Making full use of his name for probity and keeping to himself the fact that he thought the Second Princess very interesting, Yūgiri let it seem to the world that he was only being faithful to an old friendship. He paid many a solemn visit, and came to feel more and more as the weeks and months went by that the situation was a little ridiculous. The princess s mother thought him the kindest of gentlemen. He provided the only relief from the loneliness and monotony of her life. He had given no hint of romantic intentions, and it would not do to proclaim himself a suitor. He must go on being kind, and the time would come, perhaps, when the princess would invite overtures. He took careful note, whenever an occasion presented itself, of her manners and tastes.
He was still awaiting his chance when her mother, falling into the clutches of an evil and very stubborn possession, moved to her villa at Ono. A saintly priest who had long guided her devotions and who had won renown as a healer had gone into seclusion on Mount Hiei and vowed never to return to the city. He would, however, come down to the foot of the mountain, and it was for that reason that she had moved to Ono. Yūgiri provided the carriage and escort for the move. Kashiwagi’s brothers were too busy with their own affairs to pay much attention. Kōbai, the oldest of them, had taken an interest in the princess, but the bewilderment with which she had greeted evidence that it might be more than brotherly had made him feel unwelcome. Yūgiri had been cleverer, it would seem, keeping his intentions to himself. When there were religious services he would see to the vestments and offerings and all the other details. The old lady was too ill to thank him.
The women insisted that, given his stern devotion to the proprieties, he would not be pleased with a note from a secretary. The princess herself must answer. And so she did presently get off an answer. The hand was good, and the single line of poetry was quietly graceful. The rest of the letter was gentle and amiable and convinced him more than ever that he must see her. He wrote frequently thereafter. But Kumoinokari was suspicious and raising difficulties, and it was by no means easy for him to visit Ono.
The Eighth Month was almost over. At Ono the autumn hills would be at their best.
“That priest of hers, what is his name,” he said nonchalantly, “has come down from the mountains. There is something I absolutely must talk to him about, and it is a rare opportunity. He comes so seldom. And her mother has not been at all well, and I have been neglecting her.”
He had with him five or six favored guardsmen, all in travel dress. Though the road led only through the nearer hills, the autumn colors were good, especially at Matsugasaki, in gently rolling country.
The Ono villa had an air of refinement and good taste that would have distinguished the proudest mansion in the city. The least conspicuous of the wattled fences was done with a flair which showed that a temporary dwelling need not be crude or common. A detached room at the east front of what seemed to be the main building had been fitted out as a chapel. The mother’s room faced north and the princess had rooms to the west.
These evil spirits are greedy and promiscuous, the mother had said, begging the princess to stay behind in the city. But the princess had insisted upon coming. How could she bear to be so far from her mother? She was forbidden access to the sickroom, however.
Since they were not prepared to receive guests, Yūgiri was shown to a place at the princess’s veranda, whence messages were taken to her mother.
“You are very kind indeed to have come such a distance. You make me feel that I must live on — how else can I thank you for the extraordinary kindness?”
“I had hoped that I myself might be your escort, but my father had things for me to do. My own trivial affairs have occupied me since, and so I have neglected you. I should be very sorry indeed if at any time it might have seemed to you that I did not care.”
Behind her curtains, the princess listened in silence. He was aware of her presence, for the blinds were flimsy and makeshift. An elegant rustling of silk told him what part of the room to be interested in. He used the considerable intervals between messages from the old lady to remonstrate with Koshōshō and the others.
“It has been some years now since I began visiting you and trying to be of service. This seems like a very chilly reception after such a record. I am kept outside and allowed only the diluted conversation that is possible through messengers. It is not the sort of thing my experience has prepared me for. Though of course it may be my lack of experience that is responsible. If I had been a trifling sort in my younger years I might possibly have learned to avoid making myself look silly. There can be few people my age who are so stupidly, awkwardly honest.”
Yes, some of the women were whispering. He had every right to complain, and he was not the sort of underling one treated so brusquely.
“It will be embarrassing, my lady, if you try to put him off. You will seem obtuse and insensitive.”
“I am very sorry indeed that she seems too ill to answer your kind inquiry in the way that it deserves,” the princess finally sent out. “I shall try to answer for her. Whatever spirit it is that has taken possession of her, it seems to be of an unusually baneful sort, and so I have come from the city to be her nurse. I almost feel that I am no longer among the living myself. I fear you will think this no answer at all.”
“These are her own words?” he said, bringing himself to attention. “I have felt, all through this sad illness, as if I myself were the victim. And do you know why that has been? It may seem rude and impertinent of me to say so, but until she has fully and happily recovered, the most important thing to all of us is that you yourself remain healthy and in good spirits. It is you I have been thinking of. If you have been telling yourself that my only concern is for your mother, then you have failed to sense the depth and complexity of my feelings.”
True, perfectly true, said the women.
Soon it would be sunset. Mists were rising, and the mountain fastnesses seemed already to be receding into night. The air was heavy with the songs of the evening cicadas. Wild carnations at the hedge and an array of autumn flowers in near the veranda caught the evening light. The murmur of waters was cool. A brisk wind came down from the mountain with a sighing of deep pine forests. As bells announced that a new relay of priests had come on duty, the solemnity of the services was redoubled, new voices joined to the old. Every detail strengthened the spell that was falling over him. He wanted to stay on and on. The voice of the priest who had come down from the mountain was grander and more solemn than the rest.
Someone came to inform them that the princess’s mother was suddenly in great pain. Women rushed to her side, and so the princess, who had brought few women with her in any event, was almost alone. She said nothing. The time for an avowal seemed to have arrived.
A bank of mist came rolling up to the very eaves.
“What shall I do?” he said. “The road home is blocked off.
“An evening mist — how shall I find my way? —
Makes sadder yet a lonely mountain vi11age.”
“The mists which enshroud this rustic mountain fence
Concern him only who is loathe to go.”
He found these soft words somewhat encouraging and was inclined to forget the lateness of the hour.
“What a foolish predicament. I cannot see my way back, and you will not permit me to wait out the mists here at Ono. Only a very naïve man would have permitted it to happen.”
Thus he hinted at feelings too strong to control. She had pretended to be unaware of them and was greatly discommoded to have them stated so clearly. Though of course he was not happy with her silence, he was determined to seize the opportunity. Let her think him frivolous and rude. She must be informed of the feelings he had kept to himself for so long. He quietly summoned one of his attendants, a junior guards officer who had not long before received the cap of the Fifth Rank.
“I absolutely must speak to His Reverence, the one who has come down from the mountain. He has been wearing himself out praying for her, and I imagine he will soon be taking a rest. The best thing would be to stay the night and try to see him when the evening services are over.”
He gave instructions that the guard go to his Kurusuno villa, not far away, and see to feeding the horses.
“I don’t want a lot of noise. It will do no good to have people know we are here.”
Sensing hidden meanings, the man bowed and withdrew.
“I would doubtless lose my way if I tried to go home,” Yūgiri continued unconcernedly. “Perhaps there are rooms for me somewhere here-abouts? This one here by your curtains — may I ask you to let me have the use of it? I must see His Reverence. He should be finishing his prayers very shortly.”
She was most upset. This insistent playfulness was not like him. She did not want to offend him, however, by withdrawing pointedly to the sickroom. He continued his efforts to coax her from her silence, and when a woman went in with a message he followed after.
It was still daylight, but the mists were heavy and the inner rooms were dark. The woman was horrified at having thus become his guide. The princess, sensing danger, sought to make her escape through the north door, to which, with sure instinct, he made his way. She had gone on into the next room, but her skirts trailed behind, making it impossible for her to bar the door. Drenched in perspiration, she sat trembling in the half-open door. Her women could not think what to do. It would not have been impossible to bar the door from the near side, but that would have meant dragging him away by main force, and one did not lay hands upon such a man.
“Sir, sir. We would not have dreamed that you could even think of such a thing.”
“Is it so dreadful that I am here beside her? I may not be the most desirable man in the world — indeed I am as aware as anyone that I am far from it.” He spoke slowly and with quiet emphasis. “But after all this time she can scarcely call me a stranger.”
She was not prepared to listen. He had taken advantage of her, and there was nothing she wished to say.
“You are behaving like a selfish child. My crime has been to have feelings which I have kept to myself but which I cannot control. I promise you that I will do nothing without your permission. You have shattered my heart, and am I to believe that you do not know it? I am here because you have kept me at a distance and maintained this impossible pretense of ignorance — because I have had no alternative. I have risked being thought a boorish upstart because my sorrows would mean nothing if you did not know of them. Your coldness could make me angry, but I respect your position too much to speak of it.
It would have been easy to force the door open, but that would have destroyed the impression of solemn sincerity which he had been at such pains to create.
“How touching,” he said, laughing. “This thin little line between us seems to mean so much to you.”
She was a sweet, gentle lady, in spite of everything. Perhaps it was her worries that made her seem so tiny and fragile. Her sleeves, pleasantly soft and rumpled — for she had not been expecting guests — gave off a friendly sort of perfume, and indeed everything about her was gently, quietly pleasing.
In upon a sighing wind came the sounds of the mountain night, a humming of insects, the call of a stag, the rushing of a waterfall. It was a scene that would have made the most sluggish and insensitive person postpone his rest. As the moon came over the mountain ridge he was almost in tears.
“If you wish your silence to suggest unplumbed depths you may be assured that it is having the opposite effect. You do not seem to know that I am utterly harmless, and so without pretense that I am easily made a victim of. People who feel free to deal in rumors laugh mightily at me. Are you one of them? If so, I really must beg your leave to be angry. You cannot pretend not to know about these things.”
She was wretched, hating especially the hints that her experience should direct her towards easy acceptance. She had been very unlucky, and she wished she might simply vanish away.
“I am sure I have been guilty of errors in judgment, but nothing has prepared me for this.” Her voice, very soft, seemed on the edge of tears.
“Weeping and weeping, paraded before the world,
The one and only model of haplessness?”
She spoke hesitantly, as if to herself. He repeated the poem in a whisper. She wished she had kept it to herself.
“I am sorry. I should not have said it.
“Had I not come inspiring all these tears,
The world would not have noticed your misfortunes?
“Come, now.” She sensed that he was smiling. “A show of resolve is what is called for.”
He tried to coax her out into the moonlight, but she held stubbornly back. He had no trouble taking her in his arms.
“Cannot this evidence of my feeling persuade you to be a little more companionable? But you may be assured that I shall do nothing without your permission.”
Dawn was approaching. The mists had lifted and moonlight flooded the room, finding the shallow eaves of the west veranda scarcely a hindrance at all. She tried to hide her face and he thought her charming. He spoke briefly of Kashiwagi. Quietly, politely, he reproved her for holding him so much the inferior of his dead friend.
She was as a matter of fact comparing them. Although Kashiwagi had still been a minor and rather obscure official, everyone had seemed in favor of the marriage and she too had come to accept it; and once they were married he had shown that astonishing indifference. Now came scandalous insinuations on the part of a man who was as good as one of the family. How would they appear to her father-in-law — and to the world in general — and to her own royal father? It was too awful. She might fight him off with her last ounce of strength, but the world was not likely to give her much credit. And to keep her mother in ignorance seemed a very grave delinquency indeed. What a dunce her mother would think her when presently she learned of it all!
“Do please leave before daylight.” She had nothing more to say to him.
“This is very odd. You know the interpretation which the dews are likely to put upon a departure at this hour. You shall have your way all the same; but please remember this: I have let you see what a fool I am, and if you gloat over what you have done I shall not hold myself responsible for the extremes I may be driven to.”
He was feeling very inadequate to the situation and would have liked to persist further; but for all his inexperience he knew that he would regret having forced himself upon her. For her sake and for his own he made his way out under the cover of the morning mists.
“Wet by dew-laden reeds beneath your eaves,
I now push forth into the eightfold mists?
“And do you think that your own sleeves will be dry? You must pay for your arbitrary ways.”
Though she could do little about rumors, she was determined not to face the reproaches of her own conscience.
“I think I have not heard the likes of it,” she replied, more icily than before.
“Because these dewy grasses wet your sleeves
I too shall have wet sleeves — is that your meaning?”
She was delightful. He felt sorry for her and ashamed of himself, that having so distinguished himself in her service and her mother’s he should suddenly take advantage of her and propose a rather different sort of relationship. Yet he would look very silly if he were to bow and withdraw.
He left in great uncertainty. The weed-choked path to the city resembled his thoughts. These nocturnal wanderings were novel and exciting, but they were very disturbing too. His damp sleeves would doubtless be matter for speculation if he returned to Sanjō, and so he went instead to the northeast quarter at Rokujō. Morning mists lay heavy over the garden — and how much heavier must they be at Ono!
The women were whispering. It was not the sort of thing they expected of him. The lady of the orange blossoms always had a change of clothing ready, fresh and elegant and in keeping with the season. When he had had breakfast he went to see his father.
He got off a note to the princess, but she refused to look at it. She was very upset at this sudden aggressiveness. She did not want to tell her mother, but it would be even worse if her mother were to have vague suspicions or to hear the story from one of the women. It was a world which refused to keep secrets. Perhaps, after all, the best thing — it would upset her mother of course, but that could not be helped — would be to have her women transmit the whole story, complete and without distortion. They were close even for mother and daughter, and there had not been the smallest secret between them. The romancers tell us of daughters who keep secrets from their parents even when the whole world knows, but the possibility did not occur to the princess.
“There is not the slightest indication,” said one of the women, “that her mother knows anything. It is much too soon for the poor girl to begin worrying.”
They were beside themselves with curiosity about the unopened letter.
“It will seem very odd, my lady, if you do not answer. Odd and, I should say, rather childish.” And they opened it for her.
“It was entirely my fault,” said the princess. “I was not as careful as I should have been and so he caught a glimpse of me. Yet I do think it inconsiderate of him, shockingly so. Tell him, please, that I could not bring myself to read it.” Desperately lonely, she turned away from them.
The letter was warm but inoffensive, so much of it as they were able to see.
“My heart is there in the sleeve of an unkind lady,
Quite without my guidance. I am helpless.
“That is nothing unique, I tell myself. We all know what happens when a heart is left to its own devices. I do think all the same that it has been very badly misled.”
It was a long letter, but this was all the women were able to read. They were puzzled. It did not sound like a nuptial letter, and yet — they were sad for their lady, so visibly upset, and they were troubled and curious too. He had been so very kind, and if she were to let him have his way he might be disappointed in her. The future seemed far from secure.
The sick lady knew nothing of all this. The evil spirit continued to torment her, though there were intervals when she was more herself.
The noontide services were over and she had only her favorite priest beside her.
“Unless the blessed Vairocana is deceiving us,” he said, overjoyed to see that she was resting comfortably, “I have every reason to believe that my humble efforts are succeeding. These spirits can be very stubborn, but they are lost souls, no more, doing penance for sins in other lives.” He had a gruff voice and an abrupt manner. He added, apropos of nothing: “General Yūgiri — how long has he been keeping company with our princess?”
“Company? You are suggesting — but there has been nothing of the sort. He and my late son-in-law were the closest of friends, and he has been very kind, most astonishingly kind, and that is all. He has come to inquire after me and I am very grateful.”
“Now this is strange. I am a humble man from whom you need not hide the truth. As I was going in for the early services I saw a very stylish gentleman come out through the door there at the west corner. The mists were heavy and I was not able to make out his features, but some of my colleagues were saying that it was definitely the general. He sent his carriage away yesterday evening, they said, and stayed the night. I did catch a very remarkable scent. It almost made me dizzy. Yes, said I, it had to be the general. He does have such a scent about him always. My own feeling is that you should not be exactly overjoyed. He knows a great deal, there is no doubt about that. His grandmother was kind enough to have me read scriptures for him when he was a boy, and whenever it has been within my humble power I have continued to be of service to him since. I do not think that there are advantages in the match for your royal daughter. His lady has an iron will and very great influence, and her family is at the height of its power. She has seven or eight children. I think it most doubtful that your daughter has much chance of supplanting her. Women are weak creatures, born with sinful inclinations, and just such missteps as this leave them wandering in darkness all the long night through. If she angers the other lady she will have much to do penance for. No, my lady, no. I cannot be held responsible.” Not one to mince words, he concluded with an emphatic shake of the head.
“It is, as you say, strange. There has been no indication, not the slightest, of anything of the sort. The women said that he was upset to find me so ill, and that after he had rested a little he would try to see me. Don’t you suppose that is why he stayed the night? He is the most proper and honest of gentlemen.”
She pretended to disagree, but his observations made sense. There had from time to time been signs of an uncommon interest. But Yūgiri was such an earnest, scholarly sort, so very attentive to the proprieties, so concerned to avoid scandal. She had felt sure that nothing would happen without her daughter’s permission. Had he taken advantage of the fact that she was so inadequately attended?
She summoned Koshōshō when the priest had taken his leave. “What did in fact happen?” she asked, describing his view of the case. “Why didn’t she tell me? But it can’t really be so bad.”
Though sorry for the princess, Koshōshō described everything she knew in very great detail. She told of the impression made by the letter that morning, of what she had seen and the princess had hinted at.
“Don’t you suppose he made a clean breast of his feelings? That and no more? He showed the most extraordinary caution and left before the sun was up. What have the others told you?”
She did not suspect Who the real informer was. The old lady was silent, tears streaming over her face. Koshōshō wished she had not been so frank. She feared the effect of so highly charged a revelation on a lady already dangerously ill.
“But the door was barred,” she said, trying to repair the damage a little.
“Maybe it was. But she let him see her, nothing alters that horrid fact. She may be blameless otherwise, but if the priests and the wretched urchins they brought with them have had something to say, can you imagine that they will have no more? Can you expect outsiders to make apologies for her and to protect and defend her?” And she added: “We have such a collection of incompetents around us.”
Poor, poor lady, Koshōshō was thinking — in torment already, and now this shocking news. She had wanted for her daughter the elegant and courtly seclusion that becomes a princess, and just think what the world would be saying about her!
“Please tell her,” said the old lady, drying her tears, “that I am feeling somewhat better and would like to see her. She will understand, I am sure, why I cannot call on her, as I know I should. It seems such a very long time.”
Koshōshō went for the princess, saying only that her mother wanted to see her. The princess brushed her hair, wet from weeping, and changed to fresh clothes. Still she hesitated. What would these women be thinking? And her mother — her mother could know nothing as yet, and would be hurt if hints were to come from someone else.
“I am feeling dreadful,” she said, lying down again. “It would be better for everyone if I were not to recover. Something seems to be attacking my legs.”
She had one of the women massage it away, a force, probably, that had taken advantage of the confusion to mount through the extremities.
“Someone has been telling your good mother stories,” said Koshōshō. “She asked me about last night and I told her everything. I insisted on your innocence by making the door seem a little firmer than it was. If she should ask you, please try to make your story match mine.” She did not say how upset the old lady had been.
So it was true. Utterly miserable, the princess wept in silence. Then and now — she had had two suitors, both of them unwelcome. Both had caused her poor mother pain. As for the princess herself, she seemed to face a future of limitless trials. There would be further overtures. She had resisted, and that was some small comfort; but for a princess to have exposed herself as she had was inexcusably careless.
Presently it was evening.
“Do please come,” said her mother.
She made her way in through a closet. The old lady sat up, ill though she was, and omitted none of the amenities. “I must look a fright. Do please excuse me. It has only been a few days and it seems like an eternity. We cannot know that we will meet in another world, and we cannot be sure that we will recognize each other if we meet again in this one. Perhaps it was a mistake to become so fond of each other. Such a very short time together and we must say goodbye.” She was weeping.
The princess could only gaze at her in silence. Always a quiet, reserved girl, she knew nothing of the comforts of confession. The mother could not bring herself to ask questions. She ordered lights and had dinner brought for the two of them. Having heard from Koshōshō that the princess was not eating, she arranged the meal in the way the princess liked best, but to no avail. The princess was pleased all the same to see her mother so improved.
A letter came from Yūgiri. A woman who knew nothing of what had happened took it. “From the general,” she said, “for Koshōshō.”
How unfortunate, thought Koshōshō. Very deferentially, the mother asked what might be in it. Resentment was giving way to anticipation and a hope that Yūgiri might again come visiting. Indeed, the possibility that he might not was emerging as her chief worry.
“You really must answer him,” she said to the princess. “You may proclaim to the world that you are clean and pure, but how many will believe you? Let him have a good-natured answer and let things go on very much as they are. That will be the best thing. You will not want him to think you an ill-mannered flirt.”
Reluctantly Koshōshō gave up the letter.
“You may be sure that evidence of your unconscionable hostility will have the effect of arousing me further.
“Shallow it is, for all these efforts to dam it.
You cannot dam and conceal so famous a flow.”
It was a long letter, but the old lady read no more. It seemed to her the worst sort of sophistry, and the implied reason for his failure to visit seemed pompous and wholly unacceptable. Kashiwagi had not been the best of husbands, but he had behaved correctly and never made the princess feel threatened or insecure. The old lady had not been happy with him — and Yūgiri’s behavior was far worse. What would Tō no Chūjō and his family be thinking, what would they be saying?
But she must try to learn more of Yūgiri’s intentions. Drying her tears and struggling to quiet her thoughts, she set about composing a letter. The hand was like the strange tracks of a bird.
“When she came inquiring about my health, which is in a sorry state, I urged that she reply to your letter. I could see that she was not at all well herself, and I felt that some sort of reply was required of someone.
“You stay a single night. It means no more,
This field of sadly fading maiden flowers?”
It was a much shorter note than she would have wished. She folded it formally and lay down, suddenly worse. Her women were greatly alarmed. The evil spirit had lulled her into a moment of inattention and taken advantage of it. The more famous healers were put to work again and the house echoed with their prayers and incantations. The princess must return at once to her rooms, insisted the women. She refused absolutely. If her mother was to die she wished to die also.
Yūgiri returned to his Sanjō mansion at about noon. He knew what almost no one else did, that nothing had happened, and he would have felt rather foolish running off to Ono again in the evening. This victory for restraint, however, increased his longing a thousand times over. Kumoinokari had sensed in a general way what was happening and was of course not pleased, but with so many children to look after she had no trouble feigning ignorance. She was resting in her parlor.
It was dark when the old lady’s letter arrived. In that strange hand, like the tracks of a bird, it was next to illegible. He brought it close to a lamp.
Kumoinokari came lurching through her curtains and snatched it from over his shoulder.
“And why did you do that? It is a note from the lady at Rokujō. She was coming down with a cold this morning and feeling wretched. I meant to look in on her when I left Father, but something came up, and so I got off a note instead. Read it, if you are so curious. Does it look like a love letter? It seems rather common of you to want to. You treat me more like a child the longer we are together. Have you thought of the effect it may have on me?”
He did not try to recover the note, nor could she quite bring herself to read it.
“It is your own conduct,” she said, “which makes you feel that I do not do sufficient honor to your maturity.”
Though she found his self-possession somewhat daunting, she answered with a brisk youthfulness that was not at all unconvincing.
“You may be right. But there is one matter of which you seem to be unaware, that this sort of thing happens all the time. What is unique, I suspect, is the case of a man who reaches a certain station in life and continues to be unwaveringly faithful to one lady. You have heard of henpecking, perhaps? People always seem to find it very funny. And I should point out that the wife of so stodgy a man tends not to seem very exciting herself. Think how her reputation rises, how the wrinkles go away, how interesting and amusing life is, when she is first among a multitude of ladies. What fun is it and what satisfaction does it give to be like the old dotard, what’s his name, hanging on to his Lady Something-or-other?”
It seemed to be his purpose, while pretending that the letter was nothing, to get it back.
She smiled a bright and pretty smile. “But you are so young all of a sudden that you make me very much aware of my wrinkles. And the novelty will take some getting used to. I have not had the proper education.”
A complaining wife, he thought, can sometimes be rather charming.
“Oh, you see a change in me? That surprises and upsets me. It shows that we no longer understand each other as we once did. Has someone been talking about me? Someone, perhaps, who long ago found me unacceptable? Who has failed to note that my sleeves are no longer blue, and still wishes to interfere? But whoever she may be, an innocent princess is being wronged.” He was not feeling in the least apologetic, and did not wish to argue the matter.
Tayū squirmed but was no more prepared to argue than he. The discussion went on for a time, during which Kumoinokari managed to hide the letter. Pretending not to care very much, he went to bed. But he was very excited and very eager to have it back. He had guessed that it was from the princess’s mother. And what might it say? He lay sleepless, and when Kumoinokari was asleep probed under her quilts. He found nothing. How had she been able to hide it?
He lay in bed after the sun was up and after Kumoinokari had been summoned to work by the children. As if putting himself in order for the day, he probed yet further, and still found no trace of it. Persuaded that it was indeed an innocent sort of letter, the busy Kumoinokari had forgotten about it. The children were chasing one another and ministering to their dolls and having their time at reading and calligraphy. The baby had come crawling up and was tugging at her sleeves. She had no thought for the letter. Yūgiri could think of nothing else. He must get off an answer, but he did not know what he would be answering. The old lady would conclude that her letter had been lost if his seemed irrelevant.
After breakfast there came a lull of sorts and he felt that he could wait no longer.
“What was in the letter last night? Do you propose to keep it secret? I ought to go see her again today, but I am not feeling at all well myself. So I ought to get off a note.”
He did not seem to care a great deal, and she was beginning to feel a little foolish.
“Oh, think up some elegant excuse. Tell her you went hiking in the mountains and caught cold.”
“That was not funny, and I see no need for elegance. You think I am like all the others, do you? Our friends here have always thought me a queer old stick, and these insinuations must strike them as rather far from the mark. But the letter — where is it?”
She was in no hurry. They talked of this and that, and had their naps, and it was evening.
Awakened by the evening cicadas he thought again of the gloomy mountain mists. What a wretched business! And he still had not answered. Deliberately, he got ink and brush ready, and considered how to answer an unseen letter. His eyes lighted on a cushion that seemed to bulge along the far edge — and there it was! The obvious places were the ones a person overlooked. He smiled, and immediately was serious again. It was deeply distressing. The old lady was assuming that something of significance had occurred. How very unfortunate — and his failure to visit the night before must have been for her a disaster. He had not even written. No ordinary sort of disquiet could explain such a chaotic hand.
Nothing could be done now to repair the damage. He was angry with Kumoinokari. Her playfulness could have done no good even if it had done no damage. But no, the fault was his. He had not trained her properly. He was so angry with her and with himself that he wanted to weep.
Perhaps he should go immediately to Ono. He could expect the princess to be no friendlier than before. But how was he to explain the mother’s apparent sense of crisis? It was moreover a very unlucky day, not the sort on which a man went forth in the expectation of having a bride bestowed upon him. He must be calm and take the longer view. He set about an answer.
“I was surprised and for many reasons pleased to have your letter. Yet it is somehow accusing. What can have aroused your suspicions?
“Although I made my way through thick autumn grasses,
I wove no pillow of grass for vagrant sleep.
“Apologies are not always to the point, even when silence might seem to speak of something”
There was a long message for the princess as well. Ordering a fast horse, he summoned the guards officer of the last Ono visit and, with whispered instructions, sent him off to Ono once more.
“Say that I have been at Rokujō all day and have just come home.”
The princess’s mother had been persuaded by his apparent coldness to dispatch a resentful note, and there had been no answer. What utter insolence! It was evening once more and she was in despair and in even greater pain. The princess, for her part, did not find his behavior even mildly surprising. Her only concern was that she had let him see her. Her mother’s apparent view of the case embarrassed her acutely and left her more inarticulate than ever. Poor child, the mother was thinking. Misfortune heaped upon misfortune.
“I do not wish to seem querulous, my dear, but your astonishing innocence makes it difficult for me to resign myself to what has happened. You have left yourself exposed. There is nothing to be done now, but do please try to be more careful. I do not count, I know, but I have tried to do my best. I would have thought that you had reached an age when you could be expected to know about men. I have hoped that I might be a little more confident. But I see that you are still as easily persuaded as a child, and pray that I may live a little longer.
“Wellborn ladies, even if they are not princesses, do not have two husbands. And you are a princess, and should above everything guard against appearing to be within easy reach. Things went so badly the first time and I worried so about you. But it was meant to be, and there is no point in complaining. Your royal father seemed to find him acceptable, and he seems to have had his father’s permission too, and so I told myself that I must be the one who did not understand. I watched it all, knowing that you had done nothing wrong and that I might as well complain to the skies. This new affair will bring no great honor to either of you, but if it leads to the usual sort of relationship, well, time will go by and we can try not to listen to the gossips, and perhaps learn to live with it. Or so I had concluded.” She was weeping. “So I had concluded before I discovered what sort of man he is.”
A gently, forlornly elegant little figure, the princess could only weep with her.
“Certainly there is nothing wrong with your appearance,” continued the mother, gazing at her, “nothing that singles you out as remarkably inferior. What can you have done in other lives that you should have no happiness in this one?”
She was suddenly in very great pain. Malevolent spirits have a way of seizing upon a crisis. She fell into a coma and was growing colder by the moment. The priests offered the most urgent supplications. For her favorite priest there was a special urgency. He had compromised his vows, and it would be a cruel defeat to take down his altar and, having accomplished nothing at all, wander back up the mountain. Surely he deserved better treatment at the hands of the Blessed One.
The princess was beside herself.
In the midst of all the confusion a letter arrived from Yūgiri. The old lady, now dimly aware of what was happening, took it as evidence that another night would pass without a visit. Worse and worse — nothing now could keep her daughter from being paraded before the world as an utter simpleton. And she herself — what could have persuaded her to write so damaging a letter?
These were her last thoughts. She was no more.
I need not describe the grief and desolation she left behind. She had been ill much of the time, victim of a malign possession, and more than once they had thought that she was dying. It had been assumed that this was another such seizure, and the priests had been feverishly at work. But it was soon apparent that the end had come. The princess clung to her, longing to go wherever she had gone.
“We must accept the inevitable, my lady.” The women offered the usual platitudes. “Of course you are sad, but she has gone the way from which there is no returning. However much you may wish to go with her, it is not possible.” They pulled her from her mother’s side. “You are inviting bad luck, and your dear mother will have much to reprove you for. Do please come with us.”
But the girl seemed to waste away before their eyes, and to understand nothing of what was said to her.
The altar was taken down. Two and three at a time, the priests were departing. Intimates of the family remained, as might have been expected, but everything was over, and the house was still and lonely. Messages of condolence were already coming in, for the news had spread swiftly. A dazed Yūgiri was among the first to send condolences. There were messages from Genji and Tō no Chūjō and many others.
There was an especially touching letter from the princess’s father, the Suzaku emperor. The princess forced herself to read it.
“I had known of her illness for some time, but I had known too, of course, that she had long been in bad health. I see now that I was not as worried as I should have been. But that is over and finished, and what concerns us now is your own state of mind. Please be sure, if it is any comfort, that I am grieving with you, and please try to take some comfort from the thought that everything must pass.”
Through her tears, she set down an answer.
The old lady had left instructions that the funeral take place that same day. Her nephew, the governor of Yamato, had charge of the arrangements. The princess asked for a last silent interview with her mother, but of course it accomplished nothing. The arrangements were soon in order.
At the worst possible moment Yūgiri appeared.
“I must go to Ono today,” he had said as he left Sanjō. “If I don’t go today I don’t know when I can go. The next few days are bad.” The image of the grieving princess was before his eyes.
“Please, my lord,” said the women. “You should not seem to be in such a hurry.”
But he insisted.
The journey to Ono was a long one and a house of grief awaited him at the end of it. Gloomy screens and awnings kept the funeral itself from his view. He was shown to the princess’s room, where the governor of Yamato, in tears, thanked him for his visit. Leaning against a corner railing, he asked that one or two of the princess’s women be summoned. They were none of them in a state to receive him, but Koshōshō did presently come in. Though he was not an emotional man, what he had seen of the house and its occupants so moved him that he was at first unable to speak. Generalizations about the evanescence of things were suddenly particular and immediate.
“I had allowed myself to be persuaded that she was recovering,” he said, controlling himself with difficulty. “It always takes time to awaken, as they say, and this has been so sudden.”
The cause of her mother’s worst torments, thought the princess, was here before her. She knew about inevitability and all that sort of thing. But how cruel they were, the ties that bound her to him! She could not bring herself to send out an answer.
“And what may we tell him you have said, my lady? He is an important man and he has come running all this distance to see you. Do not, please, make it seem that you are unaware of his kindness.”
“Imagine how I feel and say what seems appropriate. I cannot think of anything myself.” And she went to bed.
Her women quite understood. “Poor lady, she is half dead herself,” said one of them. “I have told her that you are here.”
“There is nothing more I can say. I shall come again when I am a little more in control of myself and when your lady is somewhat more composed. But why did it happen so suddenly?”
With many pauses and with some understatement, Koshōshō described the old lady’s worries. “I fear I will seem to be accusing you of something, my lord. This dreadful business has left us somewhat distraught, and it may be that I have been guilty of inaccuracies. My lady seems only barely alive, but these things too must end, and when she is a little more herself perhaps I can describe things a little more clearly and listen more carefully to whatever you may wish to say to her.”
She did not seem to be exaggerating her grief. There was little more to be said.
“Yes, we all wandering in pitch-blackness. Please do try to comfort her, and if there should be the briefest answer —”
He did not want to go, but it was a delicate situation and he had his dignity to consider. It had not occurred to him that the funeral would take place this very evening. Though the arrangements had been hurried, they did not seem in any way inadequate. He left various instructions with the people from his manors and started for the city. Ceremonies which because of the haste might have been almost perfunctory were both grand and well attended.
“Extraordinarily kind of Your Lordship,” said the governor of Yamato.
And so it was all over, and the princess was quite alone. She was convulsed with grief, but of course nothing was to be done. It went against nature, thought the women, to become so strongly attached to anyone, even a mother.
“You cannot stay here by yourself,” insisted the governor, busy with the last details. “If you are ever to find comfort it must be back in the city.”
But the princess insisted that she would live out her days at Ono, with the mountain mists to remember her mother by. The priests who were to preside over the mourning had put up temporary cells in the east rooms and galleries and certain of the east outbuildings. One hardly knew that they were still on the premises. The last traces of color had been stripped from the princess’s rooms.
The days went by, though she was scarcely able to distinguish day from night, and it was the Ninth Month.
Harsh winds came down from the mountains, the trees were stripped bare, and it was the melancholy time of the year. The princess’s spirits were as black as the skies. She wanted to die, but not even that was permitted her. The gloom was general, though Yūgiri’s gifts brightened the lives of the priests a little. There were daily messages for the princess which combined the most eloquent condolences with chidings for her aloofness. She refused to look at them. She was still living her mother’s last days. It was as if her mother, wasting away, were still here beside her, seeing everything in the worst light, convinced that no other interpretation was possible. The resentment would most certainly be an obstacle on the way into the next world. The briefest of his messages repelled her and brought on new floods of tears. The women could not think what to do for her.
Yūgiri at first attributed the silence to grief. But too much time went by and he was becoming resentful. Grief must end, after all. She was being unkind, obtuse even, and indeed he was coming to think it a rather childish performance. If his notes had been full of flowers and butterflies and all the other fripperies, she would have been right to ignore them; but he made it quite clear that he felt her grief as his own.
He remembered his grandmother’s death. It had seemed to him that Tō no Chūjō was inadequately grief-stricken and too easily philosophical, and that the memorial services were more for the public than for the dead lady herself. He had been deeply grateful to Genji, on the other hand, for going beyond what was asked of an outsider, and he had felt very close to Kashiwagi. Of a quiet, meditative nature, Kashiwagi had seemed the most lovable of them all, the most sensitive to the sorrows of things. And so he felt very keenly for the bereaved princess.
What did it all mean? Kumoinokari was asking. He had not seemed on such very good terms with the dead lady, nor had their correspondence been of the most flourishing.
One evening as he lay gazing up at the sky she sent one of her little boys with a note on a rather ordinary bit of paper.
“Which emotion demands my sympathy,
Grief for the one or longing for the other?
“The uncertainty is most trying.”
He smiled. She had a lively imagination, though he did not think the reference to the princess’s mother in very good taste. Coolly he dashed off a reply.
“I do not know the answer to your question.
The dew does not rest long upon the leaves.
“My feelings are for the world in general.”
She wished he might be a little more communicative. It was not the fleeting dews that worried her.
He set off for Ono once more. He had thought to wait until the mourning was over but could no longer contain his impatience. The princess’s reputation was beyond saving in any event, and he might as well do what other men did and have his way with her. He did not try very hard to persuade Kumoinokari that her suspicions were groundless. For all the princess’s determination to be unfriendly, he had a weapon to use against her, the old lady’s reproof at his failure to come visiting that second evening.
It was the middle of the Ninth Month, a time when not even the most insensitive of men can be unaware of the mountain colors. The autumn winds tore at the trees and the leaves of the vines seemed fearful of being left behind. Someone far away was reading a sutra, and someone was invoking the holy name, and for the rest Ono seemed deserted. Indifferent to the clappers meant to frighten them from the harvests, the deer that sought shelter by the garden fences were somber spots among the hues of autumn. A stag bayed plaintively, and the roar of a waterfall was as if meant to break in upon sad thoughts. Insect songs, less insistent, among the brown grasses, seemed to say that they must go but did not know where. Gentians peered from the grasses, heavy with dew, as if they alone might be permitted to stay on. The sights and sounds of autumn, ordinary enough, but recast by the occasion and the place into a melancholy scarcely to be borne.
In casual court robes, pleasantly soft, and a crimson singlet upon which the fulling blocks had beaten a delicate pattern, he stood for a time at the corner railing. The light of the setting sun, almost as if directed upon him alone, was so bright that he raised a fan to his eyes, and the careless grace would have made the women envious had he been one of their number. But alas, they could not have imitated it. He smiled, so handsome a smile that it must bring comfort to the cruelest grief, and asked for Koshōshō.
“Come closer please” Though she was already very near, he sensed that there were others behind the blinds “I would expect at least you to be a little friendlier. The mists are thick enough to hide you if you are afraid of being seen” He glanced up at them though not as if reposing great faith in them. “Do please come out.”
She gathered her skirts and took a place behind a curtain of mourning which she had set out just beyond the blinds. A younger sister of the governor of Yamato, she had been taken in by her aunt and reared with the Second Princess, almost as a sister. She had therefore put on the most somber of mourning robes.
He was soon in tears. “To a grief that refuses to go away is added a sense of injury quite beyond describing, enough to take all the meaning from life. Everywhere I look I encounter expressions of amazement that it should be so.” He spoke too of the mother’s last letter.
Koshōshō was sobbing. “When you did not write she withdrew into her thoughts as if she did not mean to come out again. She seemed to go away with the daylight. I could see that the evil spirit, whatever it may have been, was behaving as usual, taking advantage of her weakness. I had seen it happen many times during our troubles with the young master. But she always seemed to rally, with a great effort of will, when she saw that the princess was as unhappy as she and needed comforting. The princess, poor thing, has been in a daze.” There were many pauses, as if it had all been more than she could reconcile herself to.
“That is exactly what I mean. She must pull herself together and make up her mind. You may think it impertinent of me to say so, but I am all she has left. Her father is a complete recluse. She cannot expect messages to come very often from those cloudy peaks. Do, please, have a word with her. What must be must be. She may not want to live on, but we cannot have our way in these matters. If we could, then of course these cruel partings would not occur.”
Koshōshō did not seek to interrupt. A stag called out from just beyond the garden wall.
“I would not be outdone.
“I push my way through tangled groves to Ono.
Shall my laments, O stag, be softer than yours?”
“Dew-drenched wisteria robes in autumn mountains.
Sobs to join the baying of the stag.”
It was no masterpiece, but the hushed voice and the time and place were right.
He sent in repeated messages to the princess. A single answer came back, so brief that it was almost curt. “It is like a nightmare. I shall try to thank you when I am a little more myself.”
What uncommon stubbornness! The thought of it rankled all the way back to the city. Though the autumn skies were sad, the moon, near full, saw him safely past Mount Ogura. The princess’s Ichijō mansion wore an air of neglect and disrepair. The southwest corner of the garden wall had collapsed. The shutters were drawn and the grounds were deserted save for the moon, which had quite taken possession of the garden waters. He thought how Kashiwagi’s flute would have echoed through these same grounds on such a night.
“No shadows now of them whom once I knew.
Only the autumn moon to guard the waters.”
Back at Sanjō he gazed up at the moon as if his soul had abandoned him and gone wandering through the skies.
“Never saw anything like it,” said one of the women. “He always used to be so well behaved.”
Kumoinokari was very unhappy indeed. He seemed to have lost his head completely. Perhaps he had been observing the ladies at Rokujō, long used to this sort of thing, and had concluded that she was worse than uninteresting. Well, it might be that his dissatisfaction should be directed at himself. Life might have been better for her if he had been a Genji. Everyone seemed to agree that she was married to a model of decorum and that her marriage had been ordained by the happiest fates. And was it to end in scandal?
Dawn was near. Sleepless, they were alone with their separate thoughts. He was as always in a rush to get off a letter, even before the morning mists had lifted. Disgusting, thought she, though she did not this time try to take it from him. It was a long letter, and when he had finished he read certain favored passages over to himself, softly but quite audibly.
“It falls from above.
“Waking from the dream of an endless night
You said — and when may I pay my visit?”
“And what am I to do?” he added in a whisper as he folded it into an envelope and sent for a messenger.
She would have liked to know what else was in it and hoped that she might have a glimpse of the reply. It was all most unsettling.
The sun was high when the reply came. On paper of a dark purple, it was as usual from Koshōshō, and, as usual, short and businesslike.
“She made a few notes at the end of your letter. Feeling a little sorry for you and thinking them better than nothing, I gathered them and herewith smuggle them to you.”
So the princess had seen his letter! His delight was perhaps a little too open. There were indeed scraps of paper, fragmentary and disconnected, some of which he reassembled into a poem:
“Morning and night, laments sound over Mount Ono
And Silent Waterfall — a flow of tears?”
There were also fragments from the anthologies, in a very good hand.
He had always thought that there was something wrong with a man who could lose his senses over a woman, and here he was doing it himself. How strange it was, and how extremely painful. He tried to shake himself back into sanity, but without success.
Genji learned of the affair. The calm, sober Yūgiri, about whom there had never been a whisper of scandal, an edifying contrast with the Genji of the days when he had seemed rather too susceptible — here Yūgiri was making two women unhappy. And he was Tō no Chūjō‘s son-in-law and nephew, certainly no stranger to the family. But Yūgiri must know what he was doing. No doubt it had all been fated, and Genji was in no position to offer advice. He felt very sorry for the women, and he thought of Murasaki and how unhappy he had made her. Each time a new rumor reached him he would tell her how he worried about her and the life that awaited her when he was gone.
It was not kind of him, she thought, flushing, to have plans for leaving her. Such a difficult, constricted life as a woman was required to live! Moving things, amusing things, she must pretend to be unaffected by them. With whom was she to share the pleasure and beguile the tedium of this fleeting world? Since it chose to look upon women as useless, unfeeling creatures, should it not pity the fathers who went to such trouble rearing them? Like the mute prince who was always appearing in sad parables, a woman should be sensitive but silent. The balance was certainly very difficult to maintain — and the little girl in her care, Genji’s granddaughter, must face the same difficulties.
Genji found occasion, on one of Yūgiri’s visits, to seek further information. “I suppose the mourning for the Ichijō lady will soon be over. It was only yesterday, you think, and already thirty years and more have gone by. That is the sort of world we live in, and we cling to a life that is no more substantial than the evening dew. I have wanted for a very long time to leave it all behind, and it does not seem right that I should go on living this comfortable life”
“It is true,” said Yūgiri. “The very least of us clings to his tiny bit of life. The governor of Yamato saw to the memorial services without the help of anyone. It was rather pathetic, somehow. You sensed how little the poor lady had behind her. There was an appearance of solidity while she lived and then it was gone.”
“I suppose there have been messages from the Suzaku emperor? I can imagine how things must be with the princess. I did not know them well, but there have been reports in recent years suggesting what a superior person the dead lady was. We all feel the loss. The ones we need are the ones who go away. It must have been a dreadful blow to the Suzaku emperor. I am told that the Second Princess is his favorite after the Third Princess here. Everyone says that she is most attractive.”
“But what about her disposition? I wonder. The mother was, as you suggest, a lady whom no one could find fault with. I did not know her well, but I did see her a few times, on this occasion and that.”
He obviously did not propose to give himself away. Genji held his peace. One did not question the feelings of a man so admirably in control of himself, nor did one expect to be listened to.
Yūgiri himself had in fact taken responsibility for the memorial services. Such matters do not remain secret, and reports reached Tō no Chūjō. Knowing Yūgiri, he put the whole blame on the princess and concluded that she must be a frivolous, flighty little thing. His sons were all present at the services, and Tō no Chūjō himself sent lavish offerings. In the end, because no one wished to be outdone, they were services worthy of the highest statesman in the land.
The princess had said that she would end her days at Ono. Her father learned of these intentions and sought to remonstrate with her.
‘It will not do. You are right to want to avoid complications, but it sometimes happens that when a lady alone in the world seeks to withdraw from it completely she finds that just the opposite has happened. She finds herself involved in scandal, and therefore in the worst position, neither in the world nor out of it. I have become a priest and your sister has followed me and become a nun, and people seem to think my line rather unproductive. I know that in theory I should not care what they say, but I must admit that it is not the most pleasing sight, my daughters racing one another into a nunnery. No, my dear — the world may seem too much for you, but when you run impulsively away from it you sometimes find that it is with you more than ever. Do please wait a little while and have a calm look at things when you are in better spirits.”
It seemed that he had heard of Yūgiri’s activities. People would not make charitable judgments, he feared. They would say that she had been jilted. Though he would not think it entirely dignified of her to appear before the world as one of Yūgiri’s ladies, he did not want to embarrass her by saying so. He should not even have heard of the affair and he had no right to an opinion. He said not a word about it.
Yūgiri was feeling restless and inadequate. His petitions were having no effect at all. Nor did it seem likely that persistence would accomplish anything. If he could only think how, he might let it be known that the mother had accepted his suit. He might risk doing slight discredit to the dead lady’s name by making it seem that the affair had begun rather a long time before, he scarcely knew when. He would feel very silly, in any event, going through the tears and supplications all over again.
Choosing a propitious day for taking her back to Ichijō, he instructed the governor of Yamato to make the necessary preparations. He also gave instructions for cleaning and repairing the Ichijō mansion. It was a fine house, a suitable dwelling for royalty, but the women she had left behind could scarcely see out through the weeds that had taken over the garden. When he had everything cleaned and polished he turned to preparations for the move itself, asking the governor to put his craftsmen to work on screens and curtains and cushions and the like.
On the appointed day he went to Ichijō and sent carriages and an escort to Ono. The princess quite refused to leave. Her women noisily sought to persuade her, as did the governor of Yamato.
“I am near the end of my patience, Your Highness. I have felt sorry for you and done everything I could think of to help you, even at the cost of neglecting my official duties. I absolutely must go down to Yamato and see to putting things in order again. I would not want to send you back to Ichijō all by yourself, but we have the general taking care of everything. I have to admit that when I give a little thought to these arrangements I do not find them ideal for a princess, but we have examples enough of far worse things. Are you under the impression that you alone may escape criticism? A very childish impression indeed. The strongest and most forceful lady cannot put her life in order without someone to help her, someone to make the arrangements and box the corners. Much the wiser thing would be to accept help where it is offered. And you,” he said to Koshōshō and Sakon. “You have not given her good advice, and your behavior has not been above reproach.”
They stripped her of mourning and brought out fresh, bright robes and brushed the hair she had resolved to cut. It was a little thinner, but still a good six feet long and the envy of them all. Yet she went on telling herself that she looked dreadful, that she must not be seen, that no one had ever been more miserable than she.
“We are late, my lady.” Her women accosted her one after another. “We are very late.”
There was a sudden and violent rain squall.
“My choice would be to rise with the smoke from the peaks,
Which might perhaps not go in a false direction.”
Knowing of her wish to become a nun, they had hidden the knives and scissors. All very unnecessary. She no longer cared in the least what happened to her, and she would not have been so childish, nor would she have wished people to think her so obstinate, as to cut her hair in secret.
Everyone was in a great hurry. All manner of combs and boxes and chests and bulging bags had already been sent off to the city. The house was bare, she could not stay on alone. In tears, she was finally shown into a carriage, and beside her was the empty seat that had been her mother’s. On the journey to Ono her mother, desperately ill, had stroked her hair and gently sought to comfort her, and on their arrival had insisted that she dismount first. She had her talisman sword beside her as always, and a sutra box inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a memento of her mother.
“A small bejeweled box, now wet with tears,
To help me remember and seek elusive solace.”
She had kept it back from the offerings in memory of her mother. The black sutra box she had ordered for herself was not yet ready.
She felt like the son of Urashima, returning to an utterly changed world. The Ichijō house, now buzzing with life, was scarcely recognizable. She found it somehow frightening, and at first refused to leave the carriage, which had been pulled up at a veranda. What a foolish child, said her women, who could not think what to do.
Yūgiri had taken the main room of the east wing for his own use. There were whispers of astonishment back at Sanjō. “When can it all have begun?”
This most proper of gentlemen was showing unexpected tendencies. Everyone concluded that he must have kept the affair secret for months and years. It did not occur to people that in fact the princess was still defending her virtue. The gossip and Yūgiri’s continuing attentions made her very unhappy indeed.
It was not the best possible time for nuptial measures, but he proceeded to the princess’s rooms when dinner was over and the house was quiet, and demanded that Koshōshō admit him.
“Please, sir. If your affection seems likely to last awhile longer, please do her the kindness of waiting a day or two. It may seem to you that she has come home, but she feels utterly lost and is lying there as if she might be on the point of expiring. She tells me I am being heartless when I try to rouse her. I would find it almost impossible to say more than I have already said even if I were arguing my own case.”
“How very strange. She is a sillier goose than I had imagined.” All over again, he assured Koshōshō that his motives were unassailable.
“Please, sir, I beg of you. I do almost fear that I might have another dead lady on my hands, and your reasoned arguments are beyond me. Please, please do nothing rash or violent.”
“Now this is a unique situation. I have been put at the bottom of the list, and I would like to call in judges and ask whether I deserve to be there.” He fell silent.
Koshōshō smiled. “If you think it unique, then you are confessing that you have not had much experience in these matters. We must by all means call in judges.”
This jocularity hid very great uneasiness, for she was powerless to restrain him. He marched in ahead of her and made his way through unfamiliar rooms to the princess’s side. She was stunned. She would not have thought him capable of such impetuosity. She still had a device or two, however, and they could all scream to the world, if they wished, that she was being childish. She locked herself in a closet and prepared to spend the night there. She still felt far from secure, and she was very angry with Koshōshō and the rest, who seemed to find his advances pleasing and exciting.
Yūgiri too was angry, but he persuaded himself to take the longer view. Like the mountain pheasant, he spent the night alone.
Daylight came and the impasse remained.
“Open the door just a crack,” he said over and over again. There was no answer.
“My sorrows linger as the winter night.
The stony barrier gate is as slow to open.
“O cruelest of ladies!” In tears, he made his way out.
He rested for a time at Rokujō.
“We have heard from Tō no Chūjō‘s people,” said the lady of the orange blossoms, “that you have moved the Second Princess back to Ichijō. What can it mean?” He could see her, calm and gentle, through the curtains.
“Yes, it is the sort of thing people like to talk about. Her mother quite refused to agree to anything of the sort, but towards the end she let it be known — possibly her resolution had weakened, or possibly the thought of leaving the princess all alone was too much for her — she let it be known that I was the one the princess was to turn to. These thoughts fitted perfectly with my own intentions. And so I suppose each of the gossips has his own conclusion to the story.” He laughed. “How righteous and confident people can be in disposing of these trivialities. The princess herself says only that she wants to become a nun. I have very little hope of dissuading her. The rumors will go on in any event, and I only hope that my fidelity to her mother’s dying wishes outlasts them. So I have made such arrangements as I have made. When you next see Father you might try to explain all of this to him. I have managed to keep his respect over the years, I think, and I would hate to lose it now.” He lowered his voice. “It is curious how irrelevant all the advice and all the promptings of your own conscience can sometimes seem.”
“I had not believed it. There is nothing so unusual about it, I suppose, though I do feel sorry for your lady at Sanjō. She has had such a good life all these years.”
“‘Your lady’— that is kind of you.‘Your ogre’ might be more to the point. But surely you cannot imagine that I would not do the right thing? You will think it impertinent of me to say so, but consider for a moment the arrangements you have here at Rokujō. Yes, the tranquil life is what we all want. A man may dodge a noisy woman and make all the allowances, but in the end he wants to be quietly rid of her. The noise may die down but the irritation remains. Murasaki seems in many ways a very rare sort of lady. And when it comes to sweetness and docility you do not have many rivals yourself.”
She smiled. “This sort of praise makes me feel that my shortcomings must show very clearly. One thing does strike me as odd: your good father seems to think that no one has the smallest suspicion of his own delinquencies, and that yours give him a right to lecture when you are here and criticize when you are not. We have heard of sages whose wisdom does not include themselves.”
“Yes, he does lecture, indefatigably. And I am a rather careful person even in the absence of his wise advice.”
He went to Genji’s rooms. Genji too had heard of these new developments, but he saw no point in saying so. Waiting for Yūgiri to speak, he did not see how anyone could reprove such a handsome young man, at the very best time of life, for occasionally misbehaving. Surely the most intolerant of the powers above must feel constrained to forgive him. And he was not a child. His younger years had been blameless, and, yes, he could be forgiven these little affairs. The remarkable thing, if Genji did say so about his own son, was that the image he saw in the mirror did not give him the urge to go out and make conquest after conquest.
It was midmorning when Yūgiri returned to Sanjō. Pretty little boys immediately commenced climbing all over him. Kumoinokari was resting and did not look up when he came behind her curtains. He could see that she was very much put out with him. She had every right to be, but he could only pretend that he had nothing to be ashamed of.
“Do you know where you are?” she said finally. “You are in hell. You have always known that I am a devil, and I have merely come home.”
“In spirit worse than a devil,” he replied cheerfully, “but in appearance not at all unpleasant.”
She snorted and sat up. “I know that I do not go very well with your own fine looks, and I would prefer just to be out of sight. I have wasted so many years. Please do not remember me as I am now.”
He thought her anger, which had turned her a fresh, clean scarlet, very charming.
“I am used to you and am not at all terrified of you. Indeed, I might almost wish for something a little more awesome.”
“That will do. Just disappear, please, if you do not mind, and I will hurry and do the same. I do not like the sight of you and I do not like the sound of you. My only worry is that I may die first and leave you happily behind.”
He found her more and more amusing. “Oh, but you would still hear about me. How do you propose to avoid that unpleasantness? Is the point of your remarks that there would seem to be a strong bond between us? It will hold, I think. We are fated to move on to another world in quick succession.”
He sought to dismiss it as an ordinary marital spat. She was a good-natured lady in spite of everything, youthful and forgiving, and though she knew very well what he was doing her anger presently left her.
He was sorry for her, to the extent that his unsettled state of mind permitted. The princess did not strike him as a willful or arbitrary sort, but if she were this time to insist on having her way and become a nun he would look very silly indeed. He must not let her spend many nights alone, he nervously concluded. Evening approached, and again it became appar- ent that he would not hear from her. Dinner was brought in. Kumoinokari ate very little, and Yūgiri himself had eaten nothing at all since the day before.
“I remember all the years when I thought of no one but you, and your father would not have me. Thanks to him the whole world was laughing at me. But I persevered and bore the unbearable, and refused all the other young ladies who were offered to me. I remember how my friends all laughed. Not even a woman was expected to be so constant and steadfast, they all said. And indeed I can see that my solemn devotion must have been rather funny. You may be angry with me at the moment, but before you think of leaving me think of all the little ones you can have no intention of leaving. They are threatening to crowd us out of the house. You are not that angry, surely?” He dabbed at his eyes. “Do give the matter a moment’s thought. Life is very uncertain.”
She thought how remarkably happy their marriage had been, and concluded that they must indeed have brought a strong bond from other lives.
He changed his rumpled house clothes for exquisitely perfumed new finery. Seeing him off, a dazzlingly handsome figure in the torchlight, she burst into tears and reached for one of the singlets he had discarded.
“I do not complain that I am used and rejected.
Let me but go and join them at Matsushima.
“I do not think I can possibly be expected to continue as I am.”
Though she spoke very softly, he heard and turned back.
“You do seem to be in a mood.
“Robes of Matsushima, soggy and worn,
For even them you may be held to account.”
It was an impromptu effort and not a very distinguished one.
Again he found the princess locked in a closet.
“What a silly child you are,” said one of her women. “People will think it very, very strange. Do please come out and receive him in a more conventional sort of room.”
She knew that they were right, but she hated him for the unhappiness he had caused and for all the gossip to come. She had not asked for these attentions, and she hated them. She spent another night in her closet.
“Astounding,” said he. “At first I thought you were joking.”
Her women agreed with him completely. “She says, my lord, that she is certain to feel a little more herself one of these days, and perhaps she can talk with you then if you still wish it. She is much concerned, however, that nothing be allowed to disturb the period of mourning. She knows that unpleasant rumors seem to be making the rounds, and they have upset her enormously.”
“My feelings and intentions are such that she has no right to feel upset in the least. Please ask her to come out of that closet. She can keep curtains between us if she insists. I am prepared to wait years and years.” His petition was lengthy but unsuccessful.
“It is unkind of you to add to my troubles,” she sent back. “The rumors are sensational. They make me unhappy, but I must grant that they are well founded. Your behavior is indefensible.”
He must act. The rumors were not at all surprising, and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable before these women.
“Let us consider another possibility,” he said to Koshōshō. “Let us make it seem that she has accepted me, even though we are guilty of deception. People must be very curious to know whether she has or has not. And think how much worse the damage would be from her point of view if I were to stop coming. This grim determination is both sad and foolish.”
Koshōshō agreed, and could not hold out against so ill-used and so estimable a gentleman. The closet had a back door through which servants were admitted. She led him to it.
The princess was angry and bewildered, and helpless. Such was human nature, it appeared. No doubt she could expect even worse in the future.
Sometimes eloquently and sometimes jokingly, he sought to teach her the natural and, he should have thought, universally recognized ways of the world. But she was very angry and very sorry for herself.
“You have put me in my place. I only wish I had been cool enough to see from the outset what an unlikely affection it was. But here we are. What good is your proud name now? Forget about it, please, and accept what must be. One hears of people who in desperation throw themselves into the deep. Think of it as a simile: my love is a deep pool into which you may throw yourself.”
She sat with her face in her hands and a singlet pulled over her head and bowed shoulders. Far from being “proud,” she was utterly forlorn, capable only of weeping aloud. He looked at her in wonderment, unable to do more. It was a fine predicament. Why did she so dislike him? They had long passed the point at which an ordinary woman would have given in, however much she disliked a man. The princess was as unyielding as a rock or a tree. He had heard that these antipathies are sometimes formed in other lives. Might it be so with the princess?
He thought of Kumoinokari, for whom it would be a lonely night, and all their years together. Their marriage had been a remarkably peaceful one, and they had been nearer than most husbands and wives. And now this predicament, which he could so easily have avoided. He gave up trying to prevail upon the princess and spent the night with his sighs.
To flee from this ridiculous situation would only be to make it worse. He spent the day quietly at Ichijō.
What brazen impudence, the princess was thinking. She wished she had never seen him. And he for his part, half angry and half apologetic, was thinking what a very silly child she was.
The closet was bare save for a perfume chest and a cupboard. They had been pushed aside and simple curtains put up to make a semblance of a boudoir. The morning light somehow came seeping in. He pulled away the quilts and smoothed her tangled hair, and so had his first good look at her. She was very pretty, delicate and ladylike. He himself was handsomer in casual dress than in full court regalia. She remembered how even in her better days with Kashiwagi he had lost no opportunity to make her feel inferior. And here she was, wan and emaciated, exposed to the gaze of this extraordinarily handsome man. He would glance at her a single time, surely, and cast her away. She tried to sort out her thoughts and make some sense of them. She feared she was guilty of all the misdeeds with which the world seemed to be charging her, and her timing could not have been worse.
She returned to her sitting room and, having seen to her toilet, ordered breakfast. The somber mourning fixtures being ill-omened and inappropriate for such an occasion, there were screens along the east side and cloves-dyed curtains of saffron at the main par1or. The tiered stands of unlacquered wood, plain but tasteful, had with the other furnishings been provided by the governor of Yamato. The women in attendance at breakfast were in yellows and reds and greens and purples, neither dull nor ostentatious, and there were lavender trains and yellow-greens to break the neutral tones of mourning. The princess’s housekeeping arrangements had been rather loose and disorganized since Kashiwagi’s death, and only the governor of Yamato had sought to discipline the few stewards and chamberlains she had left. Stewards who had been off about their own business came running back at news of this eminent guest. They all seemed very busy.
Yūgiri wished to make it appear that he had established residence at Ichijō, and Kumoinokari, though she tried to tell herself that it could not be so, concluded that all was over between them. She had heard that when honest, serious men change they change completely. It did seem to be true, she sighed, going over her stock of nuptial lore. Wanting to avoid further insults and armed with a convenient taboo, she went home to her father’s house. Her sister, one of the Reizei emperor’s ladies, happened to be there too. With such interesting company she was not in her usual hurry to be back at Sanjō.
Yūgiri heard the news. It was as he had feared. She was a flighty and somewhat choleric lady, perhaps having inherited these traits from her father, never as calm a man as one might have wished. No doubt each of them was now busy strengthening the other’s view that he had behaved outrageously and would be doing them a great favor if he were to disappear.
He hurried back to Sanjō. She had taken her daughters with her and left behind all her sons but the youngest. It was a touching reunion. The boys clambered all over him in their delight to see him, though some were also calling for their mother.
He sent messages and emissaries, but there was no reply. He was angry now — such blind obstinacy as he had allied himself to! Waiting for darkness, he went to see what thoughts her father might have in the matter.
Their lady was in the main hall, said the women. The children were with their nurse.
He sent over a stern message. “We are a little old, I should think, for this sort of thing. There you are by yourself, having left a trail of children behind you, here and at Sanjō. I have found much in your nature that does not ideally suit me, but I have been fated to stay with you. And now — these swarms of children convince me that the time for desertion has passed. Your behavior seems ridiculously dramatic and overdone.”
“‘And now.’ Yes, “she sent back,” you have’now’ quite lost patience, and so I suppose that matters are’now’ beyond repair. And what then are we to do? It will give me some comfort if you find it possible to stay with these little ragamuffins.”
“Thank you — such a sweet answer. And whose is the more sorrowfully injured name? I wonder.” He did not insist that she come to him, and spent the night alone.
Lying down among the children, he surveyed the confusion he had managed to create in both houses. The Second Princess must be utterly bewildered. What man in his right mind could think these affairs interesting or amusing? He had had enough of them.
At dawn he sent over another indignant message. “Everything people see and hear must strike them as infantile. If you wish this to be the end, well, let us have a try at it and see how it suits us. Though I am sure that the children at Sanjō are very touching as they ask where we may be, I am sure too that you had your reasons for bringing some with you and leaving others behind. I do not find it possible to play favorites myself. I shall go on doing everything I can for all of them.”
Always quick with her judgments, she saw in the message a threat to take the girls away and hide them from her.
“Come with me,” he said to one of them, a very pretty little thing. “It will not be easy for me to visit you here, and I must think of your brothers too. I want you all to be together. You must not listen to what your mother says about me. She doesn’t understand me very well.”
Tō no Chūjō had heard of these events and was much disturbed. “You should not have been so hasty,” he said to his daughter. “There is probably an explanation, and this is the sort of thing that gives a woman a bad name. But what is done is done. You have made your position quite clear and there is no need for you to rush home again now that you are here. His position should soon be clearer.”
He sent one of his sons with a note for the Second Princess.
“A bond from another life yet holds us together?
Fond thoughts I have, disquieting reports.
“Nor, I should imagine, will you have forgotten us.”
The young man came marching in. The princess’s women received him at the south veranda but could think of nothing to say. The princess was even more uncomfortable. He was one of Tō no Chūjō‘s handsomer sons, and they were all very handsome, and he carried himself well. As he looked calmly about him, he seemed to be remembering the past.
“I feel as if I belonged here,” he said. It had the sound of an innuendo. “You must not treat me like a stranger.”
The princess sent back that he had found her in a very unsettled state and that she could not, she feared, give his father a proper answer.
“This is no way for a grown woman to behave,” said one of the women who crowded about her. “And it will seem very rude if one of us tries to answer in your place.”
How she wished that her mother were here, to protect her and explain away everything, even details of which she might not approve. Tears fell to mix with the ink.
She finally managed to set down a verse, though it had a fragmentary and unfinished look about it.
“Disquieting reports, resentful thoughts —
Of one who does not matter in the least?”
She folded it into an envelope.
“You may expect to see a great deal more of me,” said the young man to the women. “I would feel much more comfortable inside the house. Yes, the ties are strong, and I shall come often. I shall tell myself that because of my services over the years I have been given the freedom of the house.” It was all most suggestive.
Yūgiri could think of nothing to do. The princess’s hostility quite baffled him.
Still with her father, Kumoinokari was more and more unhappy.
Rumors reached Koremitsu’s daughter, who thought of the haughty disdain with which Kumoinokari had treated her in other years. Kumoinokari had found her equal this time! Koremitsu’s daughter had written occasionally and now got off a note.
“The gloom I would know were I among those who matter
I see from afar. I weep in sympathy.”
A bit impertinent, thought Kumoinokari. But she was lonely and bored, and here, if not of the most satisfying kind, was sympathy. She sent off an answer.
“Many unhappy marriages I have seen,
And never felt them as I feel my own.”
It seemed honest and unaffected. The other lady had been the sole and secret object of Yūgiri’s attentions in the days when Kumoinokari was refusing him. Though he had turned away from her after his marriage, she had borne several of his children. Kumoinokari was the mother of his first, third, fifth, and sixth sons and second, fourth, and fifth daughters; the other lady, of his first, third, and sixth daughters and second and fourth sons. They were all fine children, healthy and pretty, but Koremitsu’s grandchildren were perhaps the brightest and prettiest. The lady of the orange blossoms had been given the third daughter and second son to rear, and they had the whole of her attention. Genji had become very much attached to them.
Yūgiri’s affairs, one is told, were very complicated indeed.
Last updated Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 21:07