debut, a date in the Tenth Month was fixed upon. The emperor was very impatient and her suitors were beside themselves. Tearfully, they besought their intermediaries to forestall the event. They might as well have requested the damming of Yoshinorea11s. Word came back that the prospect was next to hopeless.

Regretting his earlier loquacity, Yūgiri had made Tamakazura’s business his own. He hoped that impersonal services, a wide variety of which he now undertook, would correct the unfavorable impression he must surely have made. He was in firm control of himself. No indiscretion would be permitted.

Her brothers were of course no longer among her suitors. They waited impatiently for her appearance at court, when they might be of service to her. The change in Kashiwagi, until but yesterday the picture of desolate yearning, amused her women. He came calling one moonlit night and took shelter under a laurel tree, no public announcement having yet been made of her identity, as he sent in word that he had brought a message from his father. Received at the south door, he smiled wryly as he thought how she had refused even to accept his letters. She was still shy about addressing him, however, and sent back her answers through Saishō.

“I rather think that Father expected the message to go directly to my sister and not to travel these impossible distances. Why otherwise would he have chosen me for his messenger? You must forgive me if I seem insistent. I may not be a very important man, but it is a well-known fact that the bond between us is one which we could not cut even if we wished to. But enough. I sound like a complaining old man. Let me only add that your lady has been important to me.”

Again the answer came back through Saishō. “Yes, it would have been good to have a long talk about things that have happened over the years. Unfortunately I have not been feeling well these last few days and would not be good company if I were to drag myself out and receive you. You are being rather insistent, and you make me feel shy and uncomfortable.”

“If you are ill, may I not come to your bedside? But you are right: I must watch my manners.” He lowered his voice as he transmitted his father’s message. Saishō did not think that he compared at all badly with her suitors. “Though Father is not as well informed as he might be in the matter of your court appointment, there are perhaps confidential matters which you will wish to discuss with him. He feels that he is being watched, he says, and that it would be even more difficult than it might once have been to see you.” And he added a few words of his own: “l shall not forget myself again, even though your refusal to be friendly bothers me a great deal. Look at us now, for instance. I should have hoped for the privilege of your north porch at least, where I might have made the acquaintance of some of your less well-known ladies, however odd Saishō might have thought me. Where do you find a precedent for this unfriendliness? We are, after all, fairly close to each other.”

Saishō found his complaints rather endearing She liked his bemused way of cocking his head to one side as he contemplated his unhappiness. She passed the message on to her lady.

“It is as you have suggested.” The answer was to the point “Too long an interview would without doubt attract attention, and so I must for the moment forgo the pleasure of a long conversation about my years of obscurity.”

Somewhat intimidated, he offered only a verse in reply:

“I did not know it was Sibling Mountain we climbed,

And came to a halt on hostile Odae Bridge.”

It was a futile complaint about unhappiness of his own making.

This was her answer:

“Not knowing that you did not know, I found

Your tracks up Sibling Mountain strange indeed.”

“Your remarks seem to have puzzled my lady,” said Saishō. “She is very much concerned about appearances. Though I do not doubt that matters will presently change, she finds it impossible to speak with you furthe?”

She was right, of course. “Yes, I suppose it is still too early for a good conversation,” he said, getting up to leave. “I shall come again when a complaint about the debt for my accumulated services seems called for.”

There was a bright moon high in the sky, which was a lovely one. He was very handsome in lively, informal court dress. Though not perhaps as handsome as Yūgiri, said the women, he was certainly handsomer than most of them. Such remarkable good looks as did run in that family!

An officer in the guards division of which Higekuro was the commander, Kashiwagi was constantly being summoned for solemn conferences and had presented Higekuro’s suit to Tō no Chūjō. Higekuro was a man of the finest character, certain to become one of the most important statesmen in the land. Though Tō no Chūjō did not think that Tamakazura was likely to do better, he would defer to Genji’s wishes. Genji must have his reasons, some of them, perhaps, of a highly personal nature.

Higekuro was the crown prince’s maternal uncle, lower in the royal esteem only than Genji and Tō no Chūjō. In his early thirties, he was married to the eldest daughter of Prince Hyōbu and so was Murasaki’s brother-in-law. It need not have been cause for embarrassment that his wife was three or four years his senior, but for some reason he had never been really fond of her. He called her “the old woman” and would have been happy enough to divorce her. It was for this reason, perhaps, that Genji did not welcome his suit and thought that Tamakazura would be making a mistake to encourage it. Higekuro was not of an amorous nature and no scandal had been associated with his name; but now he had lost his senses over Tamakazura. Tō no Chūjō did not think him at all beneath contempt and Tamakazura did not seem enthusiastic about going to court. Higekuro had a good informant who kept him apprised of these matters in considerable detail.

“Genji does not seem to like me,” he said to Bennomoto, one of her women, who had become his agent. “We must see that the wishes of her real father are respected.”

The Ninth Month came. On that magically beautiful morning of the first frost the usual notes were brought in by the usual women, messengers for her several suitors. She had them read to her.

This one was from Higekuro:

“Hateful the Long Month to those who are sure of themselves.

I hang, as if for my life, on each fleeting day.

“The days upon which I had fastened my hopes pass in empty futility and the autumn skies bring the most intense anxiety.”

He thus made it clear that he was keeping himself well informed.

Anasthis from Prince Hotaru: “There is no point in questioning a firm and final decision, and yet,

“Warm though it be in the radiant morning sun,

Let the jeweled bamboo not forget the frost beneath.

“A word of reassurance and understanding would suffice to quiet the turmoil of my thoughts.”

It was attached to a sprig of bamboo curled by the frost which still lay upon it. The choice of a messenger had been as careful.

Murasaki had a brother who held a guards commission. On friendly terms with the Rokujō house, he too had informed himself well of Tamakazura’s affairs and was much disappointed by the turn they were taking. Among his rather lengthy complaints was this poem:

“Difficult it is to try to forget.

What shall I do about you, about myself?”

Each of these several notes was superior in all of its details, the color of the paper, the perfume that had been burned into it, the modulations of the ink. Such gentlemen, said her women, must be kept interested. ck Whatever she may have had in mind, Tamakazura replied briefly to Prince Hotaru’s letter only.

“Not the sunflower, choosing to follow the sun,

Forgets so soon the morning frost beneath.”

The faint, delicate hand quite fascinated him. Though as fragile as the dew, it was at least favorable notice.

There is nothing further to record, save that the complaining went on.

And, one is told, both ministers, her real father and her foster father, thought her behavior a model which other ladies would do well to imitate.

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