Kojijū‘s answer was not unreasonable, and yet it seemed rather brusque. Was there to be nothing more? Might he not hope for some word from the princess herself? He seemed in danger of doing grave disservice to Genji, whom he so liked and admired.
On the last day of the Third Month there was a large gathering at the Rokujō mansion. Kashiwagi did not want to attend, but presently decided that he might feel a little less gloomy under the blossoms where the Third Princess lived. There was to have been an archery meet in the Second Month, but it had been canceled, and in the Third Month the court was in retreat. Everyone was always delighted to hear that something was happening at Rokujō. The two generals, Higekuro and Yūgiri, were of course present, both of them being very close to the Rokujō house, and all their subordinates were to be present as well. It had been announced as a competition at kneeling archery, but events in standing archery were also included, so that several masters of the sport who were to be among the competitors might show their skills. The bowmen were assigned by lot to the fore and after sides. Evening came, and the last of the spring mists seemed somehow to resent it. A pleasant breeze made the guests even more reluctant to leave the shade of the blossoms. It may have been that a few of them had had too much to drink.
“Very fine prizes,” said someone. “They show so nicely the tastes of the ladies who chose them. And who really wants to see a soldier battering a willow branch with a hundred arrows in a row? We much prefer a mannerly meet of the sort we are here being treated to.”
The two generals, Higekuro and Yūgiri, joined the other officers in the archery court. Kashiwagi seemed very thoughtful as he took up his bow. Yūgiri noticed and was worried. He could not, he feared, tell himself that the matter did not concern him. He and Kashiwagi were close friends, alive to each other’s moods as friends seldom are. One of them knew immediately when the smallest shadow had crossed the other’s spirits.
Kashiwagi was afraid to look at Genji. He knew that he was thinking forbidden thoughts. He was always concerned to behave with complete correctness and much worried about appearances. What then was he to make of so monstrous a thing as this? He thought of the princess’s cat and suddenly longed to have it for himself. He could not share his unhappiness with it, perhaps, but he might be less lonely The thought became an obsession. Perhaps he could steal it — but that would not be easy
He visited his sister at court, hoping that she would help him forget his woes. She was an extremely prudent lady who allowed him no glimpse of her. It did seem odd that his own sister should be so careful to keep up the barriers when the Third Princess had let him see her; but his feelings did not permit him to charge her with loose conduct.
He next called on the crown prince, the Third Princess’s brother. There must, he was sure, be a family resemblance. No one could have called the crown prince devastatingly handsome, but such eminence does bestow a certain air and bearing. The royal cat had had a large litter of kittens, which had been put out here and there. One of them, a very pretty little creature, was scampering about the crown prince’s rooms. Kashiwagi was of course reminded of the Rokujō cat.
“The Third Princess has a really fine cat. You would have to go a very long way to find its rival. I only had the briefest glimpse, but it made a deep impression on me.”
Very fond of cats, the crown prince asked for all the details. Kashiwagi perhaps made the Rokujō cat seem more desirable than it was.
“It is a Chinese cat, and Chinese cats are different. All cats have very much the same disposition, I suppose, but it does seem a little more affectionate than most. A perfectly charming little thing.”
The crown prince made overtures through the Akashi princess and presently the cat was delivered. Everyone was agreed that it was a very superior cat. Guessing that the crown prince meant to keep it, Kashiwagi waited a few days and paid a visit. He had been a favorite of the Suzaku emperor’s and now he was close to the crown prince, to whom he gave lessons on the koto and other instruments.
“Such numbers of cats as you do seem to have. Where is my own special favorite?”
The Chinese cat was apprehended and brought in. He took it in his arms.
“Yes, it is a handsome beast,” said the crown prince, “but it does not seem terribly friendly. Maybe it is not used to us. Do you really think it so superior to our own cats?”
“Cats do not on the whole distinguish among people, though perhaps the more intelligent ones do have the beginnings of a rational faculty. But just look at them all, such swarms of cats and all of them such fine ones. Might I have the loan of it for a few days?”
He was afraid that he was being rather silly. But he had his cat. He kept it with him at night, and in the morning would see to its toilet and pet it and feed it. Once the initial shyness had passed it proved to be a most affectionate animal. He loved its way of sporting with the hem of his robe or entwining itself around a leg. Sometimes when he was sitting at the veranda lost in thought it would come up and speak to him.
“What an insistent little beast you are.” He smiled and stroked its back. “You are here to remind me of someone I long for, and what is it you long for yourself? We must have been together in an earlier life, you and I.”
He looked into its eyes and it returned the gaze and mewed more emphatically. Taking it in his arms, he resumed his sad thoughts.
“Now why should a cat all of a sudden dominate his life?” said one of the women. “He never paid much attention to cats before.”
The crown prince asked to have the cat back, but in vain. It had become Kashiwagi’s constant and principal companion.
Tamakazura still felt closer to Yūgiri than to her brothers and sisters. She was a sensitive and affectionate lady and when he came calling she received him without formality. He particularly enjoyed her company because his sister, the crown princess, rather put him off. Higekuro was devoted to his new wife and no longer saw his old wife, Prince Hyōbu’s daughter. Since Tamakazura had no daughters, he would have liked to bring Makibashira into the house, but Prince Hyōbu would not hear of it. Makibashira at least must not become a laughingstock. Prince Hyōbu was a highly respected man, one of the emperor’s nearest advisers, and no request of his was refused. A vigorous man with lively modern tastes, he stood so high in the general esteem that he was only less in demand than Genji and Tō no Chūjō. It was commonly thought that Higekuro would be equally important one day. People were of course much interested in his daughter, who had many suitors. The choice among them would be Prince Hyōbu’s to make. He was interested in Kashiwagi and thought it a pity that Kashiwagi should be less interested in Makibashira than in his cat. She was a bright, modern sort of girl. Because her mother was still very much at odds with the world, she turned more and more to Tamakazura, her stepmother.
Prince Hotaru was still single. The ladies he had so energetically courted had gone elsewhere. He had lost interest in romantic affairs and did not want to invite further ridicule. Yet bachelorhood was too much of a luxury. He let it be known that he was not uninterested in Makibashira.
“I think he would do nicely,” said Prince Hyōbu. “People generally say that the next-best thing after sending a daughter to court is finding a prince for her. I think it rather common and vulgar, the rush these days to marry daughters off to mediocrities who have chiefly their seriousness to recommend them.” He accepted Prince Hotaru’s proposal without further ado.
Prince Hotaru was somewhat disappointed. He had expected more of a challenge. Makibashira was not a lady to be spurned, however, and it was much too late to withdraw his proposal. He visited her and was received with great ceremony by Prince Hyōbu’s household.
“I have many daughters,” said Prince Hyōbu, “and they have caused me nothing but trouble. You might think that by now I would have had enough. But Makibashira at least I must do something for. Her mother is very odd and only gets odder. Her father has not been allowed to manage her affairs and seems to want no part of them. It is all very sad for her.”
He supervised the decorations and went to altogether more trouble than most princes would have thought necessary.
Prince Hotaru had not ceased to grieve for his dead wife. He had hoped for a new wife who looked exactly like her. Makibashira was not unattractive, but she did not resemble the other lady. Perhaps it was because of disappointment that he so seldom visited her.
Prince Hyōbu was surprised and unhappy. In her lucid moments, the girl’s mother could see what was happening, and sigh over their sad fate, hers and her daughter’s. Higekuro, who had been opposed to the match from the outset, was of course very displeased. It was as he had feared and half expected. Prince Hotaru had long been known for a certain looseness and inconstancy. Now that she had evidence so near at hand, Tamakazura looked back to her maiden days with a mixture of sadness and amusement, and wondered what sort of troubles Genji and Tō no Chūjō would now be facing if she had accepted Hotaru’s suit. Not that she had had much intention of doing so. She had seemed to encourage him only because of his very considerable ardor, and it much shamed her to think that she might have seemed even a little eager. And now her stepdaughter was his wife. What sort of things would he be telling her? But she did what she could for the girl, whose brothers were in attendance on her as if nothing had gone wrong.
Prince Hotaru for his part had no intention of abandoning her, and he did not at all like what her sharp-tongued grandmother was saying.
“One marries a daughter to a prince in the expectation that he will give her his undivided attention. What else is there to make up for the fact that he does not amount to much?”
“This seems a bit extreme,” said Prince Hotaru, missing his first wife more than ever. “I loved her dearly, and yet I permitted myself an occasional flirtation on the side, and I do not remember that I ever had to listen to this sort of thing.”
He withdrew more and more to the seclusion of his own house, where he lived with memories.
A year passed, and two years. Makibashira was reconciled to her new life. It was the marriage she had made for herself, and she did not complain.
And more years went by, on the whole uneventfully. The reign was now in its eighteenth year.
The emperor had no sons. He had long wanted to abdicate and had not kept the wish a secret. “A man never knows how many years he has ahead of him. I would like to live my own life, see the people I want to see and do what I want to do.”
After some days of a rather painful indisposition he suddenly abdicated. It was a great Pity, everyone said, that he should have taken the step while he was still in the prime of life; but the crown prince was now a grown man and affairs of state passed smoothly into his hands.
Tō no Chūjō submitted his resignation as chancellor and withdrew to the privacy of his own house. “Nothing in this world lasts forever,” he said, “and when so wise an emperor retires no one need have any regrets at seeing an old graybeard turn in his badge and keys.”
Higekuro became Minister of the Right, in effective charge of the government. His sister would now be the empress-mother if she had lived long enough. She had not been named empress and she had been over-shadowed by certain of her rivals. The eldest son of the Akashi princess was named crown prince. The designation was cause for great rejoicing, though no one was much surprised. Yūgiri was named a councillor of the first order. He and the new minister were the closest of colleagues and the best of friends.
Genji lamented in secret that the abdicated emperor, who now moved into the Reizei Palace, had no sons. Genji’s worries had passed and his great sin had gone undetected, and he stood in the same relationship to the crown prince as he would have stood to a Reizei son. Yet he would have been happier if the succession had gone through the Reizei emperor. These regrets were of course private. He shared them with no one.
The Akashi princess had several children and was without rivals for the emperor’s affection. There was a certain dissatisfaction abroad that yet another Genji lady seemed likely to be named empress.
Akikonomu was more grateful to Genji as the years went by, for she knew that without him she would have been nothing. It was now much easier for the Reizei emperor to see Genji, and he was far happier than when he had occupied the throne.
The new emperor was most solicitous of the Third Princess, his sister. Genji paid her due honor, but his love was reserved for Murasaki, in whom he could see no flaw. It was an ideally happy marriage, closer and fonder as the years went by.
Yet Murasaki had been asking most earnestly that he let her become a nun. “My life is a succession of trivialities. I long to be done with them and turn to things that really matter. I am old enough to know what life should be about. Do please let me have my way.”
“I would not have thought you heartless enough to suggest such a thing. For years now I have longed to do just that, but I have held back because I have hated to think what the change would mean to you. Do try to imagine how things would be for you if I were to have my way.”
The Akashi princess was fonder of Murasaki than of her real mother, but the latter did not complain. She was an undemanding woman and she knew that her future would be peaceful and secure in quiet service to her daughter. The old Akashi nun needed no encouragement to weep new tears of joy. Red from pleasant weeping, her eyes proclaimed that a long life could be a happy one.
The time had come, thought Genji, to thank the god of Sumiyoshi. The Akashi princess too had been contemplating a pilgrimage. Genji opened the box that had come those years before from Akashi. It was stuffed with very grand vows indeed. Towards the prosperity of the old monk’s line the god was to be entertained every spring and autumn with music and dancing. Only someone with Genji’s resources could have seen to fulfilling them all. They were written in a flowing hand which told of great talent and earnest study, and the style was so strong and bold that the gods native and foreign must certainly have taken notice. But how could a rustic hermit have been so imaginative? Genji was filled with admiration, even while thinking that the old man had somewhat over-reached himself. Perhaps a saint from a higher world had been fated to descend for a time to this one. He could not find it in him to laugh at the old man.
The vows were not made public. The pilgrimage was announced as Genji’s own. He had already fulfilled his vows from those unsettled days on the seacoast, but the glory of the years since had not caused him to forget divine blessings. This time he would take Murasaki with him. He was determined that the arrangements be as simple as possible and that no one be inconvenienced. There were limits, however, to the simplicity permitted one of his rank, and in the end it proved to be a very grand progress. All the high-ranking courtiers save only the ministers were in attendance. Guards officers of fine appearance and generally uniform height were selected for the dance troupe. Among those who did not qualify were some who thought themselves very badly used. The most skilled of the musicians for the special Kamo and Iwashimizu festivals were invited to join the orchestra. There were two famed performers from among the guards musicians as well, and there was a large troupe of Kagura dancers. The emperor, the crown prince, and the Reizei emperor all sent aides to be in special attendance on Genji. The horses of the grandees were caparisoned in infinite variety and all the grooms and footmen and pages and miscellaneous functionaries were in livery more splendid than anyone could remember.
The Akashi princess and Murasaki rode in the same carriage. The next carriage was assigned to the Akashi lady, and her mother was quietly shown to the place beside her. With them was the nurse of the Akashi days. The retinues were very grand, five carriages each for Murasaki and the Akashi princess and three for the Akashi lady.
“If your mother is to come with us,” said Genji, “then it must be with full honors. We shall see to smoothing her wrinkles.”
“Are you quite sure you should be showing yourself on such a public occasion?” the lady asked her mother. “Perhaps when the very last of our prayers has been answered.”
But they could not be sure how long she would live, and she did so want to see everything. One might have said that she was the happiest of them all, the one most favored by fortune. For her the joy was complete.
It was late in the Tenth Month. The vines on the shrine fence were red and there were red leaves beneath the pine trees as well, so that the services of the wind were not needed to tell of the advent of autumn. The familiar eastern music seemed friendlier than the more subtle Chinese and Korean music. Against the sea winds and waves, flutes joined the breeze through the high pines of the famous grove with a grandeur that could only belong to Sumiyoshi. The quiet clapping that went with the koto was more moving than the solemn beat of the drums. The bamboo of the flutes had been stained to a deeper green, to blend with the green of the pines. The ingeniously fabricated flowers in all the caps seemed to make a single carpet with the flowers of the autumn fields.
“The One I Seek” came to an end and the young courtiers of the higher ranks all pulled their robes down over their shoulders as they descended into the courtyard, and suddenly a dark field seemed to burst into a bloom of pink and lavender. The crimson sleeves beneath, moistened very slightly by a passing shower, made it seem for a moment that the pine groves had become a grove of maples and that autumn leaves were showering down. Great reeds that had bleached to a pure white swayed over the dancing figures, and the waves of white seemed to linger on when the brief dance was over and they had returned to their places.
For Genji, the memory of his time of troubles was so vivid that it might have been yesterday. He wished that Tō no Chūjō had come with him. There was no one else with whom he could exchange memories. Going inside, he took out a bit of paper and quietly got off a note to the old nun in the second carriage.
“You and I remember — and who else?
Only we can address these godly pines.”
Remembering that day, the old lady was in tears. That day: Genji had said goodbye to the lady who was carrying his daughter, and they had thought that they would not see him again. And the old lady had lived for this day of splendor! She wished that her husband could be here to share it, but would not have wanted to suggest that anything was lacking.
“The aged fisherwife knows as not before
That Sumiyoshi is a place of joy.”
It was a quick and spontaneous answer, for it would not do on such an occasion to seem sluggish. And this was the poem that formed in her heart:
“It is a day I never shall forget.
This god of Sumiyoshi brings me joy.”
The music went on through the night. A third-quarter moon shone clear above and the sea lay calm below; and in a heavy frost the pine groves too were white. It was a weirdly, coldly beautiful scene. Though Murasaki was of course familiar enough with the music and dance of the several seasons, she rarely left the house and she had never before been so far from the city. Everything was new and exciting.
“So white these pines with frost in the dead of night.
Bedecked with sacred strands by the god himself?”
She thought of Takamura musing upon the possibility that the great white expanse of Mount Hira had been hung out with sacred mulberry strands. Was the frost a sign that the god had acknowledged their presence and accepted their offerings?
This was the princess’s poem:
“Deep in the night the frost has added strands
To the sacred branches with which we make obeisance.”
“So white the frost, one takes it for sacred strands
And sees in it a sign of the holy blessing.”
There were countless others, but what purpose would be served by setting them all down? Each courtier thinks on such occasions that he has outdone all his rivals — but is it so? One poem celebrating the thousand years of the pine is very much like another.
There were traces of dawn and the frost was heavier. The Kagura musicians had had such a good time that response was coming before challenge. They were perhaps even funnier than they thought they were. The fires in the shrine courtyard were burning low. “A thousand years” came the Kagura refrain, and “Ten thousand years,” and the sacred branches waved to summon limitless prosperity for Genji’s house. And so a night which they longed to stretch into ten thousand nights came to an end. It seemed a pity to all the young men that the waves must now fall back towards home. All along the line of carriages curtains fluttered in the breeze and the sleeves beneath were like a flowered tapestry spread against the evergreen pines. There were numberless colors for the stations and tastes of all the ladies. The footmen who set out refreshments on all the elegant stands were fascinated and dazzled. For the old nun there was ascetic fare on a tray of light aloeswood spread with olive drab. People were heard to whisper that she had been born under happy stars indeed.
The progress to Sumiyoshi had been laden with offerings, but the return trip could be leisurely and meandering. It would be very tiresome to recount all the details. Only the fact that the old Akashi monk was far away detracted from the pleasure. He had braved great difficulties and everyone admired him, but it is probable that he would have felt sadly out of place. His name had become synonymous with high ambitions, and his wife’s with good fortune. It was she whom the Omi lady called upon for good luck in her gaming. “Akashi nun!” she would squeal as she shook her dice. “Akashi nun!”
The Suzaku emperor had given himself up most admirably to the religious vocation. He had dismissed public affairs and gossip from his life, and it was only when the emperor, his son, came visiting in the spring and autumn that memories of the old days returned. Yet he did still think of his third daughter. Genji had taken charge of her affairs, but the Suzaku emperor had asked his son to help with the more intimate details. The emperor had named her a Princess of the Second Rank and increased her emoluments accordingly, and so life was for her ever more cheerful.
Murasaki looked about her and saw how everyone seemed to be moving ahead, and asked herself whether she would always have a monopoly on Genji’s affections. No, she would grow old and he would weary of her. She wanted to anticipate the inevitable by leaving the world. She kept these thoughts to herself, not wanting to nag or seem insistent. She did not resent the fact that Genji divided his time evenly between her and the Third Princess. The emperor himself worried about his sister and would have been upset by any suggestion that she was being neglected. Yet Murasaki could not help thinking that her worst fears were coming true. These thoughts too she kept to herself. She had been given charge of the emperor’s daughter, his second child after the crown prince. The little princess was her great comfort on nights when Genji was away, and she was equally fond of the emperor’s other children.
The lady of the orange blossoms looked on with gentle envy and was given a child of her own, one of Yūgiri’s sons, by the daughter of Koremitsu. He was a pretty little boy, advanced for his age and a favorite of Genji’s. It had been Genji’s chief lament that he had so few children, and now in the third generation his house was growing and spreading. With so many grandchildren to play with he had no excuse to be bored.
Genji and Higekuro were better friends now, and Higekuro came calling more frequently. Tamakazura had become a sober matron. No longer suspicious of Genji’s intentions, she too came calling from time to time. She and Murasaki were very good friends.
The Third Princess was the one who refused to grow up. She was still a little child. Genji’s own daughter was now with the emperor. He had a new daughter to worry about.
“I feel that I have very little time left,” said the Suzaku emperor. “It is sad to think about dying, of course, but I am determined not to care. My only unsatisfied wish is to see her at least once more. If I do not I shall continue to have regrets. Perhaps I might ask that without making a great show of it she come and see me?”
Genji thought the request most reasonable and set about preparations. “We really should have sent you without waiting for him to ask. It seems very sad that he should have you so on his mind even now.”
But they had to have a good reason — a casual visit would not do. What would it be? He remembered that the Suzaku emperor would soon be entering his fiftieth year, and an offering of new herbs seemed appropriate. He gave orders for dark robes and other things a hermit might need and asked the advice of others on how to arrange something worthy of the occasion. The Suzaku emperor had always been fond of music and so Genji began selecting dancers and musicians. Two of Higekuro’s sons and three of Yūgiri’s, including one by Koremitsu’s daughter, had passed the age of seven and gone to court. There were young people too in Prince Hotaru’s house and other eminent houses, princely and common, and there were young courtiers distinguished for good looks and graceful carriage. Everyone was happy to make an extra effort for so festive an event. All the masters of music and dance were kept busy.
The Suzaku emperor had given the Third Princess lessons on the seven-stringed Chinese koto. She was still very young when she left him, however, and he wondered what progress she might have made.
“How good if she could play for me. Perhaps in that regard at least she has grown up a little.”
He quietly let these thoughts be known and the emperor heard of them. “Yes, I should think that with the koto at least she should have made progress. How I wish I might be there.”
Genji too heard of them. “I have done what I can to teach her,” he said. “She has improved a great deal, but I wonder whether her playing is really quite good enough yet to delight the royal ear. If she goes unprepared and has to play for him, she might have a very uncomfortable time of it.”
Turning his attention now to music lessons, he kept back none of his secrets, none of the rare strains, complex medleys, and seasonal variations and tunings. She seemed uncertain at first but presently gathered confidence.
“There are always such crowds of people around in the daytime,” he said. “You have your left hand poised over the koto and are wondering what to do with it, and along comes someone with a problem. The evening is the time. I will come in the evening when it is quiet and teach you everything I know.”
He had given neither Murasaki nor the Akashi princess lessons on the seven-stringed koto. They were most anxious to hear what must certainly be unusual playing. The emperor was always reluctant to let the Akashi princess leave court, but he did finally give permission for a visit, which must, he said, be a brief one. She would soon have another child — she had two sons and was five months pregnant — and the danger of defiling any one of the many Shinto observances was her excuse for leaving. In the Twelfth Month there were repeated messages from the emperor urging her return. The nightly lessons in the Third Princess’s rooms fascinated her and aroused a certain envy. Why, she asked Genji, had he not taken similar troubles with her?
Unlike most people, Genji loved the cold moonlit nights of winter. With deep feeling he played several songs that went well with the snowy moonlight. Adepts among his men joined him on lute and koto. In Murasaki’s wing of the house preparations were afoot for the New Year. She made them her own personal concern.
“When it is warmer,” she said more than once, “you really must let me hear the princess’s koto.”
The New Year came.
The emperor was determined that his father’s jubilee year begin with the most solemn and dignified ceremony. A visit from the Third Princess would complicate matters, and so a date towards the middle of the Second Month was chosen. All the musicians and dancers assembled for rehearsals at Rokujō, which went on and on.
“The lady in the east wing has long been after me to let her hear your koto,” said Genji to the Third Princess. “I think a feminine concert on strings is what we want. We have some of the finest players of our day right here in this house. They can hold their own, I am sure of it, with the professionals. My own formal training was neglected, but when I was a boy I was eager to learn what was to be learned. I had lessons from the famous masters and looked into the secret traditions of all the great houses. I came upon no one who exactly struck me dumb with admiration. It is even worse today. Young people dabble at music and pick up mannerisms, and what passes for music is very shallow stuff indeed. You are almost alone in your attention to this seven-stringed koto. I doubt that we could find your equal all through the court”
She smiled happily at the compliment. Though she was in her early twenties and very pretty, she was tiny and fragile and still very much a child. He wished that she might at least look a little more grown-up.
“Your royal father has not seen you in years,” he would say. “You must show him what a fine young lady you have become.”
Her women silently thanked him. That she had grown up at all was because of the trouble he had taken with her.
Late in the First Month the sky was clear and the breeze was warm, and the plums near the veranda were in full bloom. In delicate mists, the other flowering trees were coming into bud.
“From the first of the month we will be caught up in our final rehearsals,” said Genji, inviting Murasaki to the Third Princess’s rooms. “The confusion will be enormous, and we would not want it to seem that you are getting ready to go with us on the royal visit. Suppose we have our concert now, while it is still fairly quiet.”
All her women wanted to come with her, but she selected only those, including some of rather advanced years, whose aptitude for music had been shaped by serious study. Four of her prettiest little girls were also with her, all of them in red robes, cloaks of white lined with red, jackets of figured lavender, and damask trousers. Their chemises were also red, fulled to a high sheen. They were as pretty and stylish as little girls can be. The apartments of the Akashi princess were more festive than usual, bright with new spring decorations. Her women quite outdid themselves. Her little girls too were in uniform dress, green robes, cloaks of pink lined with crimson, trousers of figured Chinese satin, and jackets of a yellow Chinese brocade. The Akashi lady had her little girls dressed in quiet but unexceptionable taste: two wore rose plum and two were in white robes lined with red, and all four had on celadon-green cloaks and purple jackets and chemises aglow with the marks of the fulling blocks.
The Third Princess, upon being informed that she was to be hostess to such a gathering, put her little girls into robes of a rich yellowish green, white cloaks lined with green, and jackets of magenta. Though there was nothing overdone about this finery, the effect was of remarkable richness and elegance.
The sliding doors were removed and the several groups separated from one another by curtains. A cushion had been set out for Genji himself at the very center of the assembly. Out near the veranda were two little boys charged with setting the pitch, Tamakazura’s elder son on the shō pipes and Yūgiri’s eldest on the flute. Genji’s ladies were behind blinds with their much-prized instruments set out before them in fine indigo covers, a lute for the Akashi lady, a Japanese koto for Murasaki, a thirteen-stringed Chinese koto for the Akashi princess. Worried lest the Third Princess seem inadequate, Genji himself tuned her seven-stringed koto for her.
“The thirteen-stringed koto holds its pitch on the whole well enough,” he said, “but the bridges have a way of slipping in the middle of a concert. Ladies do not always get the strings as tight as they should. Maybe we should summon Yūgiri. Our pipers are rather young, and they may not be quite firm enough about bringing things to order.”
Yūgiri’s arrival put the ladies on their mettle. With the single exception of the Akashi lady they were all Genji’s own treasured pupils. He hoped that they would not shame him before his son. He had no fears about the Akashi princess, whose koto had often enough joined others in His Majesty’s own presence. It was the Japanese koto that was most likely to cause trouble. He felt for Murasaki, whose responsibility it would be. Though it is a rather simple instrument, everything about it is fluid and indefinite, and there are no clear guides. All the instruments of spring were here assembled. It would be a great pity if any of them struck a sour note.
Yūgiri was in dashingly informal court dress, the singlets and most especially the sleeves very nicely perfumed. It was evening when he arrived, looking a little nervous. The plums were so heavy with blossom in the evening light that one might almost have thought that a winter snow had refused to melt. Their fragrance mixed on the breeze with the wonderfully delicate perfumes inside the house to such enchanting effect that the spring warbler might have been expected to respond immediately.
“I know I should let you catch your breath,” said Genji, pushing a thirteen-stringed koto towards his son, “but would you be so kind as to try this out and see that it is in tune? There are no strangers here before whom you need feel shy.”
Bowing deeply (his manners were always perfect), Yūgiri tuned the instrument in the ichikotsu mode and waited politely for further instructions.
“You must get things started for us,” said Genji. “No false notes, if you please.”
“I fear I do not have the qualifications to join you.”
“I suppose not,” smiled Genji. “But would you wish to have it said that a band of ladies drove you away?”
Yūgiri played just enough to make quite sure the instrument was in tune and pushed it back under the blinds.
The little boys were very pretty in casual court dress. Their playing was of course immature, but it showed great promise.
The stringed instruments were all in tune and the concert began. Each of the ladies did beautifully, but the lute somehow stood out from the other instruments, sedately and venerably quiet and yet with great authority. Yūgiri was listening especially for the japanese koto. The tone was softly alluring and the plectrum caught at the strings with a vivacity which seemed to him very novel. None of the professed masters could have done better. He would not have thought that the Japanese koto had such life in it. Clearly Murasaki had worked hard, and Genji was pleased and satisfied.
The thirteen-stringed Chinese koto, a gentle, feminine sort of instrument, takes its place hesitantly and deferentially among the other instruments. As for the seven-stringed koto, the Third Princess was not quite a complete master yet, but her playing had an assurance that did justice to her recent labors. Her koto took its place very comfortably among the other instruments. Yes, thought Yūgiri, who beat time and sang the lyrics, she had acquired a most admirable touch. Sometimes Genji too would beat time with his fan and sing a brief passage. His voice had improved with the years, filled out and taken on a dignity it had not had before. Yūgiri’s voice was almost as good. I would be very hard put indeed to describe the pleasures of the night, which was somehow quieter as it filled with music.
It was the time of the month when the moon rises late. The flares at the eaves were just right, neither too dim nor too strong. Genji glanced at the Third Princess. She was smaller than the others, so tiny indeed that she seemed to be all clothes. Hers was not a striking sort of beauty, but it was marked by very great refinement and delicacy. One thought of a willow sending forth its first shoots toward the end of the Second Month, so delicate that the breeze from the warbler’s wing seems enough to disarrange them. The hair flowing over a white robe lined with red also suggested the trailing strands of a willow. One knew that she was the most wellborn of ladies. Beside her the Akashi princess seemed gentle and delicate in a livelier, brighter way, and somehow deeper and subtler too, trained to greater diversity. One might have likened her to a wisteria in early morning, blooming from spring into summer with no other blossoms to rival it. She was heavy with child and seemed uncomfortable. She pushed her koto away and leaned forward on an armrest which, though the usual size, seemed too large for her. Genji would have liked to send for a smaller one. Her hair fell thick and full over rose plum. She had a most winning charm in the soft, wavering light from the eaves.
Over a robe of pink Murasaki wore a robe of a rich, deep hue, a sort of magenta, perhaps. Her hair fell in a wide, graceful cascade. She was of just the right height, so beautiful in every one of her features that they added up to more than perfection. A cherry in full bloom — but not even that seemed an adequate simile.
One would have expected the Akashi lady to be quite overwhelmed by such company, but she was not. Careful, conservative taste was evident in her grooming and dress. One sensed quiet depths, and an ineffable elegance which was all her own. She had on a figured “willow” robe, white lined with green, and a cloak of a yellowish green, and as a mark of respect for the other ladies, a train of a most delicate and yielding gossamer. Everything about her emphasized her essential modesty and unassertiveness, but there was much that suggested depth and subtlety as well. Again as a mark of respect, she knelt turned somewhat away from the others with her lute before her and only her knees on the green Korean brocade with which the matting was fringed. She guided her plectrum with such graceful assurance through a quiet melody that it was almost more of a pleasure to the eye than to the ear. One thought of fruit and flowers on the same orange branch, “awaiting the Fifth Month.”
Everything he heard and saw told Yūgiri of a most decorous and Formal assembly. He would have liked to look inside the blinds, most especially at Murasaki, who would doubtless have taken on a calmer and more mature beauty since he had had that one glimpse of her. As for the Third Princess, only a slight shift of fate and she might have been his rather than his father’s. The Suzaku emperor had more than once hinted at something of the sort to Yūgiri himself and mentioned the possibility to others. Yūgiri should have been a little bolder. Yet it was not as if he had lost his senses over the princess. Certain evidences of immaturity had had the effect not exactly of cheapening her in his eyes but certainly of cooling his ardor. He could have no possible designs on Murasaki. She had through the years been a remote and lofty symbol of all that was admirable. He only wished that he had some way of showing, some disinterested, gentlemanly way, how very high was his regard for her. He was a model of prudence and sobriety and would not have dreamed of doing anything unseemly.
It was late and rather chilly when the first rays of “the moon for which one lies in wait” came forth.
“The misty moon of spring is not the best, really,” said Genji. “In the autumn the singing of the insects weaves a fabric with the music. The combination is rather wonderful.”
“It is true,” replied Yūgiri, “that on an autumn night there is sometimes not a trace of a shadow over the moon and the sound of a koto or a flute can seem as high and clear as the night itself. But the sky can have a sort of put-on look about it, like an artificial setting for a concert, and the autumn flowers insist on being gazed at. It is all too pat, too perfect. But in the spring — the moon comes through a haze and a quiet sound of flute joins it in a way that is not possible in the autumn. No, a flute is not really its purest on an autumn night. It has long been said that it is the spring night to which the lady is susceptible, and I am inclined to accept the statement. The spring night is the one that brings out the quiet harmonies.”
“The ancients were unable to resolve the dispute, and I think it would be presumptuous of their inferior descendants to seek to do so. It is a fact that the major modes of spring are commonly given precedence over the minor modes of autumn, and so you may be right.
“His Majesty from time to time has the famous masters in to play for him, and the conclusion seems to be that the ones who deserve the name are fewer and fewer. Am I wrong in suspecting that a person has less to learn from them? Our ladies here may not be on the established list of masters, but I doubt that they would seem hopelessly out of place. Of course, it may be that I have been away from things for so long that I no longer have a very good ear. That would be a pity. Yet I do sometimes find myself marveling that a little practice in this house brings out such talents. How does what you have heard tonight compare with what is chosen for His Majesty to hear?”
“I am very badly informed,” said Yūgiri, “but I do have a thought or two in the matter. It may be a confession of ignorance of the great tradition to say that Kashiwagi on the Japanese koto and Prince Hotaru on the lute are to be ranked among the masters. I had thought them quite without rivals, but this evening I have been forced to change my mind. I am filled with astonishment at what I have heard. Might it be that I had been prepared for something more casual, more easygoing? You have asked me to be voice and percussion, and I have felt very inadequate indeed. Lord Tō no Chūjō is said to be the best of them all on the japanese koto, the one who has the widest and subtlest variety of touches to go with the seasons. It is true that one rarely hears anything like his koto, but I confess that tonight I have been treated to skills that seem to me every bit as remarkable.”
“Oh, surely you exaggerate.” Genji was smiling proudly. “But I dohave a fine set of pupils, do I not? I cannot claim credit for the lute, but even there I think residence in this house has made a difference. I thought it most extraordinary off in the hinterlands and I think it has improved since it came to the city.”
The women were exchanging amused glances that he should be claiming credit even for the Akashi lady.
“It is very difficult indeed to master any instrument,” he continued. “The possibilities seem infinite and nothing seems complete and finished. But there are few these days who even try, and I suppose it should be cause for satisfaction when someone masters any one small aspect. The seven-stringed koto is the unmanageable one. We are told that in ancient times there were many who mastered the whole tradition of the instrument, and made heaven and earth their own, and softened the hearts of demons and gods. Taking into this one instrument all the tones and overtones of all the others, they found joy in the depths of sorrow and transformed the base and mean into the fine and proud, and gained wealth and universal fame. There was a time, before the tradition had been established in japan, when the most enormous trouble was required of anyone who sought to learn the art. He must spend years in strange lands and give up everything, and even then only a few came back with what they had gone out to seek. In the old chronicles there are stories of musicians who moved the moon and the stars and brought unseasonal snows and frosts and conjured up tempests and thunders. In our day there is scarcely anyone who has even mastered the whole of the written lore, and the full possibilities are enormous. So little these days seems to make even a beginning — because the Good Law is in its decline, I suppose.
“It may be that people are intimidated. The seven-stringed koto was the instrument that moved demons and gods, and inadequate mastery had correspondingly unhappy results. What other instrument is to be at the center of things, setting the tone for all the others? Ours is a day of very sad decline. Only a madman, we say, would be so obsessed with an art as to abandon parents and children and go wandering off over Korea and China. But we need not make quite such extreme sacrifices. Keeping within reasonable bounds, why should we not try to make the b inning that seems at least possible? The difficulties in mastering a single mode are indescribable, and there are so many modes and so many complicated melodies. Back in the days when I was a rather enthusiastic student of music, I went through the scores that have been preserved in this country, and presently there was no one to teach me. Yet I know that I am infinitely less competent than the old masters; and it is sad to think that no one is prepared to learn from me even the little that I know, and so the decline must continue.”
It was true, thought Yūgiri, feeling very inadequate.
“If one or another of my princely grandchildren should live up to the promise he shows now and I myself still have a few years before me, then perhaps by the time he is grown I can pass on what I know. It is very little, I am afraid. I think that the Second Prince shows very considerable promise.”
It pleased the Akashi lady to think that she had had a part in this glory.
As she lay down to rest, the Akashi princess pushed her koto towards Murasaki, who relinquished hers to Genji. They played an intimate sort of duet, the Saibara “Katsuragi,” very light and happy. In better voice than ever, Genji sang the lyrics over a second time. The moon rose higher and the color and scent of the plum blossoms seemed to be higher and brighter too. The Akashi princess had a most engagingly girlish touch on the thirteen-stringed koto. The tremolo, bright and clear, had in it something of her mother’s style. Murasaki’s touch, strangely affecting, seemed quiet and solemn by comparison, and her cadenzas were superb. For the envoi there was a shift to a minor mode, somehow friendlier and more approachable. In “The Five Airs” the touch of the plectrum against the fifth and sixth strings of the seven-stringed koto is thought to present the supreme challenge, but the Third Princess had a fine sureness and lucidity. One looked in vain for signs of immaturity. The mode an appropriate one for all the strains of spring and autumn, she did not let her attention waver and she gave evidence of real understanding. Genji felt that he had won new honors as a teacher.
The little pipers had been charming, most solemnly attentive to their responsibilities.
“You must be sleepy,” said Genji. “It seemed as if we had only begun and I wanted to hear more and more. It was silly of me to think of picking the best when everything was so good, and so the night went by. You must forgive me.”
He urged a sip of wine on the little shō piper and rewarded him with a singlet, one of his own favorites. A lady had something for the little flutist, a pair of trousers and a lady’s robe cut from an unassuming fabric. The Third Princess offered a cup to Yūgiri and presented him with a set of her own robes.
“Now this seems very strange and unfair,” said Genji. “If there are to be such grand rewards, then surely the teacher should come first. You are all very rude and thoughtless.”
A flute, a very fine Korean one, was pushed towards him from beneath the Third Princess’s curtains. He smiled as he played a few notes. The guests were beginning to leave, but Yūgiri took up his son’s flute and played a strain marvelous in its clean strength. They were all his very own pupils, thought Genji, to whom he had taught his very own secrets, and they were all accomplished musicians. He knew of course that he had had superior material to work with.
The moon was high and bright as Yūgiri set off with his sons. The extraordinary sound of Murasaki’s koto was still with him. Kumoinokari, his wife, had had lessons from their late grandmother, but had been taken away before she had learned a great deal. She quite refused to let him hear her play. She was a sober, reliable sort of lady whose family duties took all her time. To Yūgiri she seemed somewhat backward in the accomplishments. She was her most interesting when, as did sometimes happen, she allowed herself a fit of temper or jealousy.
Genji returned to the east wing. Murasaki stayed behind to talk with the Third Princess and it was daylight when she too returned. They slept late.
“Our princess has developed into a rather good musician, I think. How did she seem to you?”
“I must confess that I had very serious doubts when I caught the first notes. But now she is very good indeed, so good that I can scarcely believe it is the same person. Of course I needn’t be surprised, seeing how much of your time it has taken.”
“It has indeed. I am a serious teacher and I have led her every step of the way. The seven-stringed koto is such a bother that I would not try to teach it to just anyone, but her father and brother seemed to be saying that I owed her at least that much. I was feeling a little undutiful at the time, and I thought I should do something to seem worthy of the trust.
“Back in the days when you were still a child I was busy with other things and I am afraid I neglected your lessons. Nor have I done much better in recent years. I have frittered my time away and gone on neglecting you. You did me great honor last night. It was beautiful. I loved the effect it had on Yūgiri. ”
Murasaki was now busy being grandmother to the royal children. She did nothing that might have left her open to charges of bad judgment. Hers was a perfection, indeed, that was somehow ominous. It aroused forebodings. The evidence is that such people are not meant to have long lives. Genji had known many women and he knew what a rarity she was. She was thirty-seven this year..
He was thinking over the years they had been together. “You must be especially careful this year. You must overlook none of the prayers and services. I am very busy and sometimes careless, and I must rely on you to keep track of things. If there is something that calls for special arrangements I can give the orders. It is a pity that your uncle, the bishop, is no longer living. He was the one who really knew about these things.
“I have always been rather spoiled and there can be few precedents for the honors I enjoy. The other side of the story is that I have had more than my share of sorrow. The people who have been fond of me have left me behind one after another, and there have been events in more recent years that I think almost anyone would call very sad. As for nagging little worries, it almost seems as if I were a collector of them. I sometimes wonder if it might be by way of compensation that I have lived a longer life than I would have expected to. You, on the other hand — I think that except for our years apart you have been spared real worries. There are the troubles that go with the glory of being an empress or one of His Majesty’s other ladies. They are always being hurt by the proud people they must be with and they are engaged in a competition that makes a terrible demand on their nerves. You have lived the life of a cloistered maiden, and there is none more comfortable and secure. It is as if you had never left your parents. Have you been aware, my dear, that you have been luckier than most? I know that it has not been easy for you to have the princess move in on us all of a sudden. We sometimes do not notice the things that are nearest to us, and you may not have noticed that her presence has made me fonder of you. But you are quick to see these things, and perhaps I do you an injustice.”
“You are right, of course. I do not much matter, and it must seem to most people that I have been more fortunate than I deserve. And that my unhappiness should sometimes have seemed almost too much for me — perhaps that is the prayer that has sustained me.” She seemed to be debating whether to go on. He thought her splendid. “I doubt that I have much longer to live. Indeed, I have my doubts about getting through this year if I pretend that no changes are needed. It would make me very happy if you would let me do what I have so long wanted to do.”
“Quite out of the question. Do you think I could go on without you? Not very much has happened these last years, I suppose, but knowing that you are here has been the most important thing. You must see to the end how very much I have loved you.”
It was the usual thing, all over again.
A very little more and she would be in tears, he could see. He changed the subject.
“I have not known enormous numbers of women, but I have concluded that they all have their good points, and that the genuinely calm and equable ones are very rare indeed.
“There was Yūgiri’s mother. I was a mere boy when we were married and she was one of the eminences in my life, someone I could not think of dismissing. But things never went well. To the end she seemed very remote. It was sad for her, but I cannot convince myself that the fault was entirely mine. She was an earnest lady with no faults that one would have wished to single out, but it might be said that she was the cold intellectual, the sort you might turn to for advice and find yourself uncomfortable with.
“There was the Rokujō lady, Akikonomu’s mother. I remember her most of all for her extraordinary subtlety and cultivation, but she was a difficult lady too, indeed almost impossible to be with. Even when her anger seemed justified it lasted too long, and her jealousy was more than a man could be asked to endure. The tensions went on with no relief, and the reservations on both sides made easy companionship quite impossible. I stood too much on my dignity, I suppose. I thought that if I gave in she would gloat and exult. And so it ended. I could see how the gossip hurt her and how she condemned herself for conduct which she thought unworthy of her position, and I could see that difficult though she might be I was at fault myself. It is because I have so regretted what finally happened that I have gone to such trouble for her daughter. I do not claim all the credit, of course. It is obvious that she was meant all along for important things. But I made enemies for myself because of what I did for her, and I like to think that her mother, wherever she is, has forgiven me. I have on the impulse of the moment done many things I have come to regret. It was true long ago and it is true now.” By fits and starts, he spoke of his several ladies.
“There is the Akashi lady. I looked down upon her and thought her no more than a plaything. But she has depths. She may seem docile and uncomplicated, but there is a firm core underneath it all. She is not easily slighted.”
“I was not introduced to the other ladies and can say nothing about them,” replied Murasaki. “I cannot pretend to know very much about the Akashi lady either, but I have had a glimpse of her from time to time, and would agree with you that she has very great pride and dignity. I often wonder if she does not think me a bit of a simpleton. As for your daughter, I should imagine that she forgives me my faults.”
It was affection for the Akashi princess, thought Genji, that had made such good friends of Murasaki and a lady she had once so resented. Yes, she was splendid indeed.
“You may have your little blank spots,” he said, “but on the whole you manage things as the people and the circumstances demand. I have as I have said known numbers of ladies and not one of them has been quite like you. Not” — he smiled — “that you always keep your feelings to yourself.”
In the evening he went off to the main hall. “I must commend the princess for having carried out her instructions so faithfully.”
Immersed in her music, she was as youthful as ever. It did not seem to occur to her that anyone might be less than happy with her presence.
“Let me have a few days off,” said Genji, “and you take a few off too. You have quite satisfied your teacher. You worked hard and the results were worthy of the effort. I have no doubts now about your qualifications.” He pushed the koto aside and lay down.
As always when he was away, Murasaki had her women read stones to her. In the old stories that were supposed to tell what went on in the world, there were men with amorous ways and women who had affairs with them, but it seemed to be the rule that in the end the man settled down with one woman. Why should Murasaki herself live in such uncertainty? No doubt, as Genji had said, she had been unusually fortunate. But were the ache and the scarcely endurable sense of deprivation to be with her to the end? She had much to think about and went to bed very late, and towards daylight she was seized with violent chest pains. Her women were immediately at her side. Should they call Genji? Quite out of the question, she replied. Presently it was daylight. She was running a high fever and still in very great pain. No one had gone for Genji. Then a message came from the Akashi princess and she was informed of Murasaki’s illness, and in great trepidation sent word to Genji. He immediately returned to Murasaki’s wing of the house, to find her still in great pain.
“And what would seem to be the matter?” He felt her forehead. It was flaming hot.
He was in tenor, remembering that only the day before he had warned her of the dangerous year ahead. Breakfast was brought but he sent it back. He was at her side all that day, seeing to her needs. She was unable to sit up and refused even the smallest morsel of fruit.
The days went by. All manner of prayers and services were commissioned. Priests were summoned to perform esoteric rites. Though the pain was constant, it would at times be of a vague and generalized sort, and then, almost unbearable, the chest pains would return. An endless list of abstinences was drawn up by the soothsayers, but it did no good. Beside her all the while, Genji was in anguish, looking for the smallest hopeful sign, the barely perceptible change that can brighten the prospects in even the most serious illness. She occupied the whole of his attention. Preparations for the visit to the Suzaku emperor, who sent frequent and courteous inquiries, had been put aside.
The Second Month was over and there was no improvement. Thinking that a change of air might help, Genji moved her to his Nijō mansion. Anxious crowds gathered there and the confusion was enormous. The Reizei emperor was much troubled and Yūgiri even more so. There were others who were in very great disquiet. Were Murasaki to die, then Genji would almost certainly follow through with his wish to retire from the world. Yūgiri saw to the usual sort of prayers and rites, of course, and extraordinary ones as well.
“Do you remember what I asked for?” Murasaki would say when she was feeling a little more herself. “May I not have it even now?”
“I have longed for many years to do exactly that,” Genji would reply, thinking that to see her even briefly in nun’s habit would be as painful as to know that the final time had come. “I have been held back by the thought of what it would mean to you if I were to insist on having my way. Can you now think of deserting me?”
But it did indeed seem that the end might be near. There were repeated crises, each of which could have been the last. Genji no longer saw the Third Princess. Music had lost all interest and koto and flute were put away. Most of the Rokujō household moved to Nijō. At Rokujō, where only women remained, it was as if the fires had gone out. One saw how much of the old life had depended on a single lady.
The Akashi princess was at Genji’s side.
“But whatever I have might take advantage of your condition,” said Murasaki, weak though she was. “Please go back immediately.”
The princess’s little children were with them, the prettiest children imaginable. Murasaki looked at them and wept. “I doubt that I shall be here to see you grow up. I suppose you will forget all about me?”
The princess too was weeping.
“You must not even think of it,” said Genji. “Everything will be all right if only we manage to think so. When we take the broad, easy view we are happy. It may be the destiny of the meaner sort to rise to the top, but the fretful and demanding ones do not stay there very long. It is the calm ones who survive. I could give you any number of instances.”
He described her virtues to all the native and foreign gods and told them how very little she had to atone for. The venerable sages entrusted with the grander services and the priests in immediate attendance as well, including the ones on night duty, were sorry that they seemed to be accomplishing so little. They turned to their endeavors with new vigor and intensity. For five and six days there would be some improvement and then she would be worse again, and so time passed. How would it all end? The malign force that had taken possession of her refused to come forth. She was wasting away from one could not have said precisely what ailment, and there was no relief from the worry and sorrow.
I have been neglecting Kashiwagi. Now a councillor of the middle rank, he enjoyed the special confidence of the emperor and was one of the more promising young officials of the day. But fame and honor had done nothing to satisfy the old longing. He took for his bride the Second Princess, daughter of the Suzaku emperor by a low-ranking concubine. It must be admitted that he thought her less than the very best he could have found. She was an agreeable lady whose endowments were far above the ordinary, but she was not capable of driving the Third Princess from his thoughts. He did not, to be sure, treat her like one of the old women who are cast out on mountainsides to die, but he was not as attentive as he might have been.
The Kojijū to whom he went with the secret passion he was unable to quell was a daughter of Jijū, the Third Princess’s nurse. Jijū‘s elder sister was Kashiwagi’s own nurse, and so he had long known a great deal about the princess. He had known when she was still a child that she was very pretty and that she was her father’s favorite. It was from these early beginnings that his love had grown.
Guessing that the Rokujō mansion would be almost deserted, he called Kojijū and warmly pleaded his case. “My feelings could destroy me, I fear. You are my tie with her and so I have asked you about her and hoped that you might let her know something of my uncontrollable longing. You have been my hope and you have done nothing. Someone was saying to her royal father that Genji had many ladies to occupy his attention and that one of them seemed to have monopolized it, and the Third Princess was spending lonely nights and days of boredom. It would seem that her father might have been having second thoughts. If his daughters had to many commoners, he said, it would be nice if they were commoners who had a little time for them. Someone told me that he might even think the Second Princess the more fortunate of the two. She is the one who has long years of comfort and security ahead of her. I cannot tell you how it all upsets me.” He sighed. “They are daughters of the same royal father, but the one is the one and the other is the other.”
“I think, sir, that you might be a little more aware of your place in the world. You have one princess and you want another? Your greed seems boundless.”
He smiled. “Yes, I suppose so. But her father gave me some encouragement and so did her brother. Though it may be, as you say, that I am are of my place in the world as I should be, I have let myself think of her. Both of them found occasion to say that they did not consider me so very objectionable. You are the one who is at fault — you should have worked just a little harder.”
“It was impossible. I have been told that there is such a thing as fate. It may have been fate which made Genji ask for her so earnestly and ceremoniously. Do you really think His Majesty’s affection for you such that, had you made similar overtures, they would have prevailed over His Lordship’s? It is true that you have a little more dignity and prestige now than you had then.”
He did not propose to answer this somewhat intemperate outburst. “Let us leave the past out of the matter. The present offers a rare opportunity. There are very few people around her and you can, if you will, contrive to admit me to her presence and let me tell her just a little of what has been on my mind. As for the possibility of my doing anything improper — look at me, if you will, please. Do I seem capable of anything of the sort?”
“This is preposterous, utterly preposterous. The very thought of it terrifies me. Why did I even come?”
“Not entirely preposterous, I think. Marriage is an uncertain arrangement. Are you saying that these things never under any circumstances happen to His Majesty’s own ladies? I should think that the chances might be more considerable with someone like the princess. On the surface everything may seem to be going beautifully, but I should imagine that she has her share of private dissatisfactions. She was her father’s favorite and now she is losing out to ladies of no very high standing. I know everything. It is an uncertain world we live in and no one can legislate to have things exactly as he wants them.”
“You are not telling me, are you, that she is losing out to others and so she must make fine new arrangements for herself? The arrangements she has already made for herself are rather fine, I should think, and of a rather special nature. Her royal father would seem to have thought that with His Lordship to look after her as if she were his daughter she would have no worries. I should imagine that they have both of them accepted the relationship for what it is. Do you think it is quite your place to suggest changes?”
He must not let her go away angry. “You may be sure that I am aware of my own inadequacy and would not dream of exposing myself to the critical eye of a lady who is used to the incomparable Genji. But it would not be such a dreadful thing, I should think, to approach her curtains and speak with her very briefly? It is not considered such a great sin, I believe, for a person to speak the whole truth to the powers above.”
He seemed prepared to swear by all the powers, and she was young and somewhat heedless, and when a man spoke as if he were prepared to throw his life away she could not resist forever.
“I will see what I can do if I find what seems the right moment. On nights when His Lordship does not come the princess has swarms of women in her room, and always several of her favorites right beside her, and I cannot imagine what sort of moment it will be.”
Frowning, she left him.
He was after her constantly. The moment finally came, it seemed, and she got off a note to him. He set out in careful disguise, delighted but in great trepidation. It did not occur to him that a visit might only add to his torments. He wanted to see a little more of her whose sleeves he had glimpsed that spring evening. If he were to tell her what was in his heart, she might pity him, she might even answer him briefly.
It was about the middle of the Fourth Month, the eve of the lustration for the Kamo festival. Twelve women from the Third Princess’s household were to be with the high priestess, and girls and young women of no very high rank who were going to watch the procession were busy at their needles and otherwise getting ready. No one had much time for the princess. Azechi, one of her most trusted intimates, had been summoned by the Minamoto captain with whom she was keeping company and had gone back to her room. Only Kojijū was with the princess. Sensing that the time was right, she led him to a seat in an east corner of the princess’s boudoir. And was that not a little extreme?
The princess had gone serenely off to bed. She sensed that a man was in her room and thought that it would be Genji. But he seemed rather too polite — and then suddenly he put his arms around her and took her from her bed. She was terrified. Had some evil power seized her? She forced herself to look up and saw that it was a stranger. And here he was babbling complete nonsense. She called for her women, but no one came. She was trembling and bathed in perspiration. Though he could not help feeling sorry for her, he thought this agitation rather charming.
“I know that I am nothing, but I would not have expected quite such unfriendliness. I once had ambitions that were perhaps too grand for me. I could have kept them buried in my heart, I suppose, eventually to die there, but I spoke to someone of a small part of them and they came to your father’s attention. I took courage from the fact that he did not seem to consider them entirely beneath his notice, and I told myself that the regret would be worse than anything if a love unique for its depth and intensity should come to nothing, and my low rank and only that must be held responsible. It was a very deep love indeed, and the sense of regret, the injury, the fear, the yearning, have only grown stronger as time has gone by. I know that I am being reckless and I am very much ashamed of myself that I cannot control my feelings and must reveal myself to you as someone who does not know his proper place. But I vow to you that I shall do nothing more. You will have no worse crimes to charge me with.”
She finally guessed who he was, and was appalled. She was speechless.
“I know how you must feel; but it is not as if this sort of thing had never happened before. Your coldness is what has no precedent. It could drive me to extremes. Tell me that you pity me and that will be enough. I will leave you.”
He had expected a proud lady whom it would not be easy to talk to. He would tell her a little of his unhappiness, he had thought, and say nothing he might later regret. But he found her very different. She was pretty and gentle and unresisting, and far more graceful and elegant, in a winsome way, than most ladies he had known. His passion was suddenly more than he could control. Was there no hiding place to which they might run off together?
He presently dozed off (it cannot be said that he fell asleep) and dreamed of the cat of which he had been so fond. It came up to him mewing prettily. He seemed to be dreaming that he had brought it back to the princess. As he awoke he was asking himself why he should have done that. And what might the dream have meant?
The princess was still in a state of shock. She could not believe that it had all happened.
“You must tell yourself that there were ties between us which we could not escape. I am in as much of a daze as you can possibly be.”
He told her of the surprising event that spring evening, of the cat and the cord and the raised blind. So it had actually happened! Sinister forces seemed to preside over her affairs. And how could she face Genji? She wept like a little child and he looked on with respectful pity. Brushing away her tears, he let them mingle with his own.
There were traces of dawn in the sky. He felt that he had nowhere to go and that it might have been better had he not come at all. “What am I to do? You seem to dislike me most extravagantly, and I find it hard to think of anything more to say. And I have not even heard your voice.”
He was only making things worse. Her thoughts in a turmoil, she was quite unable to speak.
“This muteness is almost frightening. Could anything be more awful? I can see no reason for going on. Let me die. Life has seemed to have some point, and so I have lived, and even now it is not easy to think that I am at the end of it. Grant me some small favor, some gesture, anything at all, and I will not mind dying.”
He took her in his arms and carried her out. She was terrified. What could he possibly mean to do with her? He spread a screen in a corner room and opened the door beyond. The south door of the gallery, through which he had come the evening before, was still open. It was very dark. Wanting to see her face, even dimly, he pushed open a shutter.
“This cruelty is driving me mad. If you wish to still the madness, then say that you pity me.
She did want to say something. She wanted to say that his conduct was outrageous. But she was trembling like a frightened child. It was growing lighter.
“I would like to tell you of a rather startling dream I had, but I suppose you would not listen. You seem to dislike me very much indeed. But I think it might perhaps mean something to you.”
The dawn sky seemed sadder than the saddest autumn sky.
“I arise and go forth in the dark before the dawn.
I know not where, nor whence came the dew on my sleeve.”
He showed her a moist sleeve.
He finally seemed to be leaving. So great was her relief that she managed an answer:
“Would I might fade away in the sky of dawn,
And all of it might vanish as a dream.”
She spoke in a tiny, wavering voice and she was like a beautiful child. He hurried out as if he had only half heard, and felt as if he were leaving his soul behind.
He went quietly off to his father’s house, preferring it to his own and the company of the Second Princess. He lay down but was unable to sleep. He did not know what if anything the dream had meant. He suddenly longed for the cat — and he was frightened. It was a terrible thing he had done. How could he face the world? He remained in seclusion and his secret wanderings seemed to be at an end. It was a terrible thing for the Third Princess, of course, and for himself as well. Supposing he had se- duced the emperor’s own lady and the deed had come to light — could the punishment be worse? Even if he were to avoid specific punishment he did not know how he could face a reproachful Genji.
There are wellborn ladies of strongly amorous tendencies whose dignity and formal bearing are a surface that falls away when the right man comes with the right overtures. With the Third Princess it was a matter of uncertainty and a want of firm principles. She was a timid girl and she felt as vulnerable as if one of her women had already broadcast her secret to the world. She could not face the sun. She wanted to brood in darkness.
She said that she was unwell. The report was passed on to Genji, who came hurrying over. He had thought that he already had worries enough. There was nothing emphatically wrong with her, it would seem, but she refused to look at him. Fearing that she was out of sorts because of his long absence, he told her about Murasaki’s illness.
“It may be the end. At this time of all times I would not want her to think me unfeeling. She has been with me since she was a child and I cannot abandon her now. I am afraid I have not had time these last months for anyone else. It will not go on forever, and I know that you will presently understand.”
She was ashamed and sorry. When she was alone she wept a great deal.
For Kashiwagi matters were worse. The conviction grew that it would have been better not to see her. Night and day he could only lament his impossible love. A group of young friends, in a hurry to be off to the Kamo festival, urged him to go with them, but he pleaded illness and spent the day by himself. Though correct in his behavior toward the Second Princess, he was not really fond of her. He passed the tedious hours in his own rooms. A little girl came in with a sprig of aoi, the heartvine of the Kamo festival.
“In secret, without leave, she brings this heartvine.
A most lamentable thing, a blasphemous thing.”
He could think only of the Third Princess. He heard the festive roar in the distance as if it were no part of his life and passed a troubled day in a tedium of his own making.
The Second Princess was used to these low spirits. She did not know what might be responsible for them, but she felt unhappy and inadequate. She had almost no one with her, most of the women having gone off to the festival. In her gloom she played a sad, gentle strain on a koto. Yes, she was very beautiful, very delicate and refined; but had the choice been his he would have taken her sister. He had not, of course, been fated to make the choice.
“Laurel branches twain, so near and like.
Why was it that I took the fallen leaf?”
It was a poem he jotted down to while away the time — and not very complimentary to the Second Princess.
Though Genji was in a fever of impatience to be back at Nijō, he so seldom visited Rokujō that it would be bad manners to leave immediately.
A messenger came. “Our lady has expired.”
He rushed off. The road was dark before his eyes, and ever darker. At Nijō the crowds overflowed into the streets. There was weeping within. The worst did indeed seem to have happened. He pushed his way desperately through.
“She had seemed better these last few days,” said one of the women, “and now this.”
The confusion was enormous. The women were wailing and asking her to take them with her. The altars had been dismantled and the priests were leaving, only the ones nearest the family remaining behind. For Genji it was like the end of the world.
He set about quieting the women. “Some evil power has made it seem that she is dead. Nothing more. Certainly this commotion does not seem called for.”
He made vows more solemn and detailed than before and summoned ascetics known to have worked wonders.
“Even if her time has come and she must leave us,” they said, “let her stay just a little longer. There was the vow of the blessed Acala. Let her stay even that much longer.”
So intense and fevered were their efforts that clouds of black smoke seemed to coil over their heads.
Genji longed to look into her eyes once more. It had been too sudden, he had not even been allowed to say goodbye. There seemed a possibility — one can only imagine the dread which it inspired — that he too was on the verge of death.
Perhaps the powers above took note. The malign spirit suddenly yielded after so many tenacious weeks and passed from Murasaki to the little girl who was serving as medium, and who now commenced to thresh and writhe and moan. To Genji’s joy and tenor Murasaki was breathing once more.
The medium was now weeping and flinging her hair madly about. “Go away, all of you. I want a word with Lord Genji and it must be with him alone. All these prayers and chants all these months have been an unrelieved torment. I have wanted you to suffer as I have suffered. But then I saw that I had brought you to the point of death and I pitied you, and so I have come out into the open. I am no longer able to seem indifferent, though I am the wretch you see. It is precisely because the old feelings have not died that I have come to this. I had resolved to let myself be known to no one.”
He had seen it before. The old terror and anguish came back. He took the little medium by the hand lest she do something violent.
“Is it really you? I have heard that foxes and other evil creatures sometimes go mad and seek to defame the dead. Tell me who you are, quite plainly. Or give me a sign, something that will be meaningless to others but unmistakable to me. Then I will try to believe you.”
Weeping copiously and speaking in a loud wail, the medium seemed at the same time to cringe with embarrassment.
“I am horribly changed, and you pretend not to know me. You are the same. Oh dreadful, dreadful.”
Even in these wild rantings there was a suggestion of the old aloofness. It added to the horror. He wanted to hear no more.
But there was more. “From up in the skies I saw what you did for my daughter and was pleased. But it seems to be a fact that the ways of the living are not the ways of the dead and that the feeling of mother for child is weakened. I have gone on thinking you the cruelest of men. I heard you tell your dear lady what a difficult and unpleasant person you once found me, and the resentment was worse than when you insulted me to my face and finally abandoned me. I am dead, and I hoped that you had forgiven me and would defend me against those who spoke ill of me and say that it was none of it true. The hope was what twisted a twisted creature more cruelly and brought this horror. I do not hate her; but the powers have shielded you and only let me hear your voice in the distance. Now this has happened. Pray for me. Pray that my sins be forgiven. These services, these holy texts, they are an unremitting torment, they are smoke and flames, and in the roar and crackle I cannot hear the holy word. Tell my child of my torments. Tell her that she is never to fall into rivalries with other ladies, never to be a victim of jealousy. Her whole attention must go to atoning for the sins of her time at Ise, far from the Good Law. I am sorry for everything.”
It was not a dialogue which he wished to pursue. He had the little medium taken away and Murasaki quietly moved to another room.
The crowds swarming through the house seemed themselves to bode ill. All the high courtiers had been off watching the return procession from the Kamo Shrine and it was on their own way home that they heard the news.
“What a really awful thing,” said someone, and there was no doubting the sincerity of the words. “A light that should for every reason have gone on shining has been put out, and we are left in a world of drizzling rain.”
But someone else whispered: “It does not do to be too beautiful and virtuous. You do not live long. ‘Nothing in this world would be their rival,’ the poet said. He was talking about cherry blossoms, of course, but it is so with her too. When such a lady lives to know all the pleasures and successes, her fellows must suffer. Maybe now the Third Princess will enjoy some of the attention that should have been hers all along. She has not had an easy time of it, poor thing.”
Not wanting another such day, Kashiwagi had ridden off with several of his brothers to watch the return procession. The news of course came as a shock. They turned towards Nijō.
“Nothing is meant in this world to last forever,” he whispered to himself. He went in as if inquiring after her health, for it had after all been only a rumor. The wailing and lamenting proclaimed that it must be true.
Prince Hyōbu had arrived and gone inside and was too stunned to receive him. A weeping Yūgiri came out.
“How is she? I heard these awful reports and was unable to believe them, though I had of course known of her illness.”
“Yes, she has been very ill for a very long time. This morning at dawn she stopped breathing. But it seems to have been a possession. I am told that although she has revived and everyone is enormously relieved the crisis has not yet passed. We are still very worried.”
His eyes were red and swollen. It was his own unhappy love, perhaps, that made Kashiwagi look curiously at his friend, wondering why he should grieve so for a stepmother of whom he had not seen a great deal.
“She was dangerously ill,” Genji sent out to the crowds. “This morning quite suddenly it appeared that she had breathed her last. The shock, I fear, was such that we were all quite deranged and given over to loud and unbecoming grief. I have not myself been as calm and in control of things as I ought to have been. I will thank you properly at another time for having been so good as to call.”
It would not have been possible for Kashiwagi to visit Rokujō except in such a crisis. He was in acute discomfort even so — evidence, no doubt, of a very bad conscience.
Genji was more worried than before. He commissioned numberless rites of very great dignity and grandeur. The Rokujō lady had done terrible things while she lived, and what she had now become was utterly horrible. He even felt uncomfortable about his relations with her daughter, the Reizei empress. The conclusion was inescapable: women were creatures of sin. He wanted to be done with them. He could not doubt that it was in fact the Rokujō lady who had addressed him. His remarks about her had been in an intimate conversation with Murasaki overheard by no one. Disaster still seemed imminent. He must do what he could to forestall it. Murasaki had so earnestly pleaded to become a nun. He thought that tentative vows might give her strength and so he permitted a token tonsure and ordered that the five injunctions be administered. There were noble and moving phrases in the sermon describing the admirable power of the injunctions. Weeping and hovering over Murasaki quite without regard for appearances, Genji too invoked the holy name. There are crises that can unsettle the most superior of men. He wanted only to save her, to have her still beside him, whatever the difficulties and sacrifices. The sleepless nights had left him dazed and emaciated.
Murasaki was better, but still in pain through the Fourth Month. It was now the rainy Fifth Month, when the skies are their most capricious. Genji commissioned a reading of the Lotus Sutra in daily installments and other solemn services as well towards freeing the Rokujō lady of her sins. At Murasaki’s bedside there were continuous readings by priests of good voice. From time to time the Rokujō lady would make dolorous utterances through the medium, but she refused all requests that she go away.
Murasaki was troubled with a shortness of breath and seemed even weaker as the warm weather came on. Genji was in such a state of distraction that Murasaki, ill though she was, sought to comfort him. She would have no regrets if she were to die, but she did not want it to seem that she did not care. She forced herself to take broth and a little food and from the Sixth Month she was able to sit up. Genji was delighted but still very worried. He stayed with her at Nijō.
The Third Princess had been unwell since that shocking visitation. There were no specific complaints or striking symptoms. She felt vaguely indisposed and that was all. She had eaten very little for some weeks and was pale and thin. Unable to contain himself, Kashiwagi would sometimes come for visits as fleeting as dreams. She did not welcome them. She was so much in awe of Genji that to rank the younger man beside him seemed almost blasphemous. Kashiwagi was an amiable and personable young man, and people who were no more than friends were quite right to think him superior; but she had known the incomparable Genji since she was a child and Kashiwagi scarcely seemed worth a glance. She thought herself very badly treated indeed that he should be the one to make her unhappy. Her nurse and a few others knew the nature of her indisposition and grumbled that Genji’s visits were so extremely infrequent. He did finally come to inquire after her.
It was very warm. Murasaki had had her hair washed and otherwise sought renewal. Since she was in bed with her hair spread about her, it was not quick to dry. It was smooth and without a suggestion of a tangle to the farthest ends. Her skin was lovely, so white that it almost seemed iridescent, as if a light were shining through. She was very beautiful and as fragile as the shell of a locust.
The Nijō mansion had been neglected and was somewhat run-down, and compared to the Rokujō mansion it seemed very cramped and narrow. Taking advantage of a few days when she was somewhat more herself, Genji sent gardeners to clear the brook and restore the flower beds, and the suddenly renewed expanse before her made Murasaki marvel that she should be witness to such things. The lake was very cool, a carpet of lotuses. The dew on the green of the pads was like a scattering of jewels.
“Just look, will you,” said Genji. “As if it had a monopoly on coolness. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you have improved so.” She was sitting up and her pleasure in the scene was quite open. There were tears in his eyes. “I was almost afraid at times that I too might be dying.”
She was near tears herself.
“It is a life in which we cannot be sure
Of lasting as long as the dew upon the lotus.”
And he replied:
“To be as close as the drops of dew on the lotus
Must be our promise in this world and the next.”
Though he felt no great eagerness to visit Rokujō, it had been some time since he had learned of the Third Princess’s indisposition. Her brother and father would probably have heard of it too. They would think his inability to leave Murasaki rather odd and his failure to take advantage of a break in the rains even odder.
The princess looked away and did not answer his questions. Interpret- ing her silence as resentment at his long absence, he set about reasoning with her.
He called some of her older women and made detailed inquiries about her health.
“She is in an interesting condition, as they say.”
“Really, now! And at this late date! I couldn’t be more surprised.”
It was his general want of success in fathering children that made the news so surprising. Ladies he had been with for a very long while had remained childless. He thought her sweet and pathetic and did not pursue the matter. Since it had taken him so long to collect himself for the visit, he could not go back to Nijō immediately. He stayed with her for several days. Murasaki was always on his mind, however, and he wrote her letter after letter.
“He certainly has thought of a great deal to say in a very short time,” grumbled a woman who did not know that her lady was the more culpable party. “It does not seem like a marriage with the firmest sort of foundations.”
Kojijū was frantic with worry.
Hearing that Genji was at Rokujō, Kashiwagi was a victim of a jeal- ousy that might have seemed out of place. He wrote a long letter to the Third Princess describing his sorrows. Kojijū took advantage of a moment when Genji was in another part of the house to show her the letter.
“Take it away. It makes me feel worse.” She lay down and refused to look at it.
“But do just glance for a minute at the beginning here.” Kojijū unfolded the letter. “It is very sad.”
Someone was coming. She pulled the princess’s curtains closed and went off.
It was Genji. In utter confusion, the princess had time only to push it under the edge of a quilt.
He would be going back to Rokujō that evening, said Genji. “You do not seem so very ill. The lady in the other house is very ill indeed and I would not want her to think I have deserted her. You are not to pay any attention to what they might be saying about me. You will presently see the truth.”
So cheerful and even frolicsome at other times, she was subdued and refused to look at him. It must be that she thought he did not love her. He lay down beside her and as they talked it was evening. He was awakened from a nap by a clamor of evening cicadas.
“It will soon be dark,” he said, getting up to change clothes.
“Can you not stay at least until you have the moon to guide you?”
She seemed so very young. He thought her charming. At least until then — it was a very small request.
“The voice of the evening cicada says you must leave.
‘Be moist with evening dews,’ you say to my sleeves?”
Something of the cheerful innocence of old seemed to come back. He sighed and knelt down beside her.
“How do you think it sounds in yonder village,
The cicada that summons me there and summons me here?”
He was indeed pulled in two directions. Finally deciding that it would be cruel to leave, he stayed the night. Murasaki continued to be very much on his mind. He went to bed after a light supper.
He was up early, thinking to be on his way while it was still cool.
“I left my fan somewhere. This one is not much good.” He searched through her sitting room, where he had had his nap the day before.
He saw a corner of pale-green tissue paper at the edge of a slightly disarranged quilt. Casually he took it up. It was a note in a man’s hand. Delicately perfumed, it somehow had the look of a rather significant docu- ment. There were two sheets of paper covered with very small writing. The hand was without question Kashiwagi’s.
The woman who opened the mirror for him paid little attention. It would of course be a letter he had every right to see. But Kojijū noted with horror that it was the same color as Kashiwagi’s of the day before. She quite forgot about breakfast. It could not be. Nothing so awful could have been permitted to happen. Her lady absolutely must have hidden it.
The princess was still sleeping soundly. What a child she was, thought Genji, not without a certain contempt. Supposing someone else had found the letter. That was the thing: the heedlessness that had troubled him all along.
He had left and the other women were some distance away. “And what did you do with the young gentleman’s letter?” asked Kojijū. “His Lordship was reading a letter that was very much the same color.”
The princess collapsed in helpless weeping.
Kojijū was sorry for her, of course, but shocked and angry too. “Really, my lady — where did you put it? There were others around and I went off because I did not want him to think we were conspiring. That was how I felt. And you had time before he came in. Surely you hid it?”
“He came in on me while I was reading it. I didn’t have time. I slipped it under something and forgot about it.”
Speechless, Kojijū went to look for the letter. It was of course nowhere to be found.
“How perfectly, impossibly awful. The young gentleman was terrified of His Lordship, terrified that the smallest word might reach him. And now this has happened, and in no time at all. You are such a child, my lady. You let him see you, and he could not forget you however many years went by, and came begging to me. But that we should lose control of things so completely — it just did not seem possible. Nothing could be worse for either of you.”
She did not mince words. The princess was too good-natured and still too much of a child to argue back. Her tears flowed on.
She quite lost her appetite. Her women thought Genji cruel and unfeeling. “She is so extremely unwell, and he ignores her. He gives all his attention to a lady who has quite recovered.”
Genji was still puzzled. He read the letter over and over again. He tested the hypothesis that one of her women had deliberately set about imitating Kashiwagi’s hand. But it would not do. The idiosyncrasies were all too clearly Kashiwagi’s. He had to admire the style, the fluency and clear detail with which Kashiwagi had described the fortuitous consummation of all his hopes, and all his sufferings since. But Genji had felt contemptuous of the princess and he must feel contemptuous of her young friend too. A man simply did not set these matters down so clearly in writing. Kashiwagi was a man of discernment and some eminence, and he had written a letter that could easily embarrass a lady. Genji himself had in his younger years never forgotten that letters have a way of going astray. His own letters had always been laconic and evasive even when he had longed to make them otherwise. Caution had not always been easy.
And how was he to behave towards the princess? He understood rather better the reasons for her condition. He had come upon the truth himself, without the aid of informers. Was there to be no change in his manner? He would have preferred that there be none but feared that things could not be the same again. Even in affairs which he had not from the outset taken seriously, the smallest evidence that the lady might be interested in someone else had always been enough to kill his own interest; and here he had more, a good deal more. What an impertinent trifler the young man was! It was not unknown for a young man to seduce even one of His Majesty’s own ladies, but this seemed different. A young man and lady might in the course of their duties in the royal service find themselves favorably disposed towards each other and do what they ought not to have done. Such things did happen. Royal ladies were, after all, human. Some of them were not perhaps as sober and careful as they might be and they made mistakes. The man would remain in the court service and unless there was a proper scandal the mistake might go undetected. But this — Genji snapped his fingers in irritation. He had paid more attention to the princess than the lady he really loved, the truly priceless treasure, and she had responded by choosing a man like Kashiwagi!
He thought that there could be no precedent for it. Life had its frustrations for His Majesty’s ladies when they obediently did their duty. There might come words of endearment from an honest man and there might be times when silence seemed impossible, and in a lady’s answers would be the start of a love affair. One did not condone her behavior but one could understand it. But Genji thought himself neither fatuous nor conceited in wondering how the Third Princess could possibly have divided her affections between him and a man like Kashiwagi.
Well, it was all very distasteful. But he would say nothing. He wondered if his own father had long ago known what was happening and said nothing. He could remember his own tenor very well, and the memory told him that he was hardly the one to reprove others who strayed from the narrow path.
Despite his determined silence, Murasaki knew that something was wrong. She herself had quite recovered, and she feared that he was feeling guilty about the Third Princess.
“I really am very much better. They tell me that Her Highness is not well. You should have stayed with her a little longer.”
“Her Highness — it is true that she is indisposed, but I cannot see that there is a great deal wrong with her. Messenger after messenger has come from court. I gather that there was one just today from her father. Her brother worries about her because her father worries about her, and I must worry about both of them.”
“I would worry less about them than about the princess herself if I thought she was unhappy. She may not say very much, but I hate to think of all those women giving her ideas.”
Genji smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “You are the important one and you have no troublesome relatives, and you think of all these things. I think about her important brother and you think about her women. I fear I am not a very sensitive man.” But of her suggestion that he return to Rokujō he said only: “There will be time when you are well enough to go with me.”
“I would like to stay here just a little while longer. Do please go ahead and make her happy. I won’t be long.”
And so the days went by. The princess was of course in no position to charge him with neglect. She lived in dread lest her father get some word of what had happened.
Letter after passionate letter came from Kashiwagi. Finally, pushed too far, Kojijū told him everything. He was horrified. When had it happened? It had been as if the skies were watching him, so fearful had he been that something in the air might arouse Genji’s suspicions. And now Genji had irrefutable evidence. It was a time of still, warm weather even at night and in the morning, but he felt as if a cold wind were cutting through him. Genji had singled him out for special favors and made him a friend and adviser, and for all this Kashiwagi had been most grateful. How could he now face Genji — who must think him an intolerable upstart and interloper! Yet if he were to avoid Rokujō completely people would notice and think it odd, and Genji would of course have stronger evidence than before. Sick with worry, Kashiwagi stopped going to court. It was not likely that he would face specific punishment, but he feared that he had ruined his life. Things could not be worse. He hated himself for what he had let happen.
Yes, one had to admit that the princess was a scatterbrained little person. The cat incident should not have occurred. Yūgiri had made his feelings in the matter quite clear, and Kashiwagi was beginning to share them. It may be that he was now trying to see the worst in the princess and so to shake off his longing. Gentle elegance was no doubt desirable, but it could go too far and become a kind of ignorance of the everyday world. And the princess had not surrounded herself with the right women. The results were too apparent, disaster for the princess and disaster for Kashiwagi himself. Yet he could not help feeling sorry for her.
She was very pretty, and she was not well. Genji pitied her too. He might tell himself that he was dismissing her from his thoughts, but the facts were rather different. To be dissatisfied with her did not mean to commence disliking her. He would be so sorry for her when he saw her that he could hardly speak. He commissioned prayers and services for her safe delivery. His outward attentions were as they had always been, and indeed he seemed more solicitous than ever. Yet he was very much aware of the distance between them and had to work hard to keep people from noticing. He continued to reprove her in silence and she to suffer agonies of guilt; and that the silence did nothing to relieve the agonies was perhaps another mark of her immaturity, which had been the cause of it all. Innocence can be a virtue, but when it suggests a want of prudence and caution it does not inspire confidence. He began to wonder about other women, about his own daughter, for instance. She was almost too gentle and good-natured, and a man who was drawn to her would no doubt lose his head as completely as Kashiwagi had. Aware of and feeling a certain easy contempt for evidence of irresolution, a man sometimes sees possibilities in a lady who should be far above him.
He thought of Tamakazura. She had grown up in straitened circumstances with no one really capable of defending her interests. She was quick and shrewd, however, and an adroit manipulator. Genji had made the world think he was her father and had caused her problems which a real father would not have. She had turned them smoothly away, and when Higekuro had found an accomplice in one of her serving women and forced his way into her presence she had made it clear to everyone that she had had no say in the matter, and then made it equally clear that her acceptance of his suit was for her a new departure; and so she had emerged unscathed. Genji saw more than ever what a virtuoso performance it had been. No doubt something in earlier lives had made it inevitable that she and Higekuro come together and live together, but it would have done her no good to have people look back on the beginnings of the affair and say that she had led him on. She had managed very well indeed.
Genji thought too of Oborozukiyo. It had come to seem that she had been more accessible than she should have been. He was very sorry to learn that she had finally become a nun. He got off a long letter describing his pain and regret.
“I should not care that now you are a nun?
My sleeves were wet at Suma — because of you!
“I know that life is uncertain, and I am sorry that I have let you anticipate me and at the same time hurt that you have cast me aside. I take comfort in the hope that you will give me precedence in your prayers.”
It was he who had kept her from becoming a nun long before. She mused upon the cruel and powerful bond between them. Weeping at the thought that this might be his last letter, the end of a long and difficult correspondence, she took great pains with her answer. The hand and the gradations of the ink were splendid.
“I had thought that I alone knew the uncertainty of it all. You say that I have anticipated you, but
“How comes it that the fisherman of Akashi
Has let the boat make off to sea without him?
“As for my prayers, they must be for everyone.”
It was on deep green-gray paper attached to a branch of anise, not remarkably original or imaginative and yet obviously done with very great care. And the hand was as good as ever.
Since there could be no doubt that this was the end of the affair, he showed the letter to Murasaki.
“Her point is well taken,” he said. “I should not have let her get ahead of me. I have known many sad things and lived through them all. The detached sort of friend with whom you can talk about the ordinary things that interest you and you think might interest her too — I have had only Princess Asagao and this lady, and now they both are nuns. I understand that the princess has quite lost herself in her devotions and has no time for anything else. I have known many ladies, personally and by repute, and I think I have never known anyone else with quite that combination of earnestness and gentle charm.
“It is not easy to rear a daughter. You cannot know what conditions she has brought with her from earlier lives and so cannot be sure of always having your way. She requires endless care and attention as she grows up. I am glad now that I was spared great numbers of them. In my young and irresponsible days I used to lament that I had so few and to think that a man could not have too many. Endless care and attention — they are what I must ask of you in the case of your little princess. Her mother is young and inexperienced and busy with other things, and I am sure there is a great deal that she is just not up to. I would be much upset if anyone were to find fault with my royal granddaughter. I hope she will have everything she needs to make her way smoothly through life. Ladies of lower rank can find husbands to look after them, but it is not always so with a princess.”
“I certainly mean to do what I can for as long as I can. But, “she added wistfully, “I am not sure that it will be very much.” She envied these other ladies, free to lose themselves in religion.
“Nun’s dress must feel rather new to her and she may not have caught the knack quite yet. Might I ask you to have something done for her? Surplices and that sort of thing — how do you go about making them? Do what you can, in any event, and I will ask the lady in the northeast quarter at Rokujō to see what she can do. Nothing too elaborate, I should think. Something tasteful and womanly all the same.”
Murasaki now turned her attention to green-drab robes, and needle-women were summoned from the palace and put to quiet but carefully supervised work on the cushions and quilts and curtains a nun should have.
The visit to the Suzaku emperor had been postponed until autumn. Since the anniversary of Princess Omiya’s death came in the Eighth Month, Yūgiri had no time for musicians and rehearsals. In the Ninth Month came the anniversary of the death of Kokiden, the Suzaku em peror’s mother. So the Tenth Month had been fixed upon. The Third Princess was not well, however, and another postponement was necessary.
The Second Princess, Kashiwagi’s wife, did that month visit her father. Tō no Chūjō, now the retired chancellor, saw to it that the arrangements outdid all precedents. Kashiwagi was now almost an invalid, but he forced himself to go along.
The Third Princess too had been in seclusion, alone with her troubles. It was perhaps in part because of them that she was having a difficult pregnancy. Genji could not help worrying about her, so tiny and fragile. He began almost to fear the worst. It had been for him a year of prayers and religious services.
Reports of the Third Princess had reached her father’s mountain retreat. He longed to see her. Someone told him that Genji was living at Nijō and rarely visited her. What could it mean? He was deeply troubled and knew again how uncertain married life can be. Reports that Genji had quite refused to leave Murasaki’s side all through her illness had upset the Suzaku emperor, and now he learned that Murasaki had recovered and Genji still saw little of the Third Princess. Had something happened, not by the princess’s own choice but through the machinations of women in her household? During his years at court ugly rumors had sometimes disturbed the decorous life of the women’s quarters. Perhaps his daughter was the victim of something of the sort? He had dismissed worldly trivia from his life, but he was still a father.
He wrote to the Third Princess in long and troubled detail. “I have neglected you because I have had no reason to write, and I hate to think how much time has gone by. I have heard that you are not well. You are in my thoughts even when they should be on my prayers. And how in fact are you? You must be patient, whatever happens and however lonely you may be. It is unseemly to show displeasure when the facts of a matter are less than clear.”
“How sad,” said Genji, who chanced to be with her.
The Suzaku emperor could not possibly have learned the horrid secret. He must have Genji’s negligence in mind.
“And how do you mean to answer?” asked Genji after a time. “I am very sorry indeed to have such melancholy tidings. I may have certain causes for dissatisfaction but I think I may congratulate myself on having said nothing about them. Where can his information have come from?”
The princess looked away in embarrassment. Though she had lost weight because of her worries, she was more delicately beautiful than ever.
“He worries about leaving you behind when you are so very young and innocent. I fear that I worry too. I hope that you are being careful. I say so because I am very sorry indeed that things may not seem to be going as he would have wished and because I want at least you to understand. You are not as self-reliant as you might be and you are easily influenced, and so you may think that I have not behaved well. And of course — of this I have no doubt — I am much too old to be very interesting. Neither of these facts makes me happy, but neither of them should keep you from putting up with me for as long as your father lives. And perhaps you can try not to be too contemptuous of the old man who was, after all, your father’s choice.
“Women are commonly thought to be weak and undependable, but women have preceded me down the road I have long wanted to go. However slow and indecisive I may be, there is not much that need hold me back. But I was moved and pleased that I should have been your father’s choice when he resolved to leave the world. If now I should seem to be following his precedent I am sure I will stand charged with failing to respect his wishes.
“No one among the other ladies who have been important to me need stand in my way. I do not of course know with certainty how things will be for my daughter, but she is having children one after another, and if I see to her needs for as long as I can, I need have no fear about what will happen to her afterwards. My other ladies are all at an age when they need arouse no very sharp regrets if after their several conveniences they too leave the world. I find myself without worries in that regard.
“It does not seem likely that your father will live a great deal longer. He has always been a sickly man and he has recently been in poor spirits as well, and I hope you will be careful that no unpleasant rumors come to him at this late date to disturb his retirement. We shall not worry too much about this world, for it is not worth worrying about. But it would be a terrible sin to stand in the way of his salvation.”
Though he had spoken with careful indirection, tears were streaming from her eyes and she was in acute discomfort. Presently Genji too was in tears. And he was beginning to feel a little ashamed of himself.
“Senile meanderings. I am unhappy when I have them from other people and here I am making you listen to them. You must think me a noisy, tiresome old fool.”
He pushed an inkstone towards her and himself ground the ink and chose the paper on which she was to reply to her father. Her hand was trembling so violently that she could not write. He doubted that she had had such difficulty in replying to the long and detailed letter he had discovered. Though no longer very sorry for her, he told her what to say.
“And your visit? We are almost at the end of the month and your sister has already paid what I am told was a very elaborate visit. I should imagine that in your present condition you will invite unfortunate comparisons. I have memorial services coming up next month and the end of the year is always busy and confused. He may be upset when he sees you, but we cannot put it off forever. Do please try to look a little more cheerful and a little less tired.”
She was in spite of everything very pretty.
Genji had always sent for Kashiwagi when something interesting or important came up, but in recent months there had been no summonses. Though Genji feared that people would think his silence odd, he squirmed at the thought of appearing before the man who had cuckolded him and doubted that he would be able to conceal his distaste. He was by no means unhappy that Kashiwagi stayed away. The rest of the court thought only that Kashiwagi was not well and that there had been no good parties at Rokujō recently. Yūgiri alone suspected that something was amiss. He suspected that Kashiwagi, a susceptible youth, had not been able to suppress the excitement aroused by the view that spring evening to which Yūgiri had also been treated. He did not of course know that anything so extremely scandalous had occurred.
The Twelfth Month came and the visit was scheduled for the middle of the month. The Rokujō mansion echoed with music. Eager to see the rehearsals, Murasaki returned from Nijō. The Akashi princess, who had had another son, was also at Rokujō. Passing whole days with his grand-children, delightful little creatures all of them, Genji had ample reason to think that a long life can be happy. Tamakazura too came for the rehearsals. Since Yūgiri had been conducting preliminary rehearsals in the northeast quarter, the lady of the orange blossoms did not feel left out of things.
The affair would not be complete without Kashiwagi, and his absence would seem very strange indeed. He at first declined Genji’s invitation on grounds of poor health. Nerves, thought Genji, hearing that there were no very clear symptoms and sending off a warmer and more intimate invitation.
“You are refusing?” said Tō no Chūjō. “But he will think it unfriendly of you, and you do not seem so very unwell. You must go, even if it takes a little out of you.”
Reluctantly, when these urgings had been added to several invitations from Rokujō, Kashiwagi set out.
The most important guests had not yet arrived. He was as always admitted to Genji’s drawing room. He looked every bit as ill as reports had him. He had always been a solemn, melancholy youth, overshadowed by his lively brothers. Today he was quieter than usual. Most people would have said that he was in every way qualified to be a royal son-in-law, but to Genji (and he felt rather the same about the princess) he was a callow young person who did not know how to behave.
Though Genji turned on him what seemed a strong eye, the words were gentle enough. “It has been a very long time. I have had nothing to ask your advice about and we have had sick people on our hands. Indeed, I have had little time for anything else. Our princess here has all along thought of doing something in honor of her father, but we have had delay after delay and now the year is almost over. Though not at all what we would really like to do, we hope to put together a minor sort of banquet in keeping with his new position. No, that is too grand a word for it — but we do have our little princes to show off, and so we have had them at dance practice. In that, at least, we should not disappoint him. I have thought and thought and been able to think of no one but you to take charge of the rehearsals. And so I shall not scold you for having neglected me so.”
There was nothing in Genji’s manner to suggest innuendos and hidden meanings. Kashiwagi was acutely uncomfortable all the same, and afraid that his embarrassment might show.
“I was much troubled,” he finally managed to say, “at the news that first one of your ladies and then another was ill, but since spring I have had such trouble with my legs that I have hardly been able to walk. It has been worse all the time and I have been living like a hermit and not even going to court. Now we have the Suzaku emperor’s jubilee. Father says, quite rightly, that the event should be of more concern to us than anyone else. He has resigned his offices and should not be indulging in ceremonies and celebrations, he says, but in spite of my own insignificance we must give some evidence that my gratitude is as deep as his own. And so I forced myself to go with the rest of them.
“His Majesty has withdrawn more and more from the vulgar world and we were sure that he would not welcome an elaborate display. The simple, intimate sort of visit you have in mind seems to me exactly the right thing.”
Genji thought it well mannered of him not to dwell on the details of the Second Princess’s visit, which he knew had been more than elaborate.
“You can see how little we mean to do. I had feared that people might think us wanting in respect and esteem, and to have the approval of the one who understands these things best is very reassuring. Yūgiri seems to be doing modestly well with his work, but he would seem by nature to be little inclined toward the more elegant things. As for the Suzaku emperor, there is not a single one of them at which he is not an expert, but music has always been his chief love and there is little that he does not know about it. He has as you say left the vulgar world behind and it would seem that he has given up music too, but I think that precisely because of the quiet and serenity in which it will be received we must give most careful attention to what we offer. Do please add your efforts to Yūgiri’s and see that the lads are well prepared and in a proper frame of mind as well. I do not doubt that the professionals know what they are doing, but somehow the last touch seems missing.”
He could not have been more courteous and friendly, and Kashiwagi was of course grateful; but he was in acute discomfort all the same. He said little and wanted only to escape. It was far from the easy and pleasant converse of other years, and he did presently slip away.
In the northeast quarter he had suggestions to make about the costumes and the like which Yūgiri had chosen. Though in many ways they already exhausted the possibilities, he showed that he deserved Genji’s high praise by adding new touches.
It was only a rehearsal, but Genji did not want his ladies to be disappointed. On the day of the visit itself the dancers were to wear red robes and lavender singlets. Today they wore green singlets and pink robes lined with red. Seats for thirty musicians, all dressed in white, had been put out on the gallery which led to the angling pavilion, to the southeast of the main buildings. The dancers emerged from beyond the hillock to the strains of “The Misty Hermitage.” There were a few flakes of snow but spring had “come next door.” The plums smiled with their first blossoms. Genji watched through blinds with only Prince Hyōbu and Higekuro beside him. The lesser courtiers were on the veranda. Since it was an informal affair there was only a light supper.
Higekuro’s fourth son, Yūgiri’s third son, and two of Prince Hotaru’s sons danced “Myriad Years.” They were very pretty and even now they carried themselves like little aristocrats. Graceful and beautifully fitted out, they were (was a part of it in the eye of the observer?) elegance incarnate. Yūgiri’s second son, by the daughter of Koremitsu, and a grandson of Prince Hyōbu, son of the guards officer called the Minamoto councillor, danced “The Royal Deer.” Higekuro’s third son did a masked dance about a handsome Chinese general and Yūgiri’s oldest son the Korean dragon dance. And then the several dancers, all of them close relatives, did “Peace” and “Joy of Spring” and numbers of other dances. As evening came on, Genji had the blinds raised, and as the festivities reached a climax his little grandchildren showed most remarkable grace and skill in several plain, unmasked dances. Their innate talents had been honed to the last delicate edge by their masters. Genji was glad that he did not have to say which was the most charming. His aging friends were all weeping copiously and Prince Hyōbu’s nose had been polished to a fine, high red.
“An old man does find it harder and harder to hold back drunken tears,” said Genji. He looked at Kashiwagi. “And just see our young guardsman here, smiling a superior smile to make us feel uncomfortable. Well, he has only to wait a little longer. The current of the years runs only in one direction, and old age lies downstream.”
Pretending to be drunker than he was, Genji had singled out the soberest of his guests. Kashiwagi was genuinely ill and quite indifferent to the festivities. Though Genji’s manner was jocular each of his words seemed to Kashiwagi a sharper blow than the one before. His head was aching. Genji saw that he was only pretending to drink and made him empty the wine cup under his own careful supervision each time it came around. Kashiwagi was the handsomest of them even in his hour of distress. So ill that he left early, he was feeling much worse when he reached home. He could not understand himself. He had in spite of everything remained fairly sober — and he sometimes drank himself senseless. Had his frayed nerves caused his blood to rise? But he was not such a weakling. It had all been a lamentable and most unbecoming performance in any case.
The aftereffects were not of a sort to disappear in a day. He was seriously ill. His parents, in great alarm, insisted that he come home. The Second Princess was very reluctant to let him go. Through the dull days she had told herself that their relations must surely improve, and though it could not have been said that they were a devoted couple she could not bear to say goodbye. She feared that she would not see him again. He was very sorry, and thought himself guilty of very great disrespect to leave a royal princess in forlorn solitude.
Her mother, one of the Suzaku emperor’s lesser ladies, was more vocally grieved. “Parent should not come between husband and wife, I do not care what sort of crisis it might be. I cannot even think of having you away for such a long time. Until you have recovered, they say — but suppose you have a try at recovering here.” She addressed him through only a curtain.
“There is much in what you say. I am not an important man and I received august permission to marry far beyond my station. I had hoped to show my gratitude by living a long life and reaching a position at least a little more worthy of the honor. And now this has happened, and perhaps I will in the end not be able to show even the smallest part of my true feelings. I fear that I am not long for this world. The thought suddenly makes the way into the next world seem very dark and difficult.”
They were both in tears. He was persuaded that he really could not leave.
But his mother, desperately worried, sent for him again. “Why do you refuse to let me even see your face? When I am feeling a little unhappy or indisposed it is you among them all that I want to see first. This is too much.”
And of course this position too was thoroughly tenable.
“Maybe it is because I am the oldest that I have always been her favorite. Even now I am her special pet. She says that she is not herself when I am away for even a little while. And now I am ill, it may be critically, and I fear it would be a very grave offense to stay away. Come to me quietly, please, if you hear that the worst is at hand. I know that we will meet again. I am a stupid, indecisive sort, and no doubt you have found me most unsatisfactory. I had not expected to die quite so soon. I had thought that we had many years ahead of us.”
He was in tears as he left the house. The princess, now alone, was speechless with grief and unrequited affection.
In Tō no Chūjō‘s house there was a great stir to receive him. The illness was not sudden and it had not seemed serious. He had gradually lost his appetite and now he was eating almost nothing. It was as if some mysterious force were pulling him in. That so erudite and discriminating a young man should have fallen into such a decline was cause for lamenting all through the court. Virtually the whole court came around to inquire after him and there were repeated messages from the emperor and the retired emperors, whose concern compounded the worries of his parents. Genji too was surprised and upset and sent many earnest messages to Tō no Chūjō. Yūgiri, perhaps Kashiwagi’s closest friend, was constantly at his side.
The visit to the Suzaku emperor was set for the twenty-fifth. With such a worthy young man so seriously ill and the whole eminent clan in a turmoil, the timing seemed far from happy. The visit had already been postponed too long and too often, however, and to cancel it at this late date seemed out of the question. Genji felt very sorry indeed for the Third Princess.
As is the custom on such occasions, sutras were read in fifty temples. At the temple in which the Suzaku emperor was living, the sutra to Great Vairocana.
Last updated Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 21:07