The years passed, and Genji had not forgotten the dew upon the evening faces he had seen so briefly. As he came to know a variety of ladies, he only regretted the more strongly that the lady of the evening faces had not lived.
Ukon, her woman, was not of very distinguished lineage, but Genji was fond of her, and thought of her as a memento of her dead lady. She was now one of the older women in his household. He had transferred everyone to Murasaki’s wing of the Nijō house when he left for Suma, and there she had stayed. Murasaki valued her as a quiet, good-natured servant. Ukon could only think with regret that if her own lady had lived she would now be honored with treatment similar at least to that accorded the Akashi lady. Genji was a generous man and he did not abandon women to whom he had been even slightly drawn; and the lady of the evening faces, if not perhaps one of the really important ones, would surely have been in the company that recently moved to Rokujō.
Ukon had not made her whereabouts known to the little girl, the lady’s daughter, left with her nurse in the western part of the city. Genji had told her that she must keep the affair to herself and that nothing was to be gained by letting his part in it be known at so late a date. She had made no attempt to find the nurse. Presently the nurse’s husband had been appointed deputy viceroy of Kyushu and the family had gone off with him to his post. The girl was four at the time. They had prayed for information of any sort about the mother. Day and night, always in tears, they had looked for her where they thought she might possibly be. The nurse finally decided that she would keep the child to remember the mother by. Yet it was sad to think of taking her on a hard voyage to a remote part of the land. They debated seeking out her father, Tō no Chūjō, and telling him of her whereabouts When no good entree presented itself, they gathered in family council: it would be difficult to tell him, since they did not know what had happened to the mother; life would be hard for the girl, introduced so young to a father who was a complete stranger; and if he knew that she was his daughter he was unlikely to let her go. She was a pretty child, already showing signs of distinction, and it was very sad indeed to take her off in a shabby boat.
“Are we going to Mother’s?” she asked from time to time.
The nurse and her daughters wept tears of nostalgia and regret. But they must control themselves. Tears did not bode well for the journey.
The scenery along the way brought memories. “She was so young and so alive to things — how she would have loved it all if she could have come with us. But of course if she were alive we would still be in the city ourselves.”
They were envious of the waves, returning whence they had come.
“Sadly, sadly we have journeyed this distance,” came the rough voices of the sailors.
The nurse’s daughters looked at each other and wept.
“To whom might it be that the thoughts of these sailors turn,
Sadly singing off the Oshima strand?”
“Here on the sea, we know not whence or whither,
Or where to look in search of our lost lady.
“I had not expected to leave her for these wilds.”
“We will not forget” was the refrain when the ship had passed Cape Kane; and when they had made land, tears welled up again, in the awareness of how very far they had come.
They looked upon the child as their lady. Sometimes, rarely, one of them would dream of the dead mother. She would have with her a woman who might have been her twin, and afterwards the dreamer would fall ill. They had to conclude that she was no longer living.
Years passed, and the deputy viceroy’s term of service was over. He thought of returning to the city, but hesitated, for he was a man of no great influence even off in that remote land. He was still hesitating when he fell seriously ill. On the point of death, he looked up at the girl, now ten, and so beautiful that he feared for her.
“What difficult times you will face if I leave you! I have thought it a shameful waste that you should grow up so far from everything, and I have wanted to get you back to the city as soon as I possibly can. I have wanted to present you to the right people and leave you to whatever destinies may be yours, and I have been making my preparations. The capital is a large place and you would be safe there. And now it seems that I must end my days here.”
He had three sons. “You must give first priority to taking her back. You need not worry about my funeral.
No one outside of his immediate family knew who the girl was. He had let it be known that she was a grandchild whom, for certain reasons, it had fallen his lot to rear, and he had let no one see her. He had done what he could, and now, suddenly, he was dying. The family went ahead with preparations for the return, There were many in the region who had not been on good terms with the deputy viceroy, and life was full of perils. The girl was even prettier than her mother, perhaps because her father’s blood also flowed in her veins. Delicate and graceful, she had a quiet, serene disposition. One would have had to look far to find her equal.
The young gallants of the region heard about her and letters came pouring in. They produced only grim and irritable silence.
“You wouldn’t call her repulsive, exactly,” the nurse said to people, “but she has a most unfortunate defect that makes it impossible for her to marry. She is to become a nun and stay with me as along as I live.”
“A sad case,” they all said, in hushed tones as of something dark and ominous. “Did you hear? The old deputy’s granddaughter is a freak.”
His sons were determined to take the girl back to her father. He had seemed so fond of her when she was little. It was most unlikely that he would disown her now. They prayed to all the various native and foreign gods.
But presently they and their sisters married into provincial families, and the return to the city, once so devoutly longed for, receded into the distance. Life was difficult for the girl as she came to understand her situation a little better. She made her retreats three times a year. Now she was twenty, and she had attained to a perfection wasted in these harsh regions.
The family lived in the province of Hizen. The local gentry continued to hear rumors and to pay court. The nurse only wished they would go away.
There was an official of the Fifth Rank who had been on the viceroy’s staff and who was a member of a large clan scattered over the province of Higo. He was something of a local eminence, a warrior of very considerable power and influence. Though of an untamed nature, he did have a taste for the finer things, and among his avocations was the collecting of elegant ladies.
He heard of the girl. “I don’t care if she is the worst sort of freak. I’ll just shut my eyes.” His suit was earnest and a little threatening too.
“It is quite impossible,” the nurse sent back. “Tell him that she is to become a nun.”
The man came storming into Hizen and summoned the nurse’s sons for conference. If they did what he wanted, they would be his allies. He could do a great deal for them. The two young sons were inclined to accede.
“It is true that we did not want her to marry beneath her. But he will be a strong ally, and if we make an enemy of him we will have to pack up and leave. Yes, she is very wellborn. That we do not deny — but what good does it do when her father doesn’t recognize her and no one even knows she exists? She is lucky he wants her. She is probably here because she was meant all along to marry someone like him. There’s no point in trying to hide. He is a determined and ruthless man, and he will do anything if he is crossed.”
But the oldest brother, who was vice-governor of Bungo, disagreed. “It is out of the question. Have you forgotten Father’s instructions? I must get her back to the capital.”
Tearfully, the daughters supported him. The girl’s mother had wandered off and they had quite lost track of her, but they would think themselves sufficiently repaid for their worries if they could make a decent life for the girl. They most certainly did not want to see her marry the Higo man.
Confident of his name and standing and unaware of this disagreement, the man showered her with letters, all of them on good Chinese paper, richly colored and heavily perfumed. He wrote a not at all contemptible hand, but his notion of the courtly was very provincial. Having made an ally of the second son, he came calling. He was about thirty, tall and powerfully built, not unpleasant to look at. Perhaps it was only in the imagination that his vigorous manner was a little intimidating. He glowed with health and had a deep, rough voice and a heavy regional accent that made his speech seem as alien as bird language. Lovers are called “night crawlers,” one hears, but he was different. He came of a spring evening, victim, it would seem, of the urgings which the poet felt more strongly on autumn evenings.
Not wishing to offend him, the “grandmother” came out.
“The late deputy was a great man and he understood things. I wanted to be friends with him and i’m sorry he died. Now I want to make up for it. I got my courage up and came to see the little lady. She’s too good for me, but that’s all right. I’ll look up to her and be her servant. I hear Your Grace doesn’t want me to have her. Maybe because of all my other women? Don’t worry. She won’t be one of them. She’ll be the queen.” It was a very forceful statement.
“Thank you very much. It is gratifying to hear of your interest. But she has been unlucky. To our great regret we must keep her out of sight and do not find it possible to let her marry. It is all very sad.”
“Oh, come on. I don’t care if she’s blind and has a club foot. I swear it by all the gods.”
He asked that a day be named when he might come for her. The nurse offered the argument often heard in the region that the end of the season was a bad time to marry.
He seemed to think that a farewell poem was called for. He deliberated for rather a long time.
“I vow to the Mirror God of Matsura:
If I break it he can do what he wants with me.
“Pretty good” He smiled.
Poetry was not perhaps what he had had most experience with.
The nurse was by this time too nervous to answer, and her daughters protested that they were in an even worse state. Time ran on. Finally she sent back the first verse that came into her head.
“It will be for us to reproach the Mirror God
If our prayers of so many years remain unanswered.”
Her voice trembled.
“What’s that? How’s that?”
He seemed about to attack them frontally. The nurse blanched.
Despite her agitation, one of the daughters managed a brave laugh. “Our niece is not normal. That is I’m sure what she meant to say, and we would be very unhappy if she had bad luck in the matter of your kind proposal. Poor Mother. She is very old, and she is always saying unfortunate things about her gods.”
“I see, I see.” He nodded. “A very good poem. You may look down on us country people, but what’s so great about city people? Anyone can come up with a poem. Don’t think I can’t do as well as the next one.”
He seemed to think demonstration called for, but it refused to take shape. He left.
With her second son gone over to the enemy, the old woman was terrified. She urged her oldest son to action.
“But what can I do? There is no one I can go to for help. I don’t have all that many brothers, and they have turned against me. Life will be impossible if we make an enemy of the man, and if I try something bold I will only make things worse.”
But he agreed that death would be better for the girl than marriage to such a man. He gathered his courage and they set sail. His sisters left their husbands. The one who had as a child been called Ateki was now called Hyōbu She slipped off in the night and boarded ship with her lady.
The man had gone home to Higo, to return on the day appointed, late in the Fourth Month. The older of the nurse’s daughters had a large family of her own and was unable to join them. The farewells were tearful, for it seemed unlikely that the family would ever be united again. They had no very great love for Hizen, in which they had lived for so long, but the departing party did look back in sorrow at the shrine of Matsura. They were leaving dear ones in its charge.
“Shores of trial, now gloomy Ukishima.
On we sail. Where next will be our lodging?”
“We sail vast seas and know not where we go,
Floating ones, abandoned to the winds.”
The girl sat weeping, the picture of the sad uncertainty which her poem suggested.
If news that they had left reached the Higo man, he was certain to come in pursuit. They had provided themselves with a fast boat and the winds did good service, and their speed was almost frightening. They passed Echo Bay in Harima.
“See the little boat back there, almost flying at us. A pirate, maybe?”
The brother thought he would Prefer the cruelest pirate to the Higo man. There was nothing to be done, of course, but sail on.
“The echoes of Echo Bay are slight and empty
Beside the tumult I hear within myself.”
Then they were told that the mouth of the river Yodo lay just ahead. It was as if they had returned from the land of the dead.
“Past Karadomari we row, past Kawajiri.” It was a rough song, but pleasing. The vice-governor hummed with special feeling the passage about dear wives and children left behind. Yes, it had been a step, leaving them all behind. What disasters would now be overtaking them? He had brought with him everyone in the province who might have been thought an ally, and what sort of revenge would the Higo person be taking? It had been reckless, after all these years. In the calm following the crisis he began to think once more of his own affairs, and everything now seemed rash and precipitate. He collapsed in weak tears. “We have left our wives and children in alien lands,” he intoned softly.
His sister Hyōbu heard. She now feared that she had behaved very strangely, turning against her husband of so many years and flying off in the night. What would he be thinking?
They had no house and no friends in the city. Because of the girl, they had left behind a province which over the years had become home and put themselves at the mercy of wind and waves. They could not think what to do next, nor had they any clear notion of what was to be done for the girl. But there was no point in hesitating. They hurried on to the city.
The vice-governor searched out an old acquaintance who was still living at Kujō. It was to be sure within the city limits, but not a place where gentlemen lived; a gloomy place, rather, of tradesmen and peddlers. Autumn came, amid thoughts of what had been and what was to be. The vice-governor was like a seabird cast ashore. He was without employment in a strange new world and unable to return to the old. The whole party was now having regrets. Some left to take positions sought out through this and that acquaintance, others to return to Kyushu.
The old nurse wept at this inability to find a new foothold.
Her son, the vice-governor, did what he could to comfort her. “I am not in the least worried I have been prepared to risk everything for our lady and what does it matter that I am not doing so very well at the moment? What comfort would wealth and security have been if they had meant marrying her to that man? Our prayers will be answered and she will be put back in her rightful place someday, you may be sure of it. Hachiman, now, just over there. Our lady prayed to Hachiman at Matsura and Hakozaki just before we left. Now that you are safely back, my lady, you must go and thank him.” And he sent the girl off to the Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine.
He had learned that an eminent cleric whom his father had known was among the Buddhist priests in service at the shrine. The man undertook to be her guide.
“And then,” said the vice-governor, “there is Hatsuse. It is known even in China as the japanese temple among them all that gets things done. It can’t help doing something for a poor lady back after all those years so far away.” And this time he sent her to Hatsuse.
The pilgrimage was to be on foot. Though not used to walking, the girl did as she was told. What sort of crimes had she been guilty of, she was asking, that she must be subjected to such trials? She prayed that the powers above, if they pitied her, take her to whatever world her mother might be in. If her mother was living, please, then, just a glimpse of her. The girl could not remember her mother. She had thought how happy she would be if only she had a mother. Now the problem was a much more immediate one. Late on the morning of the fourth day, barely alive, they arrived at Tsubaichi, just below Hatsuse.
Though they had come very slowly, the girl was so footsore when they reached Tsubaichi that they feared she could not go on. Led by the former vice-governor, the party included two bowmen, three or four grooms and pages, three women, heavily veiled, and a pair of ancient scullery women. Every effort had been made not to attract attention. Darkness came on as they were replenishing their stock of candles and the like.
The monk who kept the way station was very uncivil, grumbling about arrangements that had been made without consulting him. “Who are these people? We have some others coming. Stupid women, they’ve botched it again.”
A second party did just then come up, also on foot, including two women who seemed to be of considerable standing and a number of attendants, men and women. four or five of the men were on horseback. Though display was obviously being avoided, the horses were nicely caparisoned. The monk paced the floor and scratched his head and generally made himself objectionable. He was determined to accommodate the second party. Well, he would not insist that the others move on, but he would put the menials out in back and divide the room with curtains.
Though respectable, the second party did not seem to be of the most awesome rank. Both parties were polite and deferential, and all was presently quiet.
In fact, the principal pilgrim in the second party was that Ukon who had never ceased weeping for the lady of the evening faces. In all the uncertainties of her life, she had long been in the habit of making pilgrimages to Hatsuse. She was used to travel, but the walk was exhausting even so. She was resting when the vice-governor came up to the curtains, evidently with food for his lady.
“Give this to her, if you will, please. I know of course that she is not used to such rough service.”
Obviously a lady of higher rank than the others, thought Ukon, going over to look through an opening in the curtains. She had seen the man before, she was sure, but could not think where. Someone she had known when he was young, and much less stout and sunburned, and much better dressed. Who might he be?
“Sanjō. Our lady wants you.”
She knew the woman who came forward at this summons: a lesser attendant upon the lady of the evening faces, with them in the days of hiding. It was like a dream. Ukon longed to see the lady they were in attendance upon, but she remained out of sight. Now Ukon thought she knew the man too. Yes, without question, the one they had called Hyōt-ōda. Perhaps the girl would be with them. Unable to sit still, she went again to the curtain and called to Sanjō, who was just inside. Sanjō was not easily torn from her meal. It was a little arbitrary of Ukon, perhaps, to think this an impertinence.
At length Sanjō presented herself. “It can’t be me you want. I’m a poor woman who’s been off in Kyushu these twenty years and more, and I doubt there would be anyone here who would know me. It must be a mistake.” She had on a somewhat rustic robe of fulled silk and an unlined jacket, and she had put on a great deal of weight.
“Look at me,” said Ukon, hating to think how she herself must have changed. “Don’t you recognize me?”
Sanjō clapped her hands. “It’s you! It’s you! Where did you come from? Is our lady with you?” And she was weeping convulsively.
Ukon too was in tears. She had known this woman as a girl. So many months and years had passed!
“And is my lady’s nurse with you? And what has happened to the little girl? And Ateki?” She said nothing for her part about the lady of the evening faces.
“They are here. The little girl is a fine young lady. I must go tell Nurse.” And she withdrew to the back of the room.
“It is like a dream,” said the nurse. “Ukon, you say? We have every right to be furious with Ukon.” But she went up to the curtains.
She was at first too moved to speak.
“And what has happened to my lady?” she asked finally. “I have prayed and prayed for so many years that I might be taken wherever she is. I have wanted to go to her, even if it be in a dream. And then I had to suffer in a place so far away that not even the winds brought word of her. I have lived too long. But thoughts of the little girl have kept me tied to this world and made it difficult for me to go on to the next one. And so, as you see, I have come limping along.’,
Ukon almost wished she were back in the days when she had not been permitted to speak. “There is no point in talking of our lady. She died long ago.”
And the three of them gave themselves up to tears.
It was now quite dark. Ready for the walk up to the temple, the men were urging them on. The farewells were confused. Ukon suggested that they go together, but the sudden friendship might seem odd. It had not been possible to take even the former vice-governor into their confidence. Quietly the two parties set forth. Ukon saw ahead of her a beautiful and heavily veiled figure. The hair under what would appear to be an early-summer singlet was so rich that it seemed out of place. A flood of affection and pity swept over Ukon.
Used to walking, she reached the temple first. The nurse’s party, coaxing and helping the girl on, arrived in time for the evening services. The temple swarmed with pilgrims. A place had been set out for Ukon almost under the right hand of the Buddha. Perhaps because their guide was not well known at Hatsuse, the Kyushu party had been assigned a place to the west, behind the Buddha and some distance away. Ukon sent for them. They must not be shy, she said. Leaving the other men and telling the vice-governor what had happened, they accepted the invitation.
“I am not one who matters,” said Ukon, “but I work in the Genji chancellor’s house. Even when I come with the few attendants you see, I can be sure that nothing will happen to me. You can never be sure what country people will do, and I would hate to have anything unpleasant happen to our lady.”
She would have liked to continue, but the noise was overwhelming. She turned to her prayers. What she had prayed longest for had been granted. She had sensed that Genji too continued to think about the girl, and her prayer now was that, informed of her whereabouts, he would make her happiness his concern.
Among the pilgrims, from all over the land, was the wife of the governor of the province.
Sanjō was dazzled and envious. She brought her hands to her forehead. “O Lord of Great Mercy,” she proclaimed, “I have no prayer but this, that if my lady cannot be the wife of the assistant viceroy you let her many the greatest one in this province. My name is Sanjō. If you find decent places for us, then I will come and thank you. I promise I will.”
Ukon would have hoped that Sanjō might aim a little higher. “You have a great deal to learn. But you must know, and you must have known in the old days, that Lord Tō no Chūjō was meant for great things. He is a grand minister now and he has everything his way. Our lady comes from the finest family, and here you are talking about marrying her off to a governor.”
“Oh, hush. You and your ministers and lordships. You just ought to see the lady from the assistant viceroy’s house when she goes off to Kiyomizu. Why, the emperor himself couldn’t put on a better show. So just hush, please.” And she continued her peroration, hands pressed always to forehead.
The Kyushu party planned to stay three days. Ukon had not thought of staying so long, but this seemed the opportunity for a good talk. She informed one of the higher priests of a sudden wish to go into retreat. He knew what she would need, votive lights and petitions and the like. She described her reasons.
“I have come as usual in behalf of Lady Tamakazura of the Fujiwara. Pray well for her, if you will. I have recently been informed of her whereabouts, and I wish to offer thanks.”
“Excellent. Our prayers over the years have been heard.”
Services went on through the night, very noisily indeed.
In the morning they all went to the cell of Ukon’s eminent acquaintance. The talk was quite uninhibited. The lady was very beautiful, and rather shy in her rough travel dress.
“I have been privileged to know ladies so grand that few people ever see them. In the ordinary course of events they would have been kept out of my sight. I have thought for a very long time that Lady Murasaki, the chancellor’s lady, couldn’t possibly have a rival. But then someone came along who could almost compete with her. It needn’t have surprised anyone, of course. The chancellor’s daughter is growing up into a very beautiful lady indeed. He has done everything for her. And just see what we have here, so quiet and unassuming. She’s every bit as pretty.
“The chancellor has seen them all, ever since the reign of his late father, all the consorts and the other royal ladies. I once heard him say to Lady Murasaki that the word’beautiful’ must have been invented for the late empress and his own daughter. I never saw the late empress and so I cannot say, and the other is still a child, and a person can only imagine how beautiful she will be someday. But Lady Murasaki herself: really she doesn’t have a rival even now. I’m sure he just didn’t want to speak of her own beauty right there in front of her. He most certainly is aware of it. I once heard him say — he was joking, of course — that she should know better than to take her place beside a handsome man like him. You should see the two of them! The sight of them makes you think years have been added to your life, and you wonder if anywhere else in the world there is anything like it. But just see what we have here, just look at this lady. She could hold her own with no trouble. You don’t go looking for a halo with even the most raving beauty, but if you want the next-best thing-?”
She smiled at Tamakazura, and the old nurse was grinning back. “Just a little longer and she would have been wasted on Kyushu. I couldn’t stand the idea, and so I threw away pots and pans and children and came running back to the city. It might as Well have been the capital of a foreign country. Take her to something better, please, as soon as you possibly can. You are in one of the great houses and you know everyone. Do please think of some way to tell her father. Make him count her among his children.”
The girl looked away in embarrassment.
“No, it is true. I don’t amount to anything, but His Lordship has seen fit to call me into his presence from time to time, and once when I said I wondered what had happened to the child he said that he wondered too and I must let him know if I heard anything.”
“Yes, of course, he is a very fine gentleman. But he already has all those other fine ladies. I would feel a little more comfortable, I think, if you were to inform her father.”
Ukon told her about the lady of the evening faces. “His Lordship took it very hard. He said he wanted the little girl to remember her by. He said then and he went on saying that he had so few children of his own, he could tell people he had found a lost daughter. I was young and inexperienced and unsure of myself, and I was afraid to go looking for her. I recognized the name of your good husband when he was appointed deputy viceroy. I even caught a glimpse of him when he came to say goodbye to His Lordship. I thought you might have left the child behind at the house where I last saw you. Suppose she had spent the rest of her life in Kyushu — the very thought of it makes me shiver.”
They looked down upon streams of pilgrims. The river before them was the Hatsuse.
“Had I not come to the place of cedars twain,
How should I have met you here beside the old river?”
said Ukon. “I am very happy.”
“I know little, I fear, about the swift old river,
But I know the flow of tears of happiness.”
She was indeed weeping, and very beautiful.
Astonishingly so — a jewel quite unblemished by rough provincial life. The old nurse had worked wonders, and Ukon was deeply grateful. The girl’s mother had been such a quiet little child of a thing, completely gentle and unresisting. The girl herself seemed proud and aloof by comparison; and there was something else, something quietly mysterious about her, suggestive of great depths. Kyushu must be a remarkable place — and yet look at these others, very countrified indeed.
In the evening they all went up to the main hall, and the next day was a quiet one of prayers and rites.
The autumn wind blowing up from the valley was cold, but they did not let it trouble them. They had other concerns. For the Kyushu people despair had suddenly given way to talk of Tō no Chūjō and the careers he had made for the least likely of his children by his several ladies. It seemed possible that the sunlight would reach even to this undermost leaf. Fearing that they might once more lose track of each other, Ukon and the nurse exchanged addresses before they left the temple. Ukon’s family lived not far from the Rokujō mansion, a fact that gave a comforting sense of nearness and accessibility.
When she was next on duty at Rokujō, Ukon looked for a chance to tell Genji a little of what had happened. As her carriage was pulled inside the gate she had a sudden feeling of vast spaces, and all the grand carriages coming and going made her marvel that she too was in attendance at the jeweled pavilion. No occasion presented itself that evening. She went restlessly to bed with her problem. The next day he summoned her by name. It was a great honor, for numbers of women, old and important and young and obscure, had the evening before come back from vacation.
“And why did you stay so long? But you have changed. The old stiffness has given way to a more yielding quality, might we say? Something interesting has surely happened.”
“I was gone for about a week, just wasting my time. But I did come on someone rather interesting off in the hills.”
She preferred that Murasaki hear, lest she later be taxed with secretiveness.
Other women came up. Lamps were lighted, and Genji and Murasaki were pleasing indeed as they settled down for a quiet evening. Now in her late twenties, Murasaki was at her best. It seemed to Ukon that even in the brief time she had been away her lady had improved. And Tamakazura was almost as beautiful — and perhaps it was only Ukon’s imagination that there was a small difference to be observed between the more and the less fortunate.
Ukon was summoned to massage Genji’s legs.
“The young ones hate to do it,” he laughed. “We oldsters get on best.”
“Really, sir, who would hate to do anything for you?” said one of the younger women. “You do make the worst jokes.”
“Even we oldsters must be careful. There is jealousy abroad. We are in danger.” He could be very amusing.
Having relieved himself of the heavier business of government, he was able to relax with the women. Even an aging woman like Ukon was not ignored.
“Now, then, who is this interesting person in the hills? A well-endowed hermit you have come to an understanding with?”
“Please, sir, someone might hear you. I have found a lady who is not unrelated to those evening faces. Do you remember? The ones that faded so quickly.”
“Ah, yes, memories do come back. Where has she been all this time?”
Ukon did not know how to begin. “She has been very far away. Some of the people who were with her then are still with her. We talked about the old days. It was so sad.”
“Do remember, please, that we have an uninformed audience.”
“You needn’t worry,” said Murasaki, covering her ears. “Your audience is too sleepy to care in the least.”
“Is she as pretty as her mother?”
“I wouldn’t have thought she could possibly be, but she has grown into a very beautiful young lady indeed.”
“How interesting. Would you compare her with our lady here?”
“Oh, sir, hardly.”
“But you d em confident enough. Does she look like me? If so, then I can be confident too.”
He was already talking as if he were her father.
He called Ukon off by herself. “You must bring her here. I have thought of her so often. I am delighted at this news and sorry that we lost her for so long. She must not be kept away any longer. Why should we tell her father? His house swarms with children. I am afraid the poor little thing would be overwhelmed. And I have so few myself — we can say that I have come upon a daugh r in a most unexpected place. She will be our treasure. We will have all the young gallants eager to meet her.
“I leave everything to your judgment, sir. If her father is to know, then you must be the one to tell him. I am sure that any little gesture in memory of the lady we lost will lighten the burden of sin.”
“The burden is mine, you are saying? “ He smiled, but he was near tears. “I have thought so often what a sad, brief affair it was. I have all the ladies you see here, and I doubt that I have ever felt toward any of them quite that intensity of affection. Most of them have lived long enough to see that I am after all a steady sort, and she vanished so quickly, and I have had only you to remember her by. I have not forgotten her. It would be as if all my prayers had been answered if you were to bring the girl here.”
He got off a letter. Yet he was a little worried, remembering the safflower princess. Ladies were not always what one hoped they would be, and this was a lady who had had a hard life.
His letter was most decorous. At the end of it he said: “And as to my reasons for writing,
“You may not know, but presently Fou will,
Where leads the line of rushes at Mishimae.”
Ukon delivered it and gave an account of their conversation. She brought all manner of garments for the lady herself and for the others. Genji had told Murasaki the whole story and gone through his warehouses for the best of everything, and very different it all was from what they had been used to in Kyushu.
Tamakazura suggested that the delight would be more considerable if there were word from her father. She saw no reason to go and live with a stranger.
Ukon set about making her think otherwise. “Your father is sure to hear of you once you are set up in a decent sort of life. The bond between parent and child is not so easily broken. I am nobody, and I found you because of my prayers. There can be no other explanation. These things happen if we live long enough. You must get off an answer.”
The girl was timid, sure that any answer from her would seem hopelessly countrified. She chose richly perfumed Chinese paper and wrote only this, in a faint, delicate hand:
“You speak of lines and rushes — and by what line
Has this poor rush taken root in this sad world?”
The hand was immature, but it showed character and breeding. Genji was more confident.
The problem now was where to put her. There was no room in the several wings of Murasaki’s southeast quarter. It was the grandest part of the house and all its apartments were in use, and it was so much frequented that a new presence would very probably be noticed. Akikonomu’s south-west quarter was quiet and in many ways suitable, but Genji would not have wished Tamakazura to be taken for one of the empress’s attendants. Though a little gloomy and remote, there was the west wing of the northeast quarter, now being used as a library. Genji ordered the books and papers moved. The lady of the orange blossoms had already been assigned the northeast quarter, but she was a gentle, amiable person who would be good company for the new lady.
He had told Murasaki the whole ancient story. She chided him for having kept it so long a secret.
“Please, my dear — why should I have offered it to you all gratuitously? I would have been reluctant to tell such a story even if it had been about someone you know. I am telling you now because you mean so very much to me.” He was in a reminiscent mood. “I have seen and heard of so many cases in which I have not myself been involved. I have seen and heard how strong a woman’s feelings can be in the most casual affair, and I have not wanted that sort of thing in my own life. But one’s wishes are not always consulted in these matters. I have had numbers of affairs that might be called illicit, but I doubt that any of them has had quite that gentle sort of pull on me. I think that if she were still living I would be doing at least as much for her as for the lady in the northwest quarter. No one in this world is quite like anyone else. She may not have been the most intelligent and accomplished person, but she did have a way about her, and she was pretty.”
“I doubt very much indeed that she would be a rival of the lady in the northwest quarter.” Evidently there was still resentment.
But here was the little Akashi girl, listening to the conversation with such charming unconcern. Murasaki thought she could see why he had a high regard for the mother.
It was the Ninth Month. Tamakazura’s move was no routine affair. Superior women must be found to wait on her. Through various offices a retinue of women who had drifted down from the capital had been put together in Kyushu, but the suddenness of the departure had made it impossible to bring them along. The city was a vast place. Tradeswomen could be helpful in these matters. Quietly, not letting the girl’s identity be known, the Kyushu people moved in with Ukon’s family. Finally everything was ready. In the Tenth Month they moved to Rokujō.
Genji had taken the lady of the orange blossoms into his confidence. “Someone I was once fond of was having a difficult time and ran off into the mountains. I hunted and hunted, but I did not find the daughter until she was quite grown-up. Even then it was only by accident that I learned a little about her. I do not think it is too late. Might I bring her here? The mother is no longer living. I think I might without imposing too dreadfully ask you to do for her as you have done for Yūgiri. She grew up in the country, and no doubt you will find a great deal that does not entirely please you. Do give her the benefit of your advice.” He was very polite and attentive to detail.
She agreed most generously. “I had not dreamed of such a thing. How very nice for you. You have been lonely with just the one little girl.”
“Her mother was a gentle, amiable young lady. It has all worked out so nicely. You are such an amiable lady yourself.” r “I shall be delighted. I have so little to do.”
He had only a few words for the other women.
“And what will he have come up with this time? Such a bothersome collector as he is?”
There were three carriages for the move. Ukon managed to cover the more obvious appearances of rusticity. Genji sent a large supply of damasks and other figured cloths. Promptly that evening he paid a visit. The Kyushu women had long known of “the shining Genji,” but his radiance had come to seem very far off. And here it was, dimming the lamplight through openings in curtains, almost frightening.
Ukon went to admit him. “One comes through this door,” he said, laughing, “with wildly palpitating heart.” He took a seat in an outer room. “A very soft and suggestive sort of light. I was told that you wished to see your father’s face. Is that not the case?” He pushed the curtain aside.
She looked away, but he had seen enough to be very pleased.
“Can’t we have a little more light? This is really too suggestive.”
Ukon trimmed a lamp and brought it near.
“Now we are being bold.”
Yes, she was very beautiful, and she reminded him of her mother.
“There was no time through all those years when you were out of my thoughts, and now that we are together it is all like a dream.” His manner was intimate, as if he were her father. “I am overwhelmed and reduced to silence.” He was in fact deeply moved, and he brushed away a tear as he counted up the years. “How very sad it has been. I doubt that many fathers and daughters are kept apart for so long. But come: you are too old for this d shfulness, and there are so many things we must talk about. You must not treat me like a stranger.”
She could not look at him. Finally she replied in a voice which he could barely hear but which, as it trailed off into silence, reminded him very much of her mother. “I was like the leech child when they took me away. I could not stand up. Afterwards I was hardly sure whether it was happening to me or not.”
He smiled. It was a most acceptable answer. “And now who besides me is to pity you for all the wasted years?”
He gave Ukon various instructions and left.
Pleased that she had passed the test so nicely, he went to tell Murasaki. “I had felt for her, in a lofty, abstract sort of way; and now I find her so much in control of herself that she almost makes me uncomfortable. I must let everyone know that I have taken her in, and we shall watch the pulses rise as Prince Hotaru and the rest come peeking through my fences. We have seen composed and sedate countenances all around us, and tha has been because we have not had the means for creating disturbances. Now we shall improve our service and see who among them is the most unsettled.”
“What a very odd sort of father, thinking first how to lead them all into temptation.”
“If I had been sufficiently alive to these things,” he said, “I might have been similarly thoroughgoing in my management of your affairs. I did not consider all the possibilities.”
She flushed, as young and beautiful as ever.
He reached for an inkstone and jotted down a verse:
“With unabated longing I sought the other.
What lines have drawn me to the jeweled chaplet?
“It is all so very affecting,” he added, as if to himself.
Yes, thought Murasaki, he would seem to have found a memento of someone very important to him.
He told Yūgiri that he must be good to the girl.
“Not that I could have done very much,” Yūgiri said to her solemnly, “but I am the one you should have come to. I must apologize for not having been present to receive you.”
The situation was somewhat embarrassing to those who shared the secret.
The house in Kyushu had seemed the ultimate in luxury and elegance, but now she could see that it had been hopelessly provincial. Here every detail was in the latest fashion, and every member of the family (she was received as one of the family) was very prepossessing indeed. The woman Sanjō was now able to put the assistant viceroy in his place, and as for the hot-blooded person from Higo, the very thought of him repelled her. Tamakazura and Ukon knew how much they owed the nurse’s son, the former vice-governor of Bungo. Genji chose Tamakazura’s stewards with the greatest care, for he wanted no laxness in the management of her household. The nurse’s son was among them. He would not in ordinary circumstances have had entree to so grand a mansion, and the change after all those years in the provinces was almost too sudden. Here he was among the great ones, coming and going, morning and night. It was a singular honor. Genji was almost too attentive to all the housekeeping details.
With the approach of the New Year he turned his attention to festive dress and appurtenances, determined that nothing suggest less than the highest rank. Though the girl had been a pleasant surprise thus far, he made allowances for rustic tastes. He himself reviewed all the colors and cuts upon which the finest craftsmen had concentrated their skills.
“Vast numbers of things,” he said to Murasaki. “We must see that they are divided so that no one has a right to feel slighted.”
He had everything spread before him, the products of the offices and of Murasaki’s personal endeavors as well. Such sheens and hues as she had wrought, displaying yet another of her talents! He would compare what the fullers had done to this purple and that red, and distribute them among chests and wardrobes, with women of experience to help him reach his decisions.
Murasaki too was with him. “A very hard choice indeed. You must always have the wearer in mind. The worst thing is when the clothes do not suit the lady.”
Genji smiled. “So it is a matter of cool calculation? And what might my lady’s choices be for herself?”
“My lady is not confident,” she replied, shyly after all, “that the mirror can give her an answer.”
For Murasaki he selected a lavender robe with a clear, clean pattern of rose-plum blossoms and a singlet of a fashionable lavender. For his little daughter there was a white robe lined with red and a singlet beaten to a fine glow. For the lady of the orange blossoms, a robe of azure with a pattern of seashells beautifully woven in quiet colors, and a crimson singlet, also fulled to a high sheen. For the new lady, a cloak of bright red and a robe of russet lined with yellow. Though pretending not to be much interested, Murasaki was wondering what sort of lady would go with these last garments. She must resemble her father, a man of fine and striking looks somewhat lacking in the gentler qualities. It was clear to Genji that despite her composure she was uneasy.
“But it is not fair to compare them by their clothes,” he said. “There is a limit to what clothes can do, and the plainest lady has something of her own.”
He chose for the safflower princess a white robe lined with green and decorated profusely with Chinese vignettes. He could not help smiling at its vivacity. And there were garments too for the Akashi lady: a cloak of Chinese white with birds and butterflies flitting among plum branches and a robe of a rich, deep, glossy purple. Its proud elegance immediately caught the eye — and seemed to Murasaki somewhat overdone. For the lady of the locust shell, now a nun, he selected a most dignified habit of a deep blue-gray, a yellow singlet of his own, and a lavender jacket. He sent around messages that everyone was to be in full dress. He wanted to see how well, following Murasaki’s principle, he had matched apparel and wearer.
All the ladies took great pains with their answers and with gifts for the messengers. The safflower lady, left behind in the east lodge at Nijō, might have had certain feelings of deprivation, but she was not one to neglect ceremony. She gave the messenger a yellow lady’s robe rather discolored at the sleeves — a hollow locust shell, so to speak. Her note was on official stationery, heavily scented and yellow with age.
“Your gifts bring boundless sorrow.
“Tearfully I don this Chinese robe,
And having dampened its sleeves, I now return it.”
The hand was very old-fashioned. Smiling, he read and reread the poem. Murasaki wondered what had so taken his fancy.
The messenger slipped away, fearing that Genji might be amused as well at the bounty he had received. The women were all whispering and laughing. The safflower princess, so inflexibly conservative in her ways, could be discommodingly polite.
“A most courtly and elegant lady,” said Genji. “Her conservative style is unable to rid itself of Chinese robes and wet sleeves. I am a rather conservative person myself, and must somewhat grudgingly admire this tenacious fidelity. Hers is a style which considers it mandatory to mention ‘august company’ whenever royalty is in the vicinity, and when the exchange is of a romantic nature a reference to fickleness can always be counted on to get one over the caesura.” He was still smiling. “One reads all the handbooks and memorizes all the gazetteers, and chooses an item from this and an item from that, and what is wanting is originality. She once showed me her father’s handbooks. You can’t imagine all the poetic marrow and poetic ills I found in them. Somewhat intimidated by these rigorous standards, I gave them back. But this does seem a rather wispy product from so much study and erudition.”
He was a little too amused, thought Murasaki, who answered most solemnly: “And why did you send them back? We could have made copies and given them to the little girl. I used to own some handbooks too, but I’m afraid I let the worms have them. I’m not the student of poetry some people are.”
“I doubt that they would have contributed to the girl’s education. Girls should not be too intense. Ignorance is not to be recommended, of course, but a certain tact in the management of learning is.”
He did not seem disposed to answer the safflower princess.
“She speaks of returning your gifts. You must let her have something in return for her poem.”
Essentially a kind man, Genji agreed. He dashed off an answer. This would seem to be what he sent:
“‘Return,’ you say — ah, ‘turn,’ I set you mean,
Your Chinese robe, prepared for lonely slumber.
“I understand completely.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57