The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu

Chapter 6

The Safflower

Though the years might forget “the evening face” that had been with him such a short time and vanished like the dew, Genji could not. His other ladies were proud and aloof, and her pretty charms were unlike any others he had known. Forgetting that the affair had ended in disaster, he would ask himself if he might not find another girl, pretty and of not too high a place in the world, with whom he might be as happy. He missed no rumor, however obscure, of a well-favored lady, and (for he had not changed) he felt confident in each instance that a brief note from him would not be ignored. The cold and unrelenting ones seemed to have too grand a notion of their place in the world, and when their proud ambition began to fail it failed completely and in the end they made very undistinguished marriages for themselves. His inquiries usually ended after a note or two.

He continued to have bitter thoughts about the governor’s wife, the lady of “the locust shell.” As for her stepdaughter, he favored her with notes, it would seem, when suitable occasions arose. He would have liked to see her again as he had seen her then, in dishabille by lamplight. He was a man whose nature made it impossible for him to forget a woman.

One of his old nurses, of whom he was only less fond than of Koremitsu’s mother, had a daughter named Tayū, a very susceptible young lady who was in court service and from time to time did favors for Genji. Her father belonged to a cadet branch of the royal family. Because her mother had gone off to the provinces with her present husband, the governor of Chikuzen, Tayū lived in her father’s house and went each day to court. She chanced to tell Genji that the late prince Hitachi had fathered a daughter in his old age. The princess had enjoyed every comfort while she had had him to dote upon her, but now she was living a sad, straitened life. Genji was much touched by the story and inquired further.

“I am not well informed, I fear, about her appearance and disposition. She lives by herself and does not see many people. On evenings when I think I might not be intruding, I sometimes have a talk with her through curtains and we play duets together. We have the koto as a mutual friend, you might say.”

“That one of the poet’s three friends is permitted to a lady, but not the next. You must let me hear her play sometime. Her father was very good at the koto. It does not seem likely that she would be less than remarkable herself.”

“I doubt, sir, that she could please so demanding an ear.”

“That was arch of you. We will pick a misty moonlit night and go pay a visit. You can manage a night off from your duties.”

Though she feared it would not be easy, they made their plans, choosing a quiet spring evening when little was happening at court. Tayū went on ahead to prince Hitachi’s mansion. Her father lived elsewhere and visited from time to time. Not being on very good terms with her step-mother, she preferred the Hitachi mansion, and she and the princess had become good friends.

Genji arrived as planned. The moon was beautiful, just past full.

“It seems a great pity,” said Tayū, “that this should not be the sort of night when a koto sounds best.”

“Do go over and urge her to play something, anything. Otherwise I will have come in vain.”

She showed him into her own rather cluttered room. She thought the whole adventure beneath his dignity, but went to the main hall even so. With the shutters still raised, a delicate fragrance of plum blossoms was wafted in.

She saw her chance. “On beautiful nights like this I think of your koto and wish we might become better acquainted. It seems a pity that I always have to rush off.”

“I fear that you have heard too much really fine playing. My own can hardly seem passable to someone who frequents the palace.”

Yet she reached for her koto. Tayū was very nervous, wondering what marks Genji would give the concert. She played a soft strain which in fact he found very pleasing. Her touch was not particularly distinguished, but the instrument was by no means ordinary, and he could see that she had inherited something of her father’s talent. She had been reared in old-fashioned dignity by a gentleman of the finest breeding, and now, in this lonely, neglected place, scarcely anything of the old life remained. She must have known all the varieties of melancholy. It was just such a spot that the old romancers chose for their most moving scenes. He would have liked to let her know of his presence, but did not want to seem forward.

A clever person, Tayū thought it would be best not to let Genji hear too much. “It seems to have clouded over,” she said. “I am expecting a caller and would not wish him to think I am avoiding him. I will come again and hope for the pleasure of hearing you at more considerable length.” And on this not very encouraging note she returned to her room.

“She stopped just too soon,” said Genji. “I was not able to tell how good she might be.” He was interested. “Perhaps if it is all the same you can arrange for me to listen from a little nearer at hand.”

Tayū thought it would be better to leave him as he was, in a state of suspense. “I fear not, sir. She is a lonely, helpless person, quite lost in her own thoughts. It is all very sad, and I would certainly not want to do anything that might distress her.”

She was right. He Must defer to the lady’s position. There were ranks and there were ranks, and it was in the lower of them that ladies did not always turn away sudden visitors.

“But do please give her some hint of my feelings.” He had another engagement and went quietly out.

“It amuses me sometimes to think that your royal father believes you to be excessively serious. I doubt that he ever sees you dressed for these expeditions.”

He smiled over his shoulder. “You do not seem in a very good position to criticize. If this sort of thing requires comment, then what are we to say of the behavior of certain ladies I know?”

She did not answer. Her somewhat indiscriminate ways invited such remarks.

Wondering if he might come upon something of interest in the main hall, he took cover behind a moldering, leaning section of bamboo fence. Someone had arrived there before him. Who might it be? A young gallant who had come courting the lady, no doubt. He fell back into the shadows.

In fact, it was his friend Tō no Chūjō. They had left the palace together that evening. Genji, having abruptly said goodbye, had gone neither to his father-in-law’s Sanjō mansion nor to his own at Nijō. Tō no Chūjō followed him, though he had an engagement of his own. Genji was in disguise and mounted on a very unprepossessing horse and, to puzzle his friend further, made his way to this unlikely place. As Tō no Chūjō debated the meaning of these strange circumstances there came the sound of a koto. He waited, thinking that Genji would appear shortly. Genji tried to slip away, for he still did not recognize his friend, and did not want to be recognized himself.

Tō no Chūjō came forward. “I was not happy to have you shake me off, and so I came to see you on your way.

This moon of the sixteenth night has secret ways.”

Genji was annoyed and at the same time amused. “This is a surprise.

“It sheds its rays impartially here and there,

And who should care what mountain it sets behind?”

“So here we are. And what do we do now? The important thing when you set out on this sort of escapade is to have a proper guard. Do not, please, leave me behind next time. You have no idea what awful things can happen when you go off by yourself in disguise.” And so he made it seem that he was the one privileged to administer reproofs.

It was the usual thing: Tō no Chūjō was always spying out his secrets. Genji thought it a splendid coup on his part to have learned and concealed from his friend the whereabouts of “the wild carnation.”

They were too fond of each other to say goodbye on the spot. Getting into the same carriage, they played on their flutes as they made their way under a pleasantly misted moon to the Sanjō mansion. Having no outrunners, they were able to pull in at a secluded gallery without attracting attention. There they sent for court dress. Taking up their flutes again, they proceeded to the main hall as if they had just come from court. The minister, eager as always for a concert, joined in with a Korean flute. He was a fine musician, and soon the more accomplished of the ladies within the blinds had joined them on lutes. There was a most accomplished lady named Nakatsukasa. Tō no Chūjō had designs upon her, but she had turned him away. Genji, who so rarely came to the house, had quite won her affections. News of the infatuation had reached the ears of princess Omiya, Tō no Chūjō‘s mother, who strongly disapproved of it. Poor Naka- tsukasa was thus left with her own sad thoughts, and tonight she sat forlornly apart from the others, leaning on an armrest. She had considered seeking a position elsewhere, but she was reluctant to take a step that would prevent her from seeing Genji again.

The two young men were both thinking of that koto earlier in the evening, and of that strange, sad house. Tō no Chūjō was lost in a most unlikely reverie: suppose some very charming lady lived there and, with patience, he were to make her his, and to find her charming and sad beyond description — he would no doubt be swept away by very confused emotions. Genji’s new adventure was certain to come to something.

Both seem to have written to the Hitachi princess. There were no answers. Tō no Chūjō thought this silence deplorable and incomprehensible. What a man wanted was a woman who though impoverished had a keen and ready sensibility and let him guess her feelings by little notes and poems as the clouds passed and the grasses and blossoms came and went. The princess had been reared in seclusion, to be sure, but such extreme reticence was simply in bad taste. Of the two he was the more upset.

A candid and open sort, he said to Genji: “Have you had any answers from the Hitachi lady? I let a drop a hint or two myself, and I have not had a word in reply.”

So it had happened. Genji smiled. “I have had none myself, perhaps because I have done nothing to deserve any.”

It was an ambiguous answer which left his friend more restless than ever. He feared that the princess was playing favorites.

Genji was not in fact very interested in her, though he too found her silence annoying. He persisted in his efforts all the same. Tō no Chūjō was an eloquent and persuasive young man, and Genji would not want to be rejected when he himself had made the first advances. He summoned Tayū for solemn

“It bothers me a great deal that she should be so unresponsive. Perhaps she judges me to be among the frivolous and inconstant ones. She is wrong. My feelings are unshakable. It is true that when a lady makes it known that she does not trust me I sometimes go a little astray. A lady who does trust me and who does not have a meddling family, a lady with whom I can be really comfortable, is the sort I find most pleasant.”

“I fear, sir, that she is not your ‘tree in the rain.’ She is not, I fear, what you are looking for. You do not often these days find such reserve. And she told him a little more about the princess.

“From what you say, she would not appear to be a lady with a very sand manner or very grand accomplishments. But the quiet, naïve ones have a charm of their own.” He was thinking of “the evening face.”

He had come down with malaria, and it was for him a time of secret longing; and so spring and summer passed.

Sunk in quiet thoughts as autumn came on, he even thought fondly of those fullers’ blocks and of the foot pestle that had so disturbed his sleep. He sent frequent notes to the Hitachi princess, but there were still no answers. In his annoyance he almost felt that his honor was at stake. He must not be outdone.

He protested to Tayū. “What can this mean? I have never known anything like it.”

She was sympathetic. “But you are not to hold me responsible, sir. I have not said anything to turn her against you. She is impossibly shy, and I can do nothing with her.”

“Outrageously shy — that is what I am saying. When a lady has not reached the age of discretion or when she is not in a position to make decisions for herself, such shyness is not unreasonable. I am bored and lonely for no very good reason, and if she were to let me know that she shared my melancholy I would feel that I had not approached her in vain. If I might stand on that rather precarious veranda of hers, quite without a wish to go further, I would be satisfied. You must try to understand my feelings, though they may seem very odd to you, and take me to her even without her permission. I promise to do nothing that will upset either of you.”

He seemed to take no great interest generally in the rumors he collected, thought Tayū, and yet he seemed to be taking very great interest indeed in at least one of them. She had first mentioned the Hitachi princess only to keep the conversation from lagging.

These repeated queries, so earnest and purposeful, had become a little tiresome. The lady was of no very great charm or talent, and did not seem right for him. If she, Tayū, were to give in and become his intermediary, she might be an agent of great unhappiness for the poor lady, and if she refused she would seem unfeeling.

The house had been forgotten by the world even before Prince Hitachi died. Now there was no one at all to part the undergrowth. And suddenly light had come filtering in from a quite unexpected source, to delight the princess’s lowborn women. She must definitely answer him, they said. But she was so maddeningly shy that she refused even to look at his notes.

Tayū made up her mind. She would find a suitable occasion to bring Genji to the princess’s curtains, and if he did not care for her, that would be that. If by chance they were to strike up a brief friendship, no one could possibly reprove Tayū herself. She was a rather impulsive and headstrong young woman, and she does not seem to have told even her father.

It was an evening toward the end of the Eighth Month when the moon was late in rising. The stars were bright and the wind sighed through the pine trees. The princess was talking sadly of old times. Tayū had judged the occasion a likely one and Genji had come in the usual secrecy. The princess gazed uneasily at the decaying fence as the moon came up. Tayū persuaded her to play a soft strain on her koto, which was not at all displeasing. If only she could make the princess over even a little more into the hospitable modern sort, thought Tayū, herself so willing in these matters. There was no one to challenge Genji as he made his way inside. He summoned Tayū.

“A fine thing,” said Tayū, feigning great surprise. “Genji has come. He is always complaining about what a bad correspondent you are, and I have had to say that there is little I can do. And so he said that he would come himself and give you a lesson in manners. And how am I to answer him now? These expeditions are not easy for him and it would be cruel to send him away. Suppose you speak to him — through your curtains, of course.”

The princess stammered that she would not know what to say and withdrew to an inner room. Tayū thought her childish.

“You are very inexperienced, my lady,” she said with a smile. “It is all right for people in your august position to make a show of innocence when they have parents and relatives to look after them, but your rather sad circumstances make this reserve seem somehow out of place.”

The princess was not, after all, one to resist very stoutly. “If I need not speak to him but only listen, and if you will lower the shutters, I shall receive him.”

“And leave him out on the veranda? That would not do at all. He is not a man, I assure you, to do anything improper.” Tayū spoke with great firmness. She barred the doors, having put out a cushion for Genji in the next room.

The lady was very shy indeed. Not having the faintest notion how to address such a fine gentleman, she put herself in Tayū‘s hands. She sighed and told herself that Tayū must have her reasons.

Her old nurse had gone off to have a nap. The two or three young women who were still with the princess were in a fever to see this gentleman of whom the whole world was talking. Since the princess did not seem prepared to do anything for herself, Tayū changed her into presentable clothes and otherwise got her ready. Genji had dressed himself carefully though modestly and presented a very handsome figure indeed. How she would have liked to show him to someone capable of appreciating him, thought Tayū. Here his charms were wasted. But there was one thing she need not fear: an appearance of forwardness or impertinence on the part of the princess. Yet she was troubled, for she did fear that even as she was acquitted of the delinquency with which Genji was always charging her, she might be doing injury to the princess.

Genji was certain that he need not fear being dazzled — indeed the certainty was what had drawn him to her. He caught a faint, pleasing scent, and a soft rustling as her women urged her forward. They suggested serenity and repose such as to convince him that his attentions were not misplaced. Most eloquently, he told her how much she had been in his thoughts over the months. The muteness seemed if anything more unsettling from near at hand than from afar.

“Countless times your silence has silenced me.

My hope is that you hope for something better.

“Why do you not tell me clearly that you dislike me?‘Uncertainty weaves a sadly tangled web.’”

Her nurse’s daughter, a clever young woman, finding the silence unbearable, came to the princess’s side and offered a reply:

“I cannot ring a bell enjoining silence.

Silence, strangely, is my only answer.”

The young voice had a touch of something like garrulity in it. Unaware that it was not the princess’s, Genji thought it oddly unrestrained and, given her rank, even somewhat coquettish.

“I am quite speechless myself.

“Silence, I know, is finer by far than words.

Its sister, dumbness, at times is rather painful.”

He talked on, now joking and now earnestly entreating, but there was no further response. It was all very strange — her mind did not seem to work as others did. Finally losing patience, he slid the door open. Tayū was aghast — he had assured her that he would behave himself. Though concerned for the poor princess, she slipped off to her own room as if nothing had happened. The princess’s young women were less disturbed. Such misdemeanors were easy to forgive when the culprit was so uniquely handsome. Their reproaches were not very loud, though they could see that their lady was in a state of shock, so swiftly had it happened. She was incapable now of anything but dazed silence. It was strange and wonderful, thought Genji, that the world still contained such a lady. A measure of eccentricity could be excused in a lady who had lived so sheltered a life. He was both puzzled and sympathetic.

But how, given her limited resources, was the lady to win his affection? It was with much disappointment that he departed late in the night. Though Tayū had been listening carefully, she pretended that she did not know of his departure and did not come out to see him off. He would have had nothing to say to her.

Back at Nijō he lay down to rest, with many a sigh that the world failed to present him with his ideal lady. And it would not be easy to treat the princess as if nothing had happened, for she was after all a princess.

Tō no Chūjō interrupted unhappy thoughts. “What an uncommonly late sleeper you are. There must be reasons.”

“I was allowing myself a good rest in my lonely bed. Have you come from the palace?”

“I just left. I was told last night that the musicians and dancers for His Majesty’s outing had to be decided on today and was on my way to report to my father. I will be going straight back.” He seemed in a great hurry.

“Suppose I go with you.”

Breakfast was brought in. Though there were two carriages, they chose to ride together. Genji still seemed very sleepy, said his friend, and very secretive too. With many details of the royal outing still to be arranged, Genji was at the palace through the day.

He felt somewhat guilty about not getting off a note to the princess, but it was evening when he dispatched his messenger. Though it had begun to rain, he apparently had little inclination to seek again that shelter from the rain. Tayū felt very sorry for the princess as the conventional hour for a note came and went. Though embarrassed, the princess was not one to complain. Evening came, and still there was only silence.

This is what his messenger finally brought:

“The gloomy evening mists have not yet cleared,

And now comes rain, to bring still darker gloom.

“You may imagine my restlessness, waiting for the skies to clear.”

Though surprised at this indication that he did not intend to visit, her women pressed her to answer. More and more confused, however, she was not capable of putting together the most ordinary note. Agreeing with her nurse’s daughter that it was growing very late, she finally sent this:

“My village awaits the moon on a cloudy night.

You may imagine the gloom, though you do not share it.”

She set it down on paper so old that the purple had faded to an alkaline gray. The hand was a strong one all the same, in an old-fashioned style, the lines straight and prim. Genji scarcely looked at it. He wondered what sort of expectations he had aroused. No doubt he was having what people call second thoughts. Well, there was no alternative. He must look after her to the end. At the princess’s house, where of course these good intentions were not known, despondency prevailed.

In the evening he was taken off to Sanjō by his father-in-law. Everyone was caught up in preparations for the outing. Young men gathered to discuss them and their time was passed in practice at dance and music. Indeed the house quite rang with music, and flute and flageolet sounded proud and high as seldom before. Sometimes one of them would even bring a drum up from the garden and pound at it on the veranda. With all these exciting matters to occupy him, Genji had time for only the most necessary visits; and so autumn came to a close. The princess’s hopes seemed, as the weeks went by, to have come to nothing.

The outing approached. In the midst of the final rehearsals Tayū came to Genji’s rooms in the palace

“How is everything?” he asked, somewhat guiltily.

She told him. “You have so neglected her that you have made things difficult for us who must be with her.” She seemed ready to weep.

She had hoped, Genji surmised, to make the princess seem remote and alluring, and he had spoiled her plans. She must think him very unfeeling. And the princess, brooding her days away, must be very sad indeed. But there was nothing to be done. He simply did not have the time.

“I had thought to help her grow up,” he said, smiling.

Tayū had to smile too. He was so young and handsome, and at an age when it was natural that he should have women angry at him. It was natural too that he should be somewhat selfish.

When he had a little more time to himself he occasionally called on the princess. But he had found the little girl, his Murasaki, and she had made him her captive. He neglected even the lady at Rokujō, and was of course still less inclined to visit this new lady, much though he felt for her. Her excessive shyness made him suspect that she would not delight the eye in any great measure. Yet he might be pleasantly surprised. It had been a dark night, and perhaps it was the darkness that had made her seem so odd. He must have a look at her face — and at the same time he rather dreaded trimming the lamp.

One evening when the princess was passing the time with her women he stole up to the main hall, opened a door slightly, and looked inside. He did not think it likely that he would see the princess herself. Several ancient and battered curtain frames had apparently been standing in the same places for years. It was not a very promising scene. Four or five women, at a polite distance from their lady, were having their dinner, so unappetizing and scanty that he wanted to look away, though served on what seemed to be imported celadon. Others sat shivering in a corner, their once white robes now a dirty gray, the strings of their badly stained aprons in clumsy knots. Yet they respected the forms: they had combs in their hair, which were ready, he feared, to fall out at any moment. There were just such old women guarding the treasures in the palace sanctuary, but it had not occurred to him that a princess would choose to have them in her retinue.

“What a cold winter it has been. You have to go through this sort of thing if you live too long.”

“How can we possibly have thought we had troubles when your royal father was still alive? At least we had him to take care of us.” The woman was shivering so violently that it almost seemed as if she might fling herself into the air.

It was not right to listen to complaints not meant for his ears. He slipped away and tapped on a shutter as if he had just come up.

One of the women brought a light, raised the shutter, and admitted him.

The nurse’s young daughter was now in the service of the high priestess of Kamo. The women who remained with the princess tended to be gawky, untrained rustics, not at all the sort of servants Genji was used to. The winter they had complained of was being very cruel. Snow was piling in drifts, the skies were dark, and the wind raged. When the lamp went out there was no one to relight it. He thought of his last night with the lady of “the evening faces.” This house was no less ruinous, but there was some comfort in the fact that it was smaller and not so lonely. It was a far from cozy place all the same, and he did not sleep well. Yet it was interesting in its way. The lady, however, was not. Again he found her altogether too remote and withdrawn.

Finally daylight came. Himself raising a shutter, he looked out at the garden and the fields beyond. The scene was a lonely one, trackless snow stretching on and on.

It would be uncivil to go off without a word.

“Do come and look at this beautiful sky. You are really too timid.”

He seemed even younger and handsomer in the morning twilight reflected from the snow. The old women were all smiles.

“Do go out to him. Ladies should do as they are told.”

The princess was not one to resist. Putting herself into some sort of order, she went out. Though his face was politely averted, Genji contrived to look obliquely at her. He was hoping that a really good look might show her to be less than irredeemable.

That was not very kind or very realistic of him. It was his first impression that the figure kneeling beside him was most uncommonly long and attenuated. Not at all promising — and the nose! That nose now dominated the scene. It was like that of the beast on which Samantabhadra rides, long, pendulous, and red. A frightful nose. The skin was whiter than the snow, a touch bluish even. The forehead bulged and the line over the cheeks suggested that the full face would be very long indeed. She was pitifully thin. He could see through her robes how narrow her shoulders were. It now seemed ridiculous that he had worked so hard to see her; and yet the visage was such an extraordinary one that he could not immediately take his eyes away. The shape of the head and the now of the hair were very good, little inferior, he thought, to those of ladies whom he had held to be great beauties. The hair fanned out over the hem of her robes with perhaps a foot to spare. Though it may not seem in very good taste to dwell upon her dress, it is dress that is always described first in the old romances. Over a sadly faded singlet she wore a robe discolored with age to a murky drab and a rather splendid sable jacket, richly perfumed, such as a stylish lady might have worn a generation or two before. It was entirely wrong for a young princess, but he feared that she needed it to keep off the winter cold. He was as mute as she had always been; but presently he recovered sufficiently to have yet another try at shaking her from her muteness. He spoke of this and that, and the gesture as she raised a sleeve to her mouth was somehow stiff and antiquated. He thought of a master of court rituals taking up his position akimbo. She managed a smile for him, which did not seem to go with the rest of her. It was too awful. He hurried to get his things together.

“I fear that you have no one else to look to. I would hope that you might be persuaded to be a little more friendly to someone who, as you see, is beginning to pay some attention to you. You are most unkind.” Her shyness became his excuse.

“In the morning sun, the icicles melt at the eaves.

Why must the ice below refuse to melt?”

She giggled. Thinking that it would be perverse of him to test this dumbness further, he went out.

The gate at the forward gallery, to which his carriage was brought, was leaning dangerously. He had seen something of the place on his nocturnal visits, but of course a great deal had remained concealed. It was a lonely, desolate sight that spread before him, like a village deep in the mountains. Only the snow piled on the pine trees seemed warm. The weed-choked gate of which his friend had spoken that rainy night would be such a gate as this. How charming to have a pretty lady in residence and to think compassionate thoughts and to long each day to see her! He might even be able to forget his impossible, forbidden love. But the princess was completely wrong for such a romantic house. What other man, he asked himself, could be persuaded to bear with her as he had? The thought came to him that the spirit of the departed prince, worried about the daughter he had left behind, had brought him to her.

He had one of his men brush the snow from an orange tree. The cascade of snow as a pine tree righted itself, as if in envy, made him think of the wave passing over “famous Sué, the Mount of the Pines.” He longed for someone with whom he might have a quiet, comforting talk, if not an especially intimate or fascinating one. The gate was not yet open. He sent someone for the gatekeeper, who proved to be a very old man. A girl of an age such that she could be either his daughter or his granddaughter, her dirty robes an unfortunate contrast with the snow, came up hugging in her arms a strange utensil which contained the merest suggestion of embers. Seeing the struggle the old man was having with the gate, she tried to help. They were a very forlorn and ineffectual pair. One of Genji’s men finally pushed the gate open.

“My sleeves are no less wet in the morning snow

Than the sleeves of this man who wears a crown of snow.”

And he added softly: “The young are naked, the aged are cold.”

He thought of a very cold lady with a very warmly colored nose, and he smiled. Were he to show that nose to Tō no Chūjō, what would his friend liken it to? And a troubling thought came to him: since Tō no Chūjō was always spying on him, he would most probably learn of the visit. Had she been an ordinary sort of lady, he might have given her up on the spot; but any such thoughts were erased by the look he had had at her. He was extremely sorry for her, and wrote to her regularly if noncommittally. He sent damasks and cottons and unfigured silks, some of them suited for old women, with which to replace those sables, and was careful that the needs of everyone, high and low, even that aged gatekeeper, were seen to. The fact that no expressions of love accompanied these gifts did not seem to bother the princess and so matters were easier for him. He resolved that he must be her support, in this not very intimate fashion. He even tended to matters which tact would ordinarily have persuaded him to leave private. The profile of the governors wife as he had seen her over the Go board had not been beautiful, but she had been notably successful at hiding her defects. This lady was certainly not of lower birth. It was as his friend had said that rainy night: birth did not make the crucial difference. He often thought of the governor’s wife. She had had considerable charms, of a quiet sort, and he had lost her.

The end of the year approached. Tayū came to see him in his palace apartments. He was on easy terms with her, since he did not take her very seriously, and they would joke with each other as she performed such services as trimming his hair. She would visit him without summons when there was something she wished to say.

“It is so very odd that I have been wondering what to do.” She was smiling.

“What is odd? You must not keep secrets from me.”

“The last thing I would do. You must sometimes think I forget myself, pouring out all my woes. But this is rather difficult.” Her manner suggested that it was very difficult indeed.

“You are always so shy.”

“A letter has come from the Hitachi princess.” She took it out.

“The last thing you should keep from me.”

She was fidgeting. The letter was on thick Michinoku paper and nothing about it suggested feminine elegance except the scent that had been heavily burned into it. But the hand was very good.

“Always, always my sleeve is wet like these.

Wet because you are so very cold.”

He was puzzled. “Wet like what?”

Tayū was pushing a clumsy old hamper toward him. The cloth in which it had come was spread beneath it.

“I simply couldn’t show it to you. But she sent it especially for you to wear on New Year’s Day, and I couldn’t bring myself to send it back, she would have been so hurt. I could have kept it to myself, I suppose, but that didn’t seem right either, when she sent it especially for you. So I thought maybe after I had shown it to you —”

“I would have been very sorry if you had not. It is the perfect gift for someone like me, with ‘no one to help me dry my tear-drenched pillow.’”

He said no more.

It was a remarkable effort at poetry. She would have worked and slaved over it, with no one to help her. The nurse’s daughter would no doubt, had she been present, have suggested revisions. The princess did not have the advice of a learned poetry master. Silence, alas, might have been more successful. He smiled at the thought of the princess at work on her poem, putting all of herself into it. This too, he concluded, must be held to fall within the bounds of the admirable. Tayū was crimson.

In the hamper were a pink singlet, of an old-fashioned cut and remarkably lusterless, and an informal court robe of a deep red lined with the same color. Every stitch and line seemed to insist on a peculiar lack of distinction. Alas once more — he could not possibly wear them. As if to amuse himself he jotted down something beside the princess’s poem. Tayū read over his shoulder:

“Red is not, I fear, my favorite color.

Then why did I let the safflower stain my sleeve?

A blossom of the deepest hue, and yet —”

The safflower must signify something, thought Tayū— and she thought of a profile she had from time to time seen in the moonlight. How very wicked of him, and how sad for the princess!

“This robe of pink, but new to the dyer’s hand:

Do not soil it, please, beyond redemption.

That would be very sad.”

She turned such verses easily, as if speaking to herself. There was nothing especially distinguished about them. Yet it would help, he thought again and again, if the princess were capable of even such an ordinary exchange. He did not wish at all to defame a princess.

Several women came in.

“Suppose we get this out of the way,” he said. “It is not the sort of thing just anyone would give.”

Why had she shown it to him? Tayū asked herself, withdrawing in great embarrassment. He must think her as inept as the princess.

In the palace the next day Genji looked in upon Tayū, who had been with the emperor.

“Here. My answer to the note yesterday. It has taken a great deal out of me.”

The other women looked on with curiosity.

“I give up the red maid of Mikasa,” he hummed as he went out, “even as the plum its color.”

Tayū was much amused.

“Why was he smiling all to himself?” asked one of her fellows.

“It was nothing,” she replied. “I rather think he saw a nose which on frosty mornings shows a fondness for red. Those bits of verse were, well, unkind.”

“But we have not one red nose among us. It might be different if Sakon or Higo were here.” Still uncomprehending, they discussed the various possibilities.

His note was delivered to the safflower princess, whose women gathered to admire it.

“Layer on layer, the nights when I do not see you.

And now these garments — layers yet thicker between us?”

It was the more pleasing for being in a casual hand on plain white paper.

On New Year’s Eve, Tayū returned the hamper filled with clothes which someone had readied for Genji himself, among them singlets of delicately figured lavender and a sort of saffron. It did not occur to the old women that Genji might not have found the princess’s gift to his taste. Such a rich red, that one court robe, not at all inferior to these, fine though they might be.

“And the poems: our lady’s was honest and to the point. His is merely clever.”

Since her poem had been the result of such intense labor, the princess copied it out and put it away in a drawer.

The first days of the New Year were busy ones. Music sounded through all the galleries of the palace, for the carolers were going their rounds this year. The lonely Hitachi house continued to be in Genji’s thoughts. One evening — it was after the royal inspection of the white horses — he made he made his excuses with his father and withdrew as if he meant to spend the night in his own rooms. Instead he paid a late call upon the princess.

The house seemed a little more lively and in communication with the world than before, and the princess just a little less stiff. He continued to hope that he might in some degree make her over and looked forward with pleasure to the results. The sun was coming up when, with a great show of reluctance, he departed. The east doors were open. Made brighter by the reflection from a light fall of snow, the sun streamed in unobstructed, the roof of the gallery beyond having collapsed. The princess came forward from the recesses of the room and sat turned aside as Genji changed to court dress. The hair that fell over her shoulders was splendid. If only she, like the year, might begin anew, he thought as he raised a shutter. Remembering the sight that had so taken him aback that other morning, he raised it only partway and rested it on a stool. Then he turned to his toilet. A woman brought a battered minor, a Chinese comb box, and a man’s toilet stand. He thought it very fine that the house should contain masculine accessories. The lady was rather more modish, for she had on all the clothes from that hamper. His eye did not quite take them all in, but he did think he remembered the cloak, a bright and intricate damask.

“Perhaps this year I will be privileged to have words from you. More than the new warbler, we await the new you.”

“With the spring come the calls —” she replied, in a tense, faltering voice.

“There, now. That’s the style. You have indeed turned over a new leaf.” He went out smiling and softly intoning Narihira’s poem about the dream and the snows.

She was leaning on an armrest. The bright safflower emerged in profile from over the sleeve with which she covered her mouth. It was not a pretty sight.

Back at Nijō, his Murasaki, now on the eve of womanhood, was very pretty indeed. So red could after all be a pleasing color, he thought. She was delightful, at artless play in a soft cloak of white lined with red. Because of her grandmother’s conservative preferences, her teeth had not yet been blackened or her eyebrows plucked. Genji had put one of the women to blackening her eyebrows, which drew fresh, graceful arcs. Why, he continued asking himself, should he go seeking trouble outside the house when he had a treasure at home? He helped arrange her dollhouses. She drew amusing little sketches, coloring them as the fancy took her. He drew a lady with very long hair and gave her a very red nose, and though it was only a picture it produced a shudder. He looked at his own handsome face in a mirror and daubed his nose red, and even he was immediately grotesque. The girl laughed happily.

“And if I were to be permanently disfigured?”

“I wouldn’t like that at all.” She seemed genuinely worried.

He pretended to wipe vigorously at his nose. “Dear me. I fear it will not be white again. I have played a very stupid trick upon myself. And what,” he said with great solemnity, “will my august father say when he sees it?”

Looking anxiously up at him, Murasaki too commenced rubbing at his nose.

“Don’t, if you please, paint me a Heichū black. I think I can endure the red.” They were a charming pair.

The sun was warm and spring-like, to make one impatient for blossoms on branches now shrouded in a spring haze. The swelling of the plum buds was far enough advanced that the rose plum beside the roofed stairs, the earliest to bloom, was already showing traces of color.

“The red of the florid nose fails somehow to please,

Though one longs for red on these soaring branches of plum.

“A pity that it should be so.”

And what might have happened thereafter to our friends?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/murasaki-shikibu/tale-of-genji/chapter6.html

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