Among the emperor’s consorts was a daughter of a Minister of the Left who was known as the wisteria lady. She was the earliest of the royal consorts to be presented at court. The emperor, then the crown prince, was very fond of her, even though the more obvious signs of his affection were somehow wanting. Through the years when his numerous children by the empress were one after another reaching adulthood, she gave birth to only one child, a daughter, who was of course the center of her life. It had been fated that she lose out to a rival, she told herself, and she found consolation in the thought of seeing her daughter succeed where she had failed. The emperor too was fond of the child, a very pretty girl; but the First Princess had a stronger hold on his affection, and this Second Princess was far from as conspicuous a public figure. Still she had no reason to feel neglected. The legacy from the minister’s great days still largely intact, her mother was by no means a pauper. She maintained an elegant and fashionable household, and her women, after their several ranks, dressed for the passing seasons in the most unexceptionable taste.
It was decided that the princess’s initiation ceremonies would be held in the early months of her fourteenth year. Plans for them occupied the whole of the mother’s attention. She was determined that every detail be correct and yet somehow different. Ancient heirlooms from the late minister’s family were brought out and the bustle and stir were such as the house had not seen before. And then in the summer she fell victim to an evil possession, and was gone almost before anyone knew that she was ill. The emperor was desolate, though of course he could do nothing. The grand courtiers agreed that it was a sad loss, for she had been a gentle, sensitive lady; and maids of such low rank that they scarcely had a right to mourn joined the emperor in his grief.
The Second Princess was now alone. The emperor quietly summoned her to the palace when the memorial rites were over, and every day he visited her rooms. The dark robes of mourning and a certain wanness from grief only added to her beauty. Mature for her years, she had a quiet dignity that made her perhaps even a little superior to her mother. And so her position might on the surface have seemed secure. The facts were rather different. She had no maternal uncles to whom she could turn for support. One could find among her mother’s half brothers a treasury secretary and a superintendent of palace repairs, but they were very inconspicuous. They would not be much help to the princess in the difficulties that lay ahead, and very considerable difficulties they promised to be. The emperor was almost as apprehensive as the princess herself.
He came calling one day when the chrysanthemums, tinged by the frost, were at their best and sad autumn showers were falling. They talked of the wisteria lady. The giri’s answers, calm and at the same time very youthful, quite delighted him. Was there no one who was capable of appreciating her many virtues and might be persuaded to look after her? He remembered the deliberations and the final decision when the Suzaku emperor had entrusted his daughter to Genji. There had been those who argued that it was improper for a princess of the blood to marry a commoner and that she would do better to remain single. And now she had an unusually talented son who was the strongest support a mother could hope for, and no one could have said that she had slipped in the smallest degree from her high position. Had it not been for her marriage to Genji, she might have come upon sad days, no one could guess of what description, and she had her marriage to thank that the world still respected her. Worrying the problem over, the emperor concluded that he must see to the Second Princess’s future while he still occupied the throne. And where could he find a more appropriate candidate for her hand than Kaoru, a better solution than to follow in the second generation the precedent of the first? Ranged beside other royal consorts, he would not seem in the least out of place. There did appear, it was true, to be someone of whom he was fond, but he was not a man likely to let any breath of scandal damage his relations with the Second Princess. And of course it was unthinkable that he would remain forever single. He must give some hint of his feelings, the emperor told himself over and over again, before the young man forestalled him by taking a wife.
In the evening, as he and the Second Princess were at a game of Go, a shower passed and the chrysanthemums caught the light of the autumn sunset.
The emperor summoned a page.
“Who is in attendance upon us tonight?”
“His Highness the minister of central affairs, His Highness Prince Kanzuke, and Lord Minamoto, the councillor, are with us, Your Majesty.”
“Call the last, if you will.”
Kaoru came as ordered. The emperor’s choice was not surprising. Everything about the young man was remarkable, even the fragrance that announced his approach.
“Such gentle showers as we are having tonight. They cry out for music; but of course our mourning would not permit it. I can think of no better a pursuit ‘for whiling away the days’ than a game of Go.”
He pulled up a Go board. Used to these companionable services, Kaoru settled down for a game.
“There is something I might wager,” said the emperor, “but I am not quite sure that I have the courage. Let me see, now — what else might there be?”
Immediately guessing what he meant, Kaoru played very soberly. The emperor lost the third game.
“How very disappointing. Well, I will let you break off a blossom. Go choose one, if you will.”
Kaoru went down into the garden and broke off one of the finer chrysanthemums. Returning, he offered a cautious verse:
“If I had found it at a common hedge,
I might have plucked it quite to suit my fancy.”
The emperor replied:
“A single chrysanthemum, left in a withered garden,
Withstands the frost, its color yet unfaded.”
There were such hints from time to time, some through intermediaries. Kaoru was not one to rush in headlong pursuit. He had no compelling desire to many, and through the years he had turned aside hopeful talk of more than one deprived though attractive young lady. It would not do for the hermit to talk now (an odd way, perhaps, to put the matter) of going back into business; and surely there would be any number of young men willing to brush aside all other commitments in their eagerness to do what they could for a royal princess. He suspected that, in his own case, the conclusions might be somewhat different were the princess one of the empress’s daughters; but he quickly put the thought away as unworthy.
Yūgiri had vague reports of what was taking place, and was much annoyed. He had had ideas of his own: Kaoru might not be as consumed with ardor as one might hope, but he could not in the end refuse if Yūgiri were to press his case. And now this strange development. Yūgiri’s thoughts turned once again to Niou. It would have been sheer self-deception to credit Niou with great steadfastness, but he had continued all the while to send amusing and interesting little notes to Yūgiri’s daughter Rokunokimi. Though people were no doubt right to call him a trifler, fate had dictated stranger things than that he fix his affections upon Rokunokimi. Impassioned vows, impermeable, watertight vows, so to speak, often enough led to disappointment and humiliation when the man was not of grand enough rank.
“What sad days we have come upon,” said Yūgiri. “Even monarchs must go out begging for sons-in-law. Think how we commoners must worry as we see our daughters passing their prime.”
Though circumspect in his criticism of the emperor, he was otherwise so outspoken with his sister, the empress, that she felt constrained to pass at least a part of his complaints on to Niou:
“I do feel sorry for him, you know. He has been after you for a year and more, knowing quite well what sort of cooperation he can expect from you. You have spent the whole year dashing madly in the other direction, not very good evidence, I must say, of warmth and kindness. And you must remember that a good marriage is very important for someone like you. Your father begins to talk of leaving the throne, and — ordinary people are expected to be satisfied with only one wife, I suppose, but even with them — look at my brother himself, such a model of propriety, and still able to manage two wives without offending anyone. Just let things work themselves out as we hope they will, and you can have any number you like. No one will have the smallest objection.”
She was not a loquacious woman, and it had been a remarkable speech; and it did have a reasonable sound to it. Never having disliked Rokunokimi, Niou did not want to answer in a way that seemed to slam all the doors; but the prospect of being imprisoned in that excessively decorous household, of forgoing the freedom that was now his, made the proposed match seem unbearably drab. He could not, all the same, deny that his mother’s remarks were very sensible, most particularly those about the folly of alienating important people who wished to become one’s inlaws. He was caught in a dilemma. And then too there was his tendency to spread his affections generously, and the fact that he still had not found it possible to forget Kōbai’s stepdaughter. As the seasons presented occasions, the flowers of spring and the autumn leaves, he still sent her letters, and he would have had to include both of them, Rokunokimi and Kōbai’s daughter, on the list of those whom he found not uninteresting.
And so the New Year came. The Second Princess having put away her robes of mourning, there was no longer a need for reticence in the matter of her marriage.
“The indications are,” someone said to Kaoru,” that the emperor would not be unfriendly to a proposal.”
Kaoru could have feigned ignorance, but he was quite well enough known already for eccentricity and brusqueness. Summoning up his resolve, he found occasion from time to time to hint that he was interested. The emperor of course had no reason to reject these overtures, and presently Kaoru was informed, again through intermediaries, that a date had been set. Though he was altogether in sympathy with the troubled emperor, his life was still haunted by a sense of emptiness, and he still found it impossible to accept the fact that so apparently strong a bond should in the end have snapped like a thread. He knew that he would be drawn to a girl, even a girl of humble birth, who resembled Oigimi. If only he could, like that Chinese emperor, have a glimpse through magic incense of his lost love! He was in no great rush to wed this royal lady.
Yūgiri was in a rush. He suggested to Niou that the Eighth Month might be appropriate for his marriage to Rokunokimi.
So it had happened, thought Nakanokimi, learning of these events. What was she to do? She had passed her days in anticipation of just such gloomy news, which would make her the laughingstock of the whole world. She had had little confidence in Niou from the start, having heard of his promiscuous ways, and yet when she had come to know him somewhat better she had found him altogether gentle and considerate, and given to the most ardent protestations of eternal love. And now this sudden change — could she be expected to receive it with equanimity? Their union would not. be dissolved, obliterated, as she might have had cause to fear had she been of meaner birth, but the future seemed to offer only worries and more worries. No doubt she was fated to go back to the mountains one day. Her thoughts ran on, chasing one another in circles. She was certain that she was at length facing the punishment she deserved for having gone against her father’s wishes and left her mountain home. Better to vanish quite away than to go back now and face the derision of the rustics among whom she had lived. Her sister had seemed weak and indecisive, but a formidable strength had lain beneath the vacillating surface. Though Kaoru seemed to go on grieving, no doubt Oigimi, if she had lived, would have had to face what she herself now faced. Determined that nothing of the sort would happen to her, Oigimi had made use of every possible device, even the threat of becoming a nun, to keep him at a distance. And no doubt she would have carried out the threat. Had hers not been, in retrospect, determination of the very highest order? And so both of them, her father and her sister, thought Nakanokimi, would now be looking down from the heavens and sighing over her stupidity and heedlessness. She was sad and she was ashamed; but it would do no good to show her thoughts. She managed to get through her days with no sign that she had heard the news.
Niou was gentler and more affectionate than ever. At her side con stantly, he sought to comfort her. He made promises for this life and for all the lives to come. He had noticed from about the Fifth Month that she was in some physical distress. There were no violent or striking symptoms; but she had little appetite and seemed to spend a great deal of time resting. Not having been familiar with other women in a similar condition, he told himself that the warm weather could be troublesome. Yet certain suspicions did cross his mind.
“Might it just be possible? I believe I have heard descriptions of something of the sort.”
Nakanokimi blushed and insisted that nothing was amiss; and since no one among her women was prepared to step forward with the information he needed, he was left with his own speculations.
The Eighth Month came, and people told her that the day had been set for the wedding. Niou himself had no particular wish to keep the information from her, but each time an opportunity came to tell her he found himself falling mute. His silence made things worse. The whole world knew, and he had not had the courtesy even to inform her of the date. Did she not have a right to be angry? It had been his practice not to spend his nights in the palace unless the findings of the soothsayers or other unusual circumstances made it necessary. Nor had he been busy, as in earlier years, with nocturnal adventures. Now he began to spend an occasional night at court, hoping to prepare her for the absences which the new arrangements would make necessary. This foresight did not make him seem kinder.
Kaoru felt very sorry for her indeed. Niou, given his bright, somewhat showy nature, was certain to be drawn to the more modish and accomplished Rokunokimi, however fond he might be of Nakanokimi. And with that formidable family of hers mounting guard over him, Nakanokimi would be doomed to lonely nights such as she had not known before. An
utterly heartbreaking situation, everything considered. And how useless he was himself! Why had he given her away? His spirit had been serene in its renunciation of the world until he had been drawn to Oigimi, and he had let it be stirred and muddied. He had managed to control himself despite the intensity of his devotion, for it would have gone against his original intentions to force himself upon her. He had continued to hope, looking towards a day when he might arouse even a faint response in her and see her heart open even a little. Though everything indicated that her own wishes were very different, he had still found comfort in her apparent inability to send him on his way. She had sought to interest him in her sister, with whom, she had said, she shared a single being. He had sought with unnecessary haste, by way of retaliation, to push Nakanokimi into Niou’s arms. In a strong fit of pique he had taken Niou off to Uji and made all the arrangements for him. What an irremediable blunder it had been! And as for Niou — if he remembered a small fraction of Kaoru’s troubles in those days, ought he not to be a little concerned about Kaoru’s feelings today? Triflers, woman-chasers were not for women to rely upon — not, indeed, for anyone to have much faith in. A farsighted sort of protector Kaoru himself had been! No doubt his way of riveting his attention on a single object seemed strange and reprehensible to most people. Having lost his first love, he was less than delighted at having a bride bestowed upon him by the emperor himself, and every day and every month his longing for Nakanokimi grew. This deplorable inability to accept his loss had to do with the fact that Oigimi and Nakanokimi had been close as sisters seldom are. With almost her last breath Oigimi had asked him to think of her sister as he had thought of her. She left behind no regrets to tie her to the world, she had said, save that he had gone against her wishes in this one matter. And now, the crisis having come, she would be looking down from the heavens in anger. All through the lonely nights, for which he had no one to blame but himself, he would awaken at the rising of the gentlest breeze, and over and over again he would run through a list of complications from the past and worries for the future that were not, strictly speaking, his own. He had dallied with this or that lady from time to time, and even now there were several in his household whom he had no reason at all to dislike; but not one of them had held his attention for more than a moment. There were others, ladies of royal lineage to whom the times had not been kind and who now lived in poverty and neglect. Several such ladies had been taken in by his mother, but they had not shaken his determination to be without regrets when the time came to leave the world.
One morning, after a more than usually sleepless night, he looked out into the garden, and his eye was caught by morning glories, fragile and uncertain, in among the profusion of dew-soaked flowers at the hedge. “They bloom for the morning,” he whispered to himself, the evanescence of the flowers matching his own sense of futility. He lay hoping for a little rest as the shutters were raised, and watched on, alone, as the morning glories opened.
“Please have a carriage brought out, one that won’t attract much attention,” he said to a servant. “I want to go to the Nijō house.”
“But Prince Niou was at the palace all night, my lord. Some men brought his carriage back later in the evening.”
“I want to ask after the princess. I’ve heard that she is not well. I will be at the palace myself later in the day. Be quick about it, please. I want to get started not too long after sunrise.”
His toilet finished, he stepped down into the garden and wandered among the flowers for a time. There was nothing gaudy or obviously contrived about his dress, but he had a calm dignity that was almost intimidating. It was a manner profoundly his own, for he was not one to strut and preen. Pulling a tendril toward him, he saw that it was still wet with dew.
“It lasts, I know, but as long as the dew upon it.
Yet am I drawn to the hue that fades with the morning.
How very quickly it goes.”
He broke it off to take with him, and left without a glance for the saucy maiden flowers.
The sun was rising as he approached the Nijō mansion, and the skies were hazy from the dew. He began to fear that he had come too early and that the women would still be snoring away. Disliking the thought of anything so unsubtle as coughing to attract attention or pounding on doors or shutters, he sent one of his men to look in at the garden gate. The shutters were up, it seemed, and there were women astir. At the sight of a stately figure approaching through the mists, the women assumed that their master was back from his nocturnal wanderings. But that remarkable scent, made stronger by the dew, quickly informed them of the truth, and soon the younger ones were commenting upon it. Yes, he was terribly nice — but so cool and distant — in that respect not very nice at all, really. They were women who knew what was expected of them, however, and the soft rustle of silk as they pushed a cushion out to him was not unpleasing.
“You almost make me feel like a human being,” he said to Nakanokimi, “but here I am still on the outside. Try to make me feel a little more at home, or I will not be coming often.”
And what now? the women were asking.
“Might there be a quiet retreat somewhere, perhaps off far in the north, where an old man might take his ease? If something of the sort is what you have in mind, well, so be it.” He was at the door to the inner rooms.
The women persuaded her to go a bit nearer. He had never shown a sign of the impetuousness one expects in young men, and his deportment had of late seemed even calmer and more restrained than before. Her shyness was leaving her. Indeed, they had become rather friendly.
He asked what might be ailing her. The answer came with great hesitation, and a silence that seemed protracted even for her made it easy to guess what the trouble was (and this new knowledge added to the sadness). He set about advising and comforting her, as if he were a brother. Choosing his words very carefully, he told her what marriage is. The voices of the sisters had not seemed alike, but now he found the resemblance astonishing, as if Oigimi had come back. Had it not been for these curious attendants, he would have been tempted to lift the blind and go inside, to be nearer a lady more appealing for the fact that she was unwell. Did no man escape the pangs of love? It was a question that brought its own answer.
“I had always said that a man may not get everything he wants in this world, but he should try to make his way through it without fretting and worrying, without whining about the many frustrations. Now I see that there are defeats and losses that permit no peace, not a moment free of stupid regrets. People who put a high value on rank and position and the like, I can see now, have every right to complain when things are not going well for them. I am sure that my own shortcomings are worse.”
He gazed at the morning glory, which he had laid on his fan. It took on a reddish tinge as it withered, and a strange new beauty. He thrust it under the blind, and softly recited a poem:
“Should I have taken the proffered morning glory
With the silver dew, the blessing, still upon it?”
He had made no special effort to preserve the dew, but he was pleased that it should still be there — that the flower should fade away fresh with dew.
“Forlorn the flower that fades with the dew upon it.
Yet more forlorn the dew that is left behind.
Where would you have me turn?”
She was so like her sister as she offered this gentlest of reproofs! Her voice trailed into silence.
“It is a sad season, the saddest of the year, I think. I went off to Uji the other day, hoping to shake off a little of the gloom, but it made me even sadder to see how’garden and fence’ had gone to ruin. I was reminded of how it was after my father died. People who had been fond of him would go and look in on the places, the house in Saga and the house in Rokujō and the others, where he was in retirement the last few years of his life. I would go back to Sanjō myself after a look at those trees and grasses, and the tears would be streaming from my eyes. He had been careful to have only sensitive people near him, and the women who had served him were scattered over the city, most of them in seclusion. A few unfortunate ones from the lower classes went quite mad with grief, and ran off into the mountains and forests, where you would not have been able to tell them from mountain people. At Rokujō the’grasses of forget-fulness’ took over. And then my brother, the minister, moved in, and there were princes and princesses there again, and soon it was as lively as ever. I told myself that time took care of everything, that a day would come for the most impossible sorrows to go away; and it did seem to be true that everything had its limits. So I said; but I was young then, and quick to recover. I have now had two great lessons in impermanence, and the more recent one has left a wound I am not likely to recover from. Indeed it makes me rather apprehensive about the world to come. I feel sure I will take along a considerable store of dissatisfaction and regret.”
Tears emphasized his point, as if he had not made it well enough
Even a lady who had not been close to Oigimi would have found them hard to resist; as for Nakanokimi, the grief and longing and uncertainty she had been so unsuccessful at shaking off quite engulfed her again. She finally succumbed to tears. Far from comforting each other, they only seemed to reopen old wounds.
“‘The mountain village is lonely’ — you know the poem they are all so fond of. I never quite saw what it meant. And here I am now, longing for just such a quiet place, away from all this, and I cannot have it. Bennokimi was right to stay behind. How I wish I had had her good sense. The anniversary of Father’s death will be coming at the end of the month. It would be so good to hear those bells again. As a matter of fact, I had been thinking I might ask you to take me there for a few days. We needn’t tell anyone.”
“I know. You don’t want the house going to ruin. But I’m afraid it would be quite impossible. Even a man without baggage has a time getting over those mountains. Weeks and months go by between my own visits, and I am forever thinking I ought to go. The abbot has all the instructions he needs for the services. But now that you mention it, I had been worrying about the house myself. Would you consider turning it over to the monastery? The sight of it upsets me terribly, and you know how unfortunate attachments of that sort are. Might we get it off our minds? It is for you to decide, of course — your wishes are my own, and my only real wish is for you to be frank with me. Do let me know, please, what you would like to have done.”
Suddenly he had become practical. She had thought, apparently, to offer images and scrolls of her own, and to make the memorial services her excuse for a few quiet days at Uji.
“Impossible, quite impossible. Do, I beg of you, try to keep yourself from worrying about these things.”
The sun was higher, the women were assembling, and if he were to stay longer he would arouse suspicions.
“I am not used to being kept at quite such a distance, and I am not at all comfortable. But I shall come again.”
It would be out of character for Niou not to ask questions. To forestall them, Kaoru looked in upon Niou’s chamberlain, who was also one of the city magistrates.
“I had been told that the prince came back from the palace last night, and was disappointed to find him still away. I am going to the palace myself.”
“He left word that he would be back today.”
“I see. I will try to stop by this evening.”
Each interview with Nakanokimi, such a paragon of elegance and sensibility, left him regretting more than ever that he had so freely renounced his claims. Why had he felt constrained to go against Oigimi’s wishes? Why had he been so assiduous in seeking out unhappiness, making doubly sure that he had no one to reprove but himself? He turned more than ever to fasting and meditation. His mother, though still girlish and not much given to worry, was upset.
“I do not mean to live forever, as they say, and it would be a great comfort to see you behaving like other boys. I am a nun and in no position to stop you if you are absolutely set on running away from the world; but I rather imagine that I will have certain regrets when my time comes.”
Not wanting to upset her further, he tried to make it seem that he had not a care in the world.
Yūgiri meanwhile had refurbished the northeast quarter at Rokujō, exhausting his very considerable resources to make it acceptable to the most demanding of bridegrooms. The moon of the sixteenth night had long since risen and still Yūgiri and his family waited. All very embarrassing, thought Yūgiri as he sent off a messenger. The evidence was too clear that the match had failed to delight Niou.
“He left the palace earlier in the evening,” reported the man, “and it is said that he went back to Nijō.”
Yūgiri was not at all pleased. Ordinary decency asked that this night of all nights the prince put other women from his thoughts. But the world would be all too ready to laugh if they passed the night in waiting, and so he sent off a message to Nijō with one of his sons, a guards captain:
“Even the moon deigns to come to this dwelling of mine.
The night draws on, we await a sign of you.”
Niou had not wished to upset Nakanokimi further by having her see him depart for Rokujō. He therefore sent a message from the palace; but her reply, whatever it might have been, seems to have given him pause. He did, after all, slip off to Nijō. Once there, he felt no need for other company. The captain arrived as the two of them were looking out at the moon and Niou, seeking desperately to comfort her, was pouring forth a stream of vows. Determined not to let her unhappiness show, she managed an appearance of composure and serenity. Her refusal to chide him was far more moving than clear evidence of injured feelings could possibly have been. The arrival of the captain reminded him that the girl at Rokujō might be unhappy too.
“I shall be back in no time. You are not to sit here looking at the moon. And you must remember how empty the hours will be until I am with you again.” A most uncomfortable situation, he said to himself as he made his way to the main hall by an inconspicuous route.
Meanwhile, her eyes on the retreating figure, Nakanokimi was telling herself that a lady did not surrender to unworthy emotions. Her pillow might threaten to float away, but her heart must be kept under tight control.
Fate had been unkind to them, to her sister and her, from the outset. They had had only their father, a man intent upon cutting his ties with the world. Life in the mountains had been lonely and monotonous, but she had not known as she now knew the deep cruelty of the world. There had been the one death and then the other. Not wanting to linger for even a moment after her father and sister, she had deceived herself into thinking that such grief and longing must be unique. But she had lived on, and had come to be treated rather more like a human being than, in the circum- stances, one might have expected. Though she had tried to tell herself that this happiness could not last, there Niou had been beside her, the most endearing of men, and the worry and sorrow had gradually subsided. How very ironical that the healing powers of time should have left her all the less prepared for this new shock. It was the end.
Would she not see him from time to time? — for he had not, after all, departed the world. Yet his behavior tonight threw everything, past and future, into a meaningless jumble, and her efforts to find a light through the gloom were unavailing. There would be a change of some sort if she but lived long enough, she told herself over and over again, knowing that to give up would indeed be the end. Her anguish, as the night drew on, had for company the rising moon, the clear moon, “of the Mount of Women Forsaken.”
To one who knew the wild winds from the mountains of Uji, the pine breeze here was gentleness itself; but tonight she would have preferred the wind through those oaks.
“Never, beneath the pines of that mountain village,
Did I know the autumn winds to lash at me so.”
So it is that ancient miseries cease to be real.
“Do please come inside, my lady. You mustn’t sit there looking up at the moon. And what will become of you if you go on refusing to eat? You haven’t touched a thing in days.”
And the women talked among themselves: “It drives a person frantic. Especially a person that’s seen what can happen when a lady won’t eat.” Loud sighs punctuated these remarks. “Things seemed to be going so well. But he won’t leave her, surely he won’t. Yes, I agree with you. Things could be better. But you don’t mean to tell me love like that just goes away?”
Nakanokimi heard it all, and wished that they would be quiet. Far better to watch and wait. It may have been, of course, that she did not want to risk diluting her resentment by sharing it with others.
Women who knew of the events leading up to Oigimi’s death had cause to wonder at the erratic ways of fate. The other young gentleman had been so good about waiting on their other young lady; and just see how he had been rewarded!
Niou was troubled, but only briefly. Exciting affairs near at hand had the power to distract him, and soon he was lost in preparations to charm his new lady and her family. He had a catching new perfume burnt into his robes, and set forth most grandly. At Rokujō everything was more than ready. Niou’s first impression of his bride was that she was rather ample, not at all the fragile thing he had somehow expected. And what of her disposition? Might she be noisy, gaudy, aggressive, a touch masculine, even? None of these qualities would have pleased him. But she proved to be receptive to his attentions, and he became quite engrossed in them. The autumn night (he had been tardy) was over in a trice.
Back at Nijō the next morning, he did not call upon Nakanokimi immediately. After resting for a time in the main hall, he got off the morning-after note that would be expected at Rokujō.
The women were nudging one another. “You can see he wasn’t disappointed. And there she is, poor dear, over there all by herself. For all I know, he may be able to take care of all the women under the sun, but she has real competition on her hands.” They knew the household well, and among them were some who were not prepared to hold back their thoughts about the trials that beset its new mistress.
Niou would have liked to wait in the main hall until a reply came from Rokujō. But he knew that last night would have been far more of a trial for Nakanokimi than his nights at court. He hurried to her wing of the
house, a brisk and dashing figure once more, refreshed now from sleep. He found Nakanokimi resting. She raised herself shyly to an elbow. Weeping had added a touch of wistfulness to her beauty. He gazed at her for a time, choked with tears. As she looked away in embarrassment, her hair fell over her shoulders in a strong, graceful flow, lovelier than anything he had ever seen.
He too was somewhat confused, and affectionate words gave way to talk of more practical matters.” What can be the matter with you? Nothing but the heat, you have said, and so I have waited for the cool weather. Well, here it is, and you still are not yourself. You upset me a great deal, really you do. I have ordered all the prayers that usually work. Maybe we should give them another try. Isn’t there a priest somewhere who can give us a guarantee? Maybe we should have that bishop, what was his name, come down and stay with you.”
Yes, he was clever. She was not pleased, but felt that she had to answer. “I have known all along that I am not like other people. It is nothing new. Give it time, and it will go away.”
“How sure of yourself you are!” He smiled. There was no one like her for delighting with sheer gentleness. And that thought led to a more exciting one, for he had not forgotten his other lady. Yet no one would have judged from the appearances that he was any less fond of Nakanokimi than he had always been. His vows of steadfastness in this life and the next went on and on, and even became somewhat repetitious.
“I shall not stay forever,” she was thinking. “Even while I wait I am not likely to escape his cruelty; and so, precisely because my hopes for the next world are dim, I must turn to him again, unchastened, in this one.”
Thus she fought to hold back the tears, but today she was not up to the effort. She had done everything these last days to keep her thoughts to herself. She had not wanted him to know that he had hurt her. But too many sad thoughts came pouring in at once, and after the first tears the flow was not easy to stop. Embarrassed, angry at herself, she turned away.
He pulled her to him. “The wonderful way you have of answering exactly to what a man wants — it has always been your principal virtue. Am I to believe that you have let something come between us? Have your feelings changed in one short night?” He brushed her tears away with his own sleeve.
“‘Have your feelings changed in one short night?’” She managed a trace of a smile.” I can think of someone who might be asked the question.”
“Come, my dear. You are being very childish. I have nothing to hide from you, nothing on my conscience; and if I tried to hide anything, do you think it would do me any good? You are very innocent, and that is one of my reasons for loving you, but innocence is not always the easiest thing in the world to live with. Put yourself in my place, if you can, for a moment. Give the matter a little thought. I am in no position to let my person ‘go where my heart would lead it.’ I have certain hopes, and if anything comes of them I shall soon have ways of demonstrating how deep, how very deep indeed, my affection for you is. I would not argue that it is going to be easy for you, but ‘let us see, while life permits.’”
Just then the messenger whom he had sent to Rokujō returned, hopelessly drunk. Forgetting that the situation called for a certain restraint, he came staggering up to the front veranda of this west wing, quite buried in the wondrous silks and satins with which the Rokujō house had rewarded him. The stupidest of serving women would have had no trouble guessing his mission — though she might have had to give a thought or two to the question of when Niou had found time for his letter. He had nothing which he really wished to conceal from Nakanokimi. The abruptness of the confrontation had been unfortunate, but it would do no good now to reprove the messenger for his tactlessness.
A woman brought in the letter. For better or worse, thought Niou, no secret must henceforth stand between them. It was a small relief to see that the letter seemed to be not in the hand of Rokunokimi herself but that of her stepmother. He put it aside, for these things were embarrassing, even when a scrivener intervened.
The hand was strong and practiced. “I urged her to write her own letter, since I did not wish to seem forward; but she is not entirely herself.
“It droops, the maiden flower, as never before.
The dew this morning has left it all too swiftly.
“Did you have to go so soon?”
“Complaining, always complaining. Why won’t they just let me be alone with you? I do find myself in the oddest situations.”
Most people, accustomed to thinking that one wife is enough for a man, would have found it difficult to sympathize. But his affairs were complicated, and what had happened had to happen sooner or later. The world had chosen to single him out, even among princes of the blood, and no one could have reproved him for taking as many wives as he wished; and so no one need think Nakanokimi’s situation a notably cruel one. Quite the reverse: it was the general view that she was lucky, swept into an embrace so ardent and at the same time so estimable. To Nakanokimi herself, this sudden event was the more shocking for the fact that she had begun to take his affection for granted. She had wondered, reading old romances, why women were always fretting at such length over these little problems. They had seemed very remote. Now she saw that the pain could be real.
“And this refusal to eat — it is not at all good for you, you know,” he said gently, with every indication of real concern. He ordered her favorite fruits immediately, and put his most famous cook to work on other dishes he thought might tempt her; but her thoughts were elsewhere. It was all very disturbing.
Toward evening he withdrew to the main hall. The breeze was cool, and it was a time of the year when the skies had a particular fascination. Very much the man of fashion, he today presented an even more elegant figure than usual; but for Nakanokimi the very care that he gave to his dress deepened gloom that was already next to unbearable. The song of the evening locust made her yearn for “the mountain shadows.”
“My sorrows would have their limits, were I yet there.
The locust’s call this autumn eve — I hate it?”
He was on his way while the evening was still young. She heard his outrunners withdrawing into the distance, and an angler might have wanted to have a try at the waters by her pillow. Even as she wept, she rebuked herself for having surrendered so weakly to jealousy. Why should she be wounded afresh, when he had been inconsiderate from the start? Matters were of course complicated by her pregnancy. What did the future have in store for her? She came from short-lived stock, and might herself be marked for an early death. Though she had no great wish to live on, the thought of death saddened her, and the sin would be great if she left behind a motherless child. She passed a sleepless night.
The empress being indisposed, Niou went to the palace the next day. He found the whole court assembled. She proved to be suffering from no more than a slight cold, however, and Yūgiri, as he left, invited Kaoru to share a carriage with him. He wanted the evening’s ceremonies to be of unprecedented brilliance, though of course there is a limit beyond which not even the wealthiest of commoners is expected to go. He felt somewhat uncomfortable with Kaoru. Yet among his near relatives there was no one whom he thought it so necessary to have at these last nuptial ceremonies. No one could more gracefully do honor to the occasion. But at the same time Yūgiri was annoyed. Kaoru had left court with unwonted alacrity, and he showed not the smallest sign of regret that Rokunokimi had gone to another; and now he threw himself into the preparations as if he were one of her brothers.
It was after dark when Niou made his appearance. A room had been prepared for him at the southeast corner of the main hall. The prescribed silver dishes were laid out most grandly on eight stands, and there were two smaller stands as well, and the ceremonial rice cakes were brought on trays with the festoon-shaped legs so much in style. But enough: why should I describe arrangements with which everyone is perfectly familiar?
Arriving at the banquet, Yūgiri pointed out to Niou, who had not yet emerged from the bridal chambers, that it was growing very late and his company was much missed. But Niou still loitered among the ladies, whose company he was enjoying enormously. In attendance upon him were Yū- giri’s brothers-in-law, a guards commander and a councillor. Finally the bridegroom emerged, a very spruce figure indeed. Yūgiri’s son the captain was acting as master of ceremonies and pressed wine upon Niou. The cups were emptied a second time and a third, and Niou smiled at Kaoru’s diligence in seeing that they were refilled. No doubt he was remembering his own complaints about this excessively proper household. But Kaoru was all solemnity, and pretended not to notice. Niou’s retinue, which included numbers of ranking and honored courtiers, was meanwhile being entertained in the east wing. For six men of the Fourth Rank there were ladies’ robes and cloaks, and for ten men of the Fifth Rank double-lined Chinese robes and trains in several colors for the several stations. Four men of the Sixth Rank received trousers and brocade cloaks. Chafing at the limits imposed upon even the most illustrious statesman, Yūgiri had exhausted his ingenuity in seeing that the dyeing and cutting were of the finest, and some might have thought the gifts for the handymen and grooms rather excessive. Why is it — because the pleasures the eye takes in are the best, perhaps — that old romances seem to give these lively events first priority? But we are always being told that not even they manage to get in all the details.
Some of Kaoru’s outrunners, victims of the darkness, seem not to have been noticed when the wine was passed out. “Now why couldn’t he have married her himself, like a good boy?” they grumbled as they saw his carriage in through the garden gate. “He may enjoy his bachelor’s life, but we don’t.”
Kaoru smiled. It was late and they were sleepy. Niou’s men would be sprawled about here and there happily sleeping off the wine. But what a strained affair it had been, he thought as he went in and lay down. The father of the bride, a close enough relative of the groom too, had come in with such portentous ceremony. The lights turned up high, this person and that had pressed drinks upon the groom, who had responded with unexceptionable poise and dignity. It had been a performance the very memory of which brought pleasure. If he had had a well-endowed daughter of his own, thought Kaoru, he would have found it hard to pass over Niou even in favor of an emperor. Yet he knew that in all the court not one father of an eligible daughter failed to think of Kaoru himself even as he thought of Niou. No, his was not a name they scoffed at. A touch of self-congratulation creeping into his soliloquy, he thought what a pity it was that he should be a crabbed old recluse. Supposing the emperor, and there certainly were hints enough, was having thoughts about the Second Princess and Kaoru. It would not do to give too withdrawn and self-contained an impression. Prestige the match would certainly bring, and yet he wondered. And all that aside, what sort of lady would she be? Might she just possibly resemble Oigimi? It would seem that he was not, after all, wholly uninterested in the Second Princess.
Troubled once more with insomnia, he went to the room of a certain Azechi, a woman of his mother’s who was his favorite, in some measure, over the others, and there passed the night. No one could have reproved him for sleeping late, but he jumped from bed as if duty were calling.
Azechi was evidently annoyed:
“Clandestine my rendezvous at Barrier River.
No good this sudden departure will do for my name.”
He had to admit that he was not being kind:
“Viewed from above, its waters may seem shallow.
But deep is Barrier River, its flow unceasing.”
Even “deep” had a doubtful ring to it; and “shallow,” one can imagine, did little to dispel Azechi’s bitterness.
“Do come for a look at this sky.” He opened the side door. “How can you lie there as if it didn’t exist? I would not wish to seem affected, but the dawn after one of these long nights does fill a person with thoughts about this world and the next.” Spreading confusion behind him, he made his departure.
Although he did not have a large repertory of pretty speeches, he was a man of taste, thought by most people to be not entirely without warmth. Women with whom he had exchanged little pleasantries hoped for more. And this household of a princess no longer a part of the world was a target for properly introduced serving women, and each, after her rank and fashion, could no doubt have told stories to which one might listen with interest and sympathy.
Seeing his bride for the first time in daylight, Niou was pleased. She was of moderate height and attractive proportions, her face was well molded, and her hair flowed in a heavy cascade over her shoulders. It was a proud, noble face, the skin almost too delicate, the eyes such as to make a rival feel somehow defective. Not a flaw detracted from her beauty, he could say quite without reservation. He might have feared a certain immaturity, but, in her early twenties, she was no longer a child. A flower at its best, product of the most careful nurturing, so adequate an object of attention as to make a father forget that he had other duties. But of course there was a different kind of beauty, a more winsome kind, and here the honors had to go to Niou’s lady at Nijō. Rokunokimi was not forward, but she did not fail to make herself understood. And so, in sum, the new wife had much to recommend her, and her more apparent charms seemed to have intelligence and cultivation behind them. In her retinue were thirty carefully chosen young women and six little girls, all of more than ordinary comeliness. Each could indeed have been described as a real beauty, and not one showed less than the best taste in dress and grooming. Yūgiri knew that he had a demanding son-in-law to please, and his ingenuity in seeing that every detail was the best of its kind was astonishing (appalling, some might have said). Not even when his oldest daughter, by Kumoinokari herself, had become the bride of the crown prince had he taken such pains — evidence, no doubt, of his hopes for this other prince.
Niou was not able to spend as much of his time at Nijō as he would have wished. Princes of the blood did not set forth casually in the middle of the day. He had taken up residence again in the southeast quarter at Rokujō, where he had lived as a child, and he could not, when night came, slip calmly past his new wife and set out for Nijō.
And so Nakanokimi was kept waiting. She had tried to prepare herself for this turn of events, but of course one is never prepared. Now that it had come she was left asking herself how love could fade so quickly. She had acted precipitately. Sensible people did not forget their own insignificance and seek to enter the grand world. She must have been quite bereft of her senses when she let herself be brought down the mountain path from Uji. She longed to go back, not in grand defiance, but simply to rest, to regain her composure. He should not mind, if she made it clear that she was not trying to teach him a lesson.
Shyly, her thoughts at length too much for her, she sent off a letter to Kaoru.” The abbot has told me in detail of your attentions the other day. I cannot tell you how great a consolation your kindness in remembering has been. I am deeply grateful, and would like if possible to offer my thanks in person.”
It was written quietly on plain Michinoku paper, most touching in its directness. The sincerity of her gratitude for the memorial services, which had been conducted with unpretentious solemnity, was apparent, though stated without exaggeration or rhetorical flourish. There had always been something stiff, reserved, hesitant, in what should have been the most casual of notes from her. And now she wanted to see him! Niou, so quick to jump from this fad and that infatuation to the next, was clearly neglecting her. Almost in tears, Kaoru read the simple note over and over again.
His answer, on matter-of-fact white paper, was, he hoped, equally direct. “Thank ou for your letter. I set off by myself the other day, as silently as a monk, because there seemed to be reasons for not informing you. I resent very slightly your choice of the word’remembering,’ because it implies that forgetfulness might have been possible. But we must talk of all this when I see you. In the meantime, please be assured of my very great esteem.”
The next evening he made his visit. His heart a tangle of secret emotions, he gave more than usual attention to his dress. The perfume burnt into his soft robe blended with his own and that of his cloves-dyed fan to be if anything too subtle. And so he set forth, a figure of incomparable dignity.
Nakanokimi had not of course forgotten their strange evening together. Witness once more to his kindness, so at odds with what she now judged to be the ordinary, she might even have had regrets, one may imagine, for not having become his wife. She was mature enough by now to compare him with the man who had wronged her, and could think of no scale on which he was not to be marked the higher. It would be a pity to keep him at a distance. She invited him inside her anteroom and addressed him from her parlor, through a blind and a curtain.
“You did not mean to honor me with a special invitation, I know, but I was delighted at this indication — the very first, I believe — that you would not object to my presence, and wanted to come immediately. Then I was told that the prince would be with you, and so I waited until now. Here I am inside the first barrier — dare I congratulate myself that after all these years I am being rewarded?”
She still had great trouble finding words; but at length, faint and hesitant from deep in the room, he caught her reply: “I am so mute and frozen always, I was wondering how I might let you know even a little of my gratitude for the other day, and the happiness it gave me.”
She was really too shy. “How very far away you seem. There are so many things I would like to tell you.”
She granted his point and came closer. He held himself under tight control as he moved from subject to subject, offering a few words of consolation, avoiding direct criticism of Niou and his rather astonishing volatility.
As reluctant as he to complain, she had little to say, and that little she said by indirection, implying that she did not blame the world so much as her own destiny for what had befallen her. Behind her words were sad hints that she wanted to go back to Uji for a time and wanted him to take her.
“Alas, I am in no position to promise anything of the sort. You must ask him, as clearly and directly as you can, and do as he wishes. And I must beg of you not to give him the slightest excuse for thinking you frivolous or undependable. Once you have made everything clear to him I shall have no misgivings at all about going with you and bringing you back again. He knows me well enough not to suspect anything improper.”
The knowledge that his path was strewn with lost opportunities was always with him. “Might I have it back again?” But he only hinted at his feelings.
It was growing dark.
“I am afraid that this sort of talk rather tires me.” He was making her nervous, and the time had come to withdraw. “Perhaps when I am feeling a little better.”
“No, please tell me — if you are serious.” He groped for words with which to detain her. “When would you like to go? The road will be overgrown, and I must have it cleared.”
She turned back. “Let us say the first of next month. This month is almost over. I think we should go very quietly. Do you really think I need his permission?”
The soft voice was so like Oigimi’s, more than he had ever known it to be. Abruptly, he leaned towards the pillar by which he was sitting and reached for her sleeve.
She should have known! She slipped deeper into the room. He pushed his way after her as if he were one of the family and again took her sleeve.
“You misunderstand completely. I thought I heard you say you wanted to go quietly off to Uji, and was delighted, and hoped to make sure I had heard you correctly. That is all. You have no reason to run away.”
She would have preferred not to answer. He was becoming a nuisance. But at length she composed herself for a soft reprimand: “Your behavior is so very strange at times. Try to imagine what all these people will be thinking.”
She seemed on the edge of tears. She was right, in a way, and he was sorry for her. Yet he went on: “Have I done anything that I need feel guilty about? Remember, please, that we had one rather intimate conversation. I do not entirely relish being treated like a criminal when, after all, you were once offered to me. But please do not fret. I will do nothing that might shock you and the world.”
Though he did not seem prepared to release her, he spoke calmly enough of the regrets that had been building up over the months and were by now almost too much for him. She felt helpless, cornered — but the words that come most easily do little to describe her anguish. She was in tears, more shamed and outraged than if it had been possible to dismiss him as merely a boor.
“You are behaving like a child, my dear,” he said at length, aroused once more to pity by her fragile charms. Beneath the distraught exterior he sensed a deep, calm strength, telling him how she had matured since the Uji days. Why had he so heedlessly given her up? He had done it, and deprived himself of all repose since, and he would have liked to cry out his regrets to the world.
Two women were in close attendance upon her. Had he been a stranger, they would have drawn closer against the possibility of something unseemly. But he was an old friend, and the conversation was evidently of a confidential nature. Tactfully, with a show of nonchalance, they withdrew, and unwittingly made things worse for Nakanokimi. Though he had not succeeded in keeping his regrets to himself, today as on other days he was behaving with admirable restraint. She could not think of curtly dismissing him.
One must presently draw a curtain upon such a scene. It had been a useless sort of visit, and, everything considered, he thought it best to take his leave.
Already it was dawn, and he would have said, if asked, that the sun had only just set. His fear of gossip had much less to do with his own good name than with concern for hers. The cause of her indisposition was by now clear enough. She had tried to hide the belt that was the mark of pregnancy. He had respected her shyness, and said nothing. A stupid sort of reticence — and on the other hand any show of forwardness would have gone against his deeper wishes. To surrender to the impulse of a moment would have been to make future meetings more difficult; to demand secret meetings, whatever her wishes, would have been to complicate his own life infinitely and to leave her in the cruelest uncertainty. Would it be better not to see her at all? But the briefest interval away from her was torment. He had to see her. And so, in the end, the workings of his wayward heart prevailed.
Though her face was somewhat thinner, her delicate beauty was as always. It was with him after his departure, driving everything else from his thoughts. He debated the possibility of taking her to Uji, but it was not likely that Niou would agree, and it would be most unwise to go in secret. How could he follow her wishes and the mandates of decorum at the same time? He lay sunk in thought.
Very early in the morning he got off a note, folded into a formal envelope:
“An autumn sky, to remind me of days of old:
I made my way in vain down a dew-drenched path.
Your cruelty is, I should say, both intolerable and senseless.”
She did not want to answer, but knew that her women noticed any departure from routine. “I have received your letter,” she said briefly, “and, not at all well, am not up to a reply.”
It offered little consolation to its recipient, still haunted by the events of the evening before. She had been dismayed by his behavior, for she had little way of guessing what another man might have done; and yet she had sent him off with composure and dignity and no suggestion of rudeness. The memory was not comforting. He could tell himself that he had been exposed to all the varieties and stages of loneliness.
She had improved enormously since the Uji days. If Niou were to reject her, then he himself would be her support. They could not meet openly, perhaps, but she would be his heart’s refuge. A reprehensible heart, that it should have room for only this — but such are the shortcomings one finds in men of apparent depth and discernment. He had grieved for Oigimi, and Iris present sufferings seemed far worse.
Thus the thoughts came and went. Upon hearing that Niou had put in an appearance at the Nijō house, he quite forgot, in Iris jealousy, that he had set himself up as her guardian.
Feeling guilty about Iris long absence, Niou had paid an unannounced visit. Nakaokimi was determined to show no resentment. She had wanted to go off to Uji, and now she saw that the man who was to take her could not be depended upon. The world seemed to close in more tightly by the day. She must accept her fate, and greet whatever came, so long as she lived, with an appearance of cheerfulness. So successful was she in carrying through her resolve, so open and charming, that Niou’s affection and delight rose to new heights. He apologized endlessly for his neglect. Her pregnancy was beginning to show, and the belt that was its mark and had been such a source of embarrassment the night before both moved and fascinated him, for he had never before been near a woman in her condition. Coming from the strained formality of Rokujō, he felt pleasantly relaxed here at Nijō, and his promises and apologies flowed on and on. What a very clever talker, thought Nakanokimi. The memory of Kaoru’s alarming behavior came back. She was grateful to him, as she long had been, but he had gone too far. Though little inclined to put faith in Niou’s vows, she found herself yielding before the flood. What a wretched position Kaoru had put her in, lulling her into a sense of security and then plunging into her room. He had said that his relations with her sister had been pure to the end, and she had believed and admired him; but it would not do to be too friendly. Apprehension turned to tenor at the thought of what a really prolonged separation from Niou might bring. She said nothing of her fears, and her manner, more girlishly endearing than ever, quite ravished him. And then he caught a telltale scent. It was not one of the scents that people purposely bum into their garments. Something of a connoisseur in such matters, Niou had no doubt about its origins.
“And what is this unusual perfume?”
She was speechless. It was true, then; something was going on between the two of them. His heart was pounding. He had long been convinced that Kaoru’s feelings went beyond friendliness. She had changed clothes and still that scent clung to her.
“Really, my dear, you cannot go on pretending that you have kept him at a distance.” His carefully measured speech left her feeling utterly helpless. “I have given you no cause, not the slightest, to doubt the intensity of my affection. You are’the first to forget.’ I must accuse you, indeed, of bad taste — of forgetting what is expected of people like us. Perhaps you think I have stayed away long enough to justify what you have done. I have not, and I am deeply disappointed to find this strain of insensitivity.” His reproaches seemed endless, and were quite beyond transcribing. Her silence adding fuel to his rancor, he presently capped them with an accusing poem:
“Most friendly it was of him to give to your sleeve
The scent that maddens, sinks into the bones.”
It was too much. She had to reply.
“The familiar robe has been a source of comfort.
And now, for cause so paltry, must I lose it?”
The fragile, weeping figure could not fail to move him — and at the same time could not be permitted to escape responsibility for what had happened. His agitation increased until he too was in tears (for he had few defenses against tears). However terrible the mistake, it was not possible to cast her off. Such touching gentleness did not permit resentment to last, and soon he was seeking to comfort her.
He left Nijō the next morning after ablutions and a leisurely breakfast. Used to a blaze of Chinese and Korean hangings, to layer upon layer of damasks and brocades, he found the furnishings here intimate and reposeful, and her women, some of them in soft, unstarched robes, lent the place a quiet dignity. Nakanokimi herself was wearing a soft robe of lavender and over it a cloak of deep pink lined with blue. It was a quiet dress, and yet he thought her entirely capable of competing with the rather florid lady who, at Rokujō, seemed almost vain in her attention to clothes. He was as susceptible to retiring beauty as to bold, and did not think that Nakanokimi had cause to feel inferior to her rival. She had had a charmingly round face, but emaciation and a new pallor had not spoiled its beauty. Even before he had caught that alarming scent, he had been aware of an unsettling possibility: given the quiet charms that so raised her above the ordinary, any man not a close relative would have had trouble staying away once he had come to know her. Niou knew all too well what his own inclinations would have been, and he was always ready to judge others by himself. And so he had for some time made it a practice to go nonchalantly through this cabinet and that chest in search of evidence. He had found nothing suspicious. There were, to be sure, brief, matter-of-fact notes mixed in among other papers, though not in such a manner as to suggest a particular wish to preserve them. There had to be more somewhere. The absence of letters and the presence of that perfume made a particularly alarming combination. When Kaoru was drawn to someone he was drawn irresistibly. Would Nakanokimi be capable of repulsing him? They were a good match, and no doubt they had much in common. Niou was sad, angry, jealous, too much a prey to these various emotions to leave her. He sent off two and three apologetic letters to Rokujō. It did not take him long to think of new things to say, grumbled some of the old women.
Kaoru continued to fret over Niou’s presence at Nijō. How stupid, how undisciplined he was, he told himself again. He had undertaken to see that she was looked after, and what right had he now to be jealous? Forcing his thoughts in a new direction, he managed a certain semblance of happiness at this evidence that Rokujō had not overwhelmed her. He thought of the somewhat dowdy women in attendance upon her and decided to consult with his mother.
“I wonder if you might have a few clothes you don’t need just at the moment? I know a house that could use something decent.”
“I believe that some things will be coming for the services next month, but the dyers have been so busy. Suppose we send off a order.”
“Please don’t bother. Whatever you have ready will do.”
He sent off to see what the seamstresses had on hand and was offered a wide selection of women’s robes, some fine cloaks, and several bolts of undyed silk and damask. For the princess herself he found a red singlet in Iris own stores, the gloss from the fulling mallets uncommonly fine, and numerous garments of white damask and the like. Though he had no women’s trousers, he did come upon an ingenious cord, which he knotted, and, with this poem, added to the collection:
“I shall not go on always and always resenting
The cord that now has bound you to another.”
He sent them all to Tayū, an elderly serving woman with whom he was on good terms.
“Here are some bits and scraps I happened to find lying about. Hand them out quietly, please, as seems appropriate.”
Though not so as to make a great show of the matter, he had the gifts for Nakanokimi wrapped with special care. Tayū was used to these attentions, and she neither gave the princess a full report nor thought it necessary to stand on formality and return the gifts. Taxing herself no further with these refinements, she distributed the cloth to the women, and they set about making new clothes for themselves. It was only right that the better materials should go to the young women in immediate attendance upon the princess. The menials, who were beginning to have trouble hiding their tatters, caught the eye the more pleasingly for the modesty of the unlined white robes in which they now were dressed. Who but Kaoru, they asked, would have thought of all this? Niou was warmhearted enough, and would of course not let them starve; but he had no eye for the fine details that made all the difference in running a household. The pampered darling of the whole world, he was not very keenly aware of its sorrows and frustrations, of its persistent refusal to go in every respect as one would wish. For him “cold” signified nothing more piercing than the touch of dew, and life was a gay parade of style and elegance. Yet, given the circumstances, he was considerate, seeing to fairly routine matters with the passing of the seasons, provided they concerned someone of whom he was fond. A few of his women, including his nurse, thought indeed that he occasionally went too far. Nakanokimi was, all the same, embarrassed at the shabbiness of her retinue, and she sometimes feared that a mansion so fine only set her off to incongruous effect. And there were Rokunokimi and her household to be considered, the luxury and extravagance that were the talk of the day. To Niou’s men the Nijō house must seem scarcely fit for human habitation. Kaoru observed and understood, and, though he would have hated to be thought discourteous or unfeeling in sending off garments so unremarkable that he would not have dreamed of letting a stranger have them, he had to keep certain notions of propriety in mind. What would people have said if he had sent the products of the greatest cutters and weavers in the land? And so, with his usual care and sobriety, he had had a collection neither extravagant nor mean put together, including a robe woven especially for Nakanokimi, and damasks and other fineries. He too was the spoiled pet of the great, his manner so proud that some might have called it aloof and arrogant, his tastes such as might, at times, have seemed overrefined. The Eighth Prince’s mountain dwelling, its solitude and melancholy, had wrought a great change in him and led him to an awareness of the tears of ordinary life. In rather sad ways the prince had been of service!
Kaoru had been determined to behave so as to add nothing to her worries, but she was more than ever on his mind. His letters were more detailed, and suggested that his feelings were no longer very securely under control. And so, thought Nakanokimi, her agitation rising with each letter, the complications in her life refused to leave, and indeed increased. If he were a complete stranger, she could easily dismiss him as a lunatic and send him on his way; but he had been a great source of strength over the years, and a sudden breach would only make people ask questions. He had been kind and gentle, and she was grateful; but she must avoid giving the impression that she condoned his behavior. All the women who might be young enough to understand seemed too new and too unfamiliar with events at Uji, and those who were adequately informed were all very old. Quite alone, with no one whom she could really talk to, she longed more than ever for her sister. Kaoru would surely be able to control these improper tendencies if Oigimi were still alive. Nakanokimi almost thought them more distressing than the possibility that Niou might weary of her.
One quiet evening, the yearning at length too much for him, Kaoru paid a visit. Nakanokimi had a cushion set out for him on the veranda and sent word through one of her women that she was not feeling well and would be unable to receive him. Though almost in tears, he was determined to control himself before her women.
“When you are not well, you invite strange priests to sit beside you. Can you not at least treat me like your physician? Can you not let me inside your room? If we have to have people running back and forth with messages, then I might as well not have come at all.”
Very improper, said the women who had been present at the scene that earlier evening. They lowered a blind between the veranda and the main hall and showed him to the seat usually occupied by the priest in night attendance. Nakanokimi was extremely uncomfortable, but had to agree that open hostility would be misguided. Shyly and without enthusiasm, she edged a little closer, and the few words that came to him in a faint little voice so reminded him of Oigimi in the days after she fell ill that forebodings were added to his sorrow. The lights seemed to dim before his eyes. He could only blurt out short and disconnected phrases. Her refusal to answer seemed intolerable. Reaching through the blind in the manner he had as of being one of the family, he pulled the curtain slightly aside and leaned towards her.
In a panic, she called out to a woman named Shōshō. “I seem to be rather short of breath. I wonder if I might ask you to massage me for just a moment or two.”
“That sort of thing only makes matters worse.” With a sigh, he drew back again — but not because any great measure of calm had returned to him. “Why do you go on feeling so unwell? I have asked about people in your condition and been told that there may be great discomfort at first but that it goes away in time. Might you perhaps be making a little too much of it all?”
“I do feel unwell sometimes,” she replied, much embarrassed to have to talk of her condition. “It was so with my sister too. I have heard people describe it as a sign that neither of us was meant to live long.”
Yes, he thought, in an access of pity. One had to realize that life was far shorter than “the thousand years of the pine.” Shōshō‘s presence no longer enough to restrain him, he began to speak of his feelings over the years. He did, it was true, choose his words with care and circumspection, avoiding matters that might be compromising or inconveniently clear to an outsider. A gentleman of remarkable sensitivity, thought Shōshō.
Everything reminded him of Oigimi, who seldom left his thoughts. “From very early in my life I turned my back on the world, and I hoped to end my days a bachelor. But fate seems to have intervened. One would have to say that your sister was a rather chilly lady, and yet something about her struck up a most extraordinary response, and my saintly resolutions, for what they were worth, began to waver. I admit that I went out looking for comfort after she died. I glanced at this and that woman and even kept company with one or two for a time. It was only that I wanted to stop thinking of her.” He was in tears and his voice had taken on a pleading note. “And to no purpose at all. I have been drawn to no one else. Sometimes — I am only human — I have not been able to keep myself under very tight control. But it would hurt me very much indeed to think that you have ever had cause to doubt my motives. You would have every right to be shocked and revolted if you were to detect even a hint of anything improper in my behavior toward you. Do please let me go on seeing you from time to time. Who could possibly object if we were to talk of the little trifles that interest us? I have no tendencies, I assure you, that need make you feel in danger. I am not like other people, I swear I am not.”
“But I do trust you. You do not know me very well if you think I would allow such extraordinary intimacy otherwise. You have been kindness itself over the years, and it is because I know so well what you will do for me that I have asked favors of you.”
“Favors? I am not aware of any worth mentioning — or dare I hope that in your plans for your mountain village you will finally decide you have found a use for me? If that is so, then we have evidence that you have read a part of my feelings. I am delighted.” He had not finished complaining, but he thought that her women had heard enough.
It was growing dark and the humming of insects was loud. The hillock in the garden was falling back into night. He sat quietly on, leaning against an armrest. She wished very much that he would leave.
“An end to sorrow,” he whispered. “No, it is too much. Let me have a Silencetown somewhere, a place for quiet tears. Somewhere near that monastery of yours. No, I don’t need a whole monastery. If I could just have a statue or a picture of her, and set out offerings before it.”
“A very kind thought. But just a moment — you speak of having an image made, and that somehow suggests the river Mitarashi. And so perhaps you are not being so kind to my sister after all. Or a picture: much depends, you know, on what you are willing to pay. An artist can do very badly by a person.”
“That is true, of course. And in any case, no sculptor or painter could really give me what I want. Short of a miracle, which I would not reject. I know of a sculptor who one day not long ago brought flowers raining down from the skies.”
She at length took pity on him, convinced that he had indeed been unable to forget, and came a little nearer.
“This image you speak of reminds me of something. Something very strange.”
“Yes?” Delighted at this new amiability, he reached under the curtain for her hand.
So here they were again! But her indignation did not keep her from wanting to quiet him somehow and make reasonable discussion possible; and there was the problem of Shōshō, sitting right beside her.
She managed to go on. “I heard recently of a lady whose existence I had not dreamed of. Someone whom I could not keep at a distance, and at the same time whom I had no great wish to be friendly with. The other day she came calling, and the resemblance to my sister astonished me and moved me deeply. You insist on seeing my sister in me, on thinking of me as a sort of legacy, and yet these women tell me that no two people could have been more unlike. Strange that in both cases it should be the opposite of what one would expect — that a lady with no cause to look like her should be her very image.”
Might he be dreaming? “Some very strong bond has brought you together, of that we can be sure. But why had you told me nothing of this before?”
“Bond? I have no notion what that might be. Father’s great fear was that we would become drifters and beggars, and now that I am alone I have reason to think I am finally beginning to understand what he meant. And now this unfortunate affair comes along, and I shudder to think of the harm it will do to his memory if we let the world get wind of it.”
Her manner suggested that she was referring to “this keepsake, this child,” left by some lady with whom her father had kept secret company. He wanted to hear more about the resemblance to Oigimi.
“Having said this much, you ought to go on, I think. Surely you do not mean to leave me dangling.”
But she was reluctant to give him the details. “You might want to visit her. There is much that I do not know myself, but I can tell you in a general way of her whereabouts. And revealing too much sometimes takes away from the interest.”
He pressed her for more.” If it were in pursuit of your sister, I would give myself up to wandering the wide, gloomy world, I would search to the depths of the sea. I would of course be less single-minded in pursuit of this new lady. But since I had thought that even an image of your sister would be some slight comfort, why should we not enshrine the other in that mountain village? Please tell me everything, and as clearly as you can.”
“No. He did not recognize her as one of his children, and I should not have told you as much as I have. It was just that I felt sorry for you and doubtful about this request for a miraculous sculptor.
“She grew up in the far provinces. Her mother thought it a pity that she should be hidden from the world and mustered up courage to write to me. I could not bring myself to ignore the letter, and so the girl herself came to see me. It may be of course that there was not time for a really good look at her, but she seemed less countrified in every way than I would have expected. It would be great good fortune for her poor mother — she really seemed quite desperate — if you were to enshrine the girl. But I hardly think that matters will go so far.”
He was resentful, sensing behind the apparent innocence with which she told him of this new discovery a wish to turn away unwelcome attentions. Still he was interested. She evidently found his presence next to intolerable; and yet his heart beat faster at the thought that she was not able to send him on his way, evidence, surely, that she understood and sympathized. It was very late. She wondered what her women would be thinking. Taking advantage of his bemusement, she slipped away to the rear of the house. She was right to do so, of course, but he was unable to keep back tears of chagrin and resentment. His agitation was increased by the presence of her women. But rash action would make her unhappy and do him no good. He fought to maintain at least a semblance of composure. Sighing deeper sighs than usual, he made his way out.
A helpless captive of yearning, he could hope for no lessening of the pain. How, without calling down upon himself the reproaches of the whole world, was he to find solace? Not having known a great deal of love, he let it lure him into fantasies that could be of no use to either of them; and so he passed the night. She had said that this new girl resembled her dead sister. How might he learn whether or not she was right? The girl was of a low enough station in life that he could doubtless approach her with no difficulty; but he was less than enthusiastic. Having approached her, he might be embarrassed to find her not entirely to his taste.
Nostalgia for Uji was mounting again. The long intervals between his visits somehow made the past withdraw more rapidly into the distance. Toward the end of the Ninth Month he paid a visit. In the wail of the winds, the Uji house had only the rushing waters for company. The human presence was scarcely to be detected. His eyes clouded over at the infinite sadness of the place. Asking for Bennokimi, he was received at a dark-blue curtain drawn before her rooms.
“I am much honored by this visit. I am even older and uglier than when last you saw me and would be ashamed to face you.” She remained behind her curtains.
“I can guess how sad life is for you. I have come because only you understand certain things I long to talk about.” There were tears in his eyes. “How quickly time does go by?”
The old woman was weeping quite openly. “Here we are again at the time of the year when my older lady was suffering so. There is no particular season for weeping, of course, but it is the autumn wind that hurts most. And I have had dim rumors that things have turned out for my younger lady as my older lady feared they would — that her relations with the prince are not good. One must go on worrying, it seems.”
“I suppose that everything arranges itself in the end, if only you live long enough, but I cannot help blaming myself that her last days were so unsettled. But you speak of the prince’s recent behavior. There is nothing in the least unusual about it, you know. It is exactly what one would have expected. He has taken another wife, but that is no cause for your lady to be upset. No, I fear that my own sorrow is the greater. I know that the day will come when I too will vanish into the skies.‘The dew falls soon and late’ — but that knowledge does not make the wait any easier.”
Sending for the abbot, he gave instructions for memorial services. “My visits here do me no good,” he said. “What good is it to grieve? I think we should move this house to your monastery and do it over as a memorial hall. Something of the sort will be necessary someday, I am quite sure, and the sooner the better.”
He drew sketches and they discussed the arrangement of chapels, galleries, and cells.
“A most admirable undertaking,” said the abbot.
“Some will think it cruel, I know, to change a house that has so much of its owner in it. But we have pious motives that would have accorded completely with his own. His great trouble seems to have been an inability to pursue them, out of concern for the daughters he would leave behind. This land will have passed through his second daughter to Prince Niou, and we are hardly in a position to make it a holy precinct, whatever our personal wishes in the matter may be. And of course it is too near the river and too open, and so I think we should move the house and have something else put up in its place.”
“In every respect a most excellent plan. There once was a man who lost his children and in his grief went for long years carrying their remains in a kerchief around his neck. Then through the benign powers of the Blessed One he cast them away and entered the realm of enlightenment. For you this house is similarly disquieting, a barrier along the holy way. A temple will be a source of grace in lives to come. Let us get to work immediately. We will have the soothsayers choose a good day and find two or three carpenters who know what they are about, and in matters of detail we need only follow the specifications laid down by the Blessed One himself.”
Kaoru gave all the necessary instructions. Summoning men from his manor, he told them to obey the abbot’s orders while the work was in progress. It was by then evening. He decided to stay the night. He wandered here and there, knowing that this might be his last visit. The images had already been taken to the monastery, with only a few ritual implements left behind for Bennokimi’s convenience. It was a lonely life she led, thought Kaoru. And what was to become of her now?
“There are rather urgent reasons for rebuilding the house,” he explained, “and while we are about it perhaps we could ask you to make do with this gallery. If there are things you want sent to your lady, I can ask one of my men to deliver them.”
So he busied himself with domestic details It is not the usual thing for young men to be interested in aged women, but he called her to his side and questioned her about old times. Since there was no danger of being overheard, she spoke at great length of his father.
“I can see him now as he lay dying. He did so want to see the child. And now, coming upon you at the far end of my outrageously long life, I feel as if I were having my reward for having been with him then. I am happy, and I am sad. And ashamed, too, for having lived all these wretched years and seen and known all these things. My lady writes telling me to visit her occasionally. She asks if I intend to shut myself off from her and forget about her completely. But I cannot be seen as I am. I want to be in attendance only upon Lord Amitābha.”
She also talked at great length of Oigimi: of her nature and conduct over the years, of remarks she had made on this and that occasion, of the fugitive poems she had composed when the cherries were in bloom or the autumn leaves at their best. The old woman expressed herself well, though her voice wavered from time to time. Kaoru was deeply moved. There had been something mutely childlike about Oigimi, but she had been a lady of sensibility all the same. He compared her in his mind with her sister. Nakanokimi was the more cheerful and modern of the two, even though she could be very cold to attentions she found unwelcome. With him, however, she was evidently reluctant to seem too withdrawn. He presently found his chance to mention the girl Nakanokimi had said resembled her dead sister.
“I cannot be sure whether she is in the city or not,” replied Bennokimi. “I have only heard rumors. It was before the prince came to these mountains to live, and shortly after he lost his wife. Among his attendants was a woman named Chūjō, of good family and an amiable enough disposition. For a very short time he favored her with his attentions. No one knew of the affair, and presently she had a daughter. He was embarrassed, yes, even disgusted, knowing that it might well be his. He did not want to be troubled further and refused to see her again. It was self-loathing, I should imagine, that turned him into the saint he became in his last years. The woman was of course in a difficult position and soon left his service. Some time later she married the governor of Michinoku and went off with him to his province. Back in the capital after some years, she let it be known that the girl was in good health. The prince told her very brusquely that the news had nothing to do with him or this house; and so the poor woman could only lament her inability to do anything for the girl. I heard nothing of her for some years — I should imagine it was because she was off in Hitachi, where her husband had been posted as governor. Then this spring there was a report that she had called upon my lady. The daughter will be about twenty, I should imagine. I did once have a long letter from the mother saying that she was far too pretty to be wasted in the provinces.”
Fascinated by these remarks, Kaoru concluded that there must be a great deal of truth in what Nakanokimi had said. “I have been telling myself that I would go to the far corners of the earth for a glimpse of someone who resembled your dead lady even a little. The prince may not have counted this other girl among his children, but that she is can hardly be denied. I suppose she will visit you here someday. When she does, please tell her what I have said, though without seeming to make a great point of it.”
“Chūjō is a niece of my ladies’ mother, and so the two of us are related; but because we worked for different families, we were never very close. I have had a letter from Tayū— she is in the city with my lady, you will remember — saying that the girl would like to pay her respects at her father’s grave, and that I should be prepared for a visit; but so far she does not seem to have thought of writing us directly. When she does come, I shall pass your message on to her.”
As he prepared to leave in the morning, he gave the abbot silks and cottons that had been brought after him. He gave similar gifts to Bennokimi and even to her women and the ordinary priests. It was a lonely mountain dwelling, but with this steady flow of gifts she was able to pursue the religious vocation in quiet security and in a manner befitting her station.
The trees had been stripped bare by the cruel winds. There were no tracks through the leaves. Hating to depart for what he feared would be the last time, he gazed on at the melancholy scene. The ivy climbing the twisted mountain trees still had traces of autumn color. He broke off a sprig, thinking that even so small a gift would please Nakanokimi.
“Memories of nights beneath the ivy
Bring comfort to the traveler’s lonely sleep.”
This was Bennokimi’s answer:
“Sad must be the memory of lodging
Beneath this rotting, ivy-covered tree.”
Though he would not have called it a modish, up-to-date poem, it was not without charm, and it brought consolation of a sort.
Niou chanced to be with the princess when the ivy was delivered.
“From the Sanjō house,” said the woman nonchalantly.
So she would have to go through it all over again! Nakanokimi wished that she could somehow hide the gift.
“Most remarkable,” said Niou, his manner richly insinuating.
He took up the ivy and a letter that said in part: “Have you been better these last few days? I paid a visit to your mountain village, and lost my way among the clinging mountain mists. I shall tell you all about it when I see you. The abbot and I went over plans for rebuilding the house as a memorial hall. When I have your approval I shall see to arrangements for moving it. Perhaps I may ask you to give Bennokimi the necessary instructions.”
“Very cool and distant,” said Niou.” He must have known I would be here.”
There was possibly a grain of truth in it; but Nakanokimi, delighted that the letter was so innocuous, now found herself damned by the very innocuousness. Her irritation was visible, and so charming that he had to forgive her everything.
“Send off an answer, now. I won’t watch.” He turned away.
Since a show of reluctance would only make matters worse, she took up her brush.
“I am very envious of you, running off to the mountains. I have been thinking that very much the disposition you suggest should be made of the house; and I think too that, rather than seek some other’cave among the rocks’ when the time comes for me to leave the world, I would like to keep it in repair. I shall be very pleased indeed if you remodel it as you find appropriate.”
It seemed an easy, relaxed friendship, thought Niou, that offered no ground for jealousy; but he was suspicious all the same, knowing that he himself would not dream of allowing everything to meet the eye. It was not an easy situation for Nakanokimi.
Below the veranda autumn grasses beckoned, their plumes bending and swaying over beds of withered flowers. Some, not yet headed, fragile in the evening breeze, were flecked with dew. It was an ordinary enough breeze, and yet it was strangely moving.
“The autumn grass is keeping something back.
Beneath the dew, it beckons and it beckons.”
He had on an informal robe over a pleasantly rumpled singlet. Taking up a lute, he tuned it to the ōjiki mode. It was so charming a performance that Nakanokimi, who knew a great deal about music, could not go on being annoyed. She was a charming figure herself. Leaning against an armrest, she peeped shyly out from behind a low curtain.
“Weakly, weakly the wind glides over the grasses.
One knows that the moor is at the end of autumn.”
To her poem she added only the words: “Left alone.”
Embarrassed at her inability to hold back tears, she hid her face behind a fan. She was a delight, and he pitied her; and at the same time he could see that precisely this appeal would make it difficult for other men to stay away. His doubts came back, and his resentment.
The chrysanthemums had not yet taken on their last color, for the more carefully cultivated the chrysanthemum, the slower it is to change. Yet a single blossom, for whatever reason, had changed to that most beautiful of colors. The prince had it brought to him.
“‘I do not love, among flowers, the chrysanthemum only,’” he whispered. “One evening long ago, a certain prince was admiring chrysanthemums, and a spirit came down from the heavens to help him at his lute. We must resign ourselves to doing without such services in this inferior age of ours.”
“We may not be as imaginative as they were,” said Nakanokimi, not wanting him to put the instrument down, and always eager to add to her own repertoire, “but that hardly means that we are not up to playing what has been given to us.”
“I get lonesome, all by myself. You must join me.” He had a koto brought out for her.
But she quite refused to touch it. “I did once have a few lessons, but I’m afraid I wasn’t as diligent as I might have been.”
“How difficult you are, my dear, even with these little trifles. The lady at Rokujō is still almost a stranger, but she does not try to hide her weaknesses from me. Our good friend Kaoru gives it as his view that women should be docile and straightforward. No doubt you are more open with him.”
And so, finally, he had said it. She sighed and played a brief melody. The strings being somewhat slack, she tuned her koto to the banjiki mode. Even the few notes she plucked by way of tuning made it clear that her touch was excellent. Niou sang “The Sea of Ise” in very good voice, and Nakanokimi’s women, wreathed in smiles, came up close behind the curtains.
“Yes, it would be nice if he could make do with only our lady, but fine gentlemen are what they are. We have to live with it, and I say she’s been lucky. Can she really think of running back to those awful mountains? Why, years could go by without anything half as interesting as this.”
The younger women would have preferred just to listen.
With music and other diversions to break the monotony, he stayed at Nijō for some days. He sent word to Rokujō that a defilement had made a period of abstinence necessary. The lady there thought the excuse altogether too transparent.
One day Yūgiri himself stopped by, on his way home from court.
“He always makes such a parade of it,” grumbled Niou, going to the main hall.
“What fond memories this place does call up. I ought to come often, I suppose, but, not having much by way of excuse — “ Yūgiri talked of the old days for a time, and when he left he took Niou with him.
It was indeed a parade, row upon row of sons and courtiers. Nakanokimi’s women looked out and sighed, having before them evidence that their mistress faced impossible competition. “But what a really handsome gentleman he is,” said one of them. “What a really handsome gentleman. He has that platoon of sons, each as good as the rest, and all of them so young and healthy; but he outshines them all.”
Others were less pleased. “I don’t think it’s in very good taste, really, making such a show of things. Our poor lady has troubles enough already.”
Nakanokimi had her own thoughts. What she had seen over the years had been sufficient to convince her that she was not meant to mingle with these grand people. She was an insignificant little thing, as the world could plainly see. It would be better to return quietly to her mountains.
And so, like other years, this one came to an end.
She was in great discomfort from late in the First Month. Niou, for whom this was a new experience, was beside himself. He had services performed at this temple and that, and went on commissioning new ones. When Nakanokimi’s distress was greatest, there came an inquiry from the empress. The marriage was now in its second year. Though aware of the fact that such steadfastness on Niou’s part was worth noting, the world had not paid a great deal of attention to Nakanokimi. Now courtiers high and low began sending expressions of concern.
Kaoru was no less apprehensive than Niou. He made discreet inquiries and commissioned services of his own, but his visits could not be as frequent as he would have wished.
The court was astir during these same weeks with preparations for the Second Princess’s initiation. The emperor gave them his personal attention and found it rather a relief that she had no maternal relatives. The princess of course had her mother’s treasures, to which were added rich stores from the palace and from appropriate provincial offices as well. Kaoru was to become her bridegroom immediately after the ceremonies. He too should have been busy with preparations, but he could think only of Nakanokimi.
At an extraordinary levee toward the end of the Second Month, he was appointed General of the Right and given a supernumerary seat on the council. (A vacancy had been created when the Minister of the Right, who had also been General of the Left, resigned the latter position.) He went about making the courtesy calls which this happy event demanded, and in the course of them visited the Nijō mansion. Knowing that Nakanokimi would have Niou with her in this difficult time, he went directly to her apartments. In some confusion, Niou informed him that the place was swarming with priests and that the main hall might be more appropriate. Changing to court dress slightly less formal than Kaoru’s, he received his caller at the foot of the stairs, and the scene the two presented was dignity itself. Kaoru was giving a banquet that evening for officers of the guard, he said, and would be most honored if Niou might be present. Because of Nakanokimi’s condition, Niou did not commit himself.
The banquet took place at Rokujō, where everything had been done to insure an affair no less grand than a similar one on the occasion of Yūgiri’s becoming a minister. Princes of the blood and high courtiers were present in numbers no fewer than at the earlier banquet. Some, indeed, might have argued for less display. Niou did put in an appearance, but hurried back to Nijō before the festivities were over. Yūgiri and his family were not pleased. The princess at Nijō was of as high a rank as Yūgiri’s Rokunokimi, but nearness to the sources of power sometimes has a heady effect on people.
At dawn a prince was born. Niou was delighted — they had endured great uncertainty, and been rewarded. For Kaoru, preferment was joined by a second cause for rejoicing. He paid a brief call of congratulation and of thanks for Niou’s presence at the banquet the evening before. No one of rank would have dreamed of missing a visit to Nijō, the prince being in residence there.
As is the custom, the celebration on the third night was private. On the fifth night Kaoru sent fifty servings of ceremonial rice, prizes for the Go matches, and other stores of food, as custom demanded. To Nakanokimi he sent thirty trays on stands, five sets of swaddling clothes, and diapers and the like. There was nothing grand or obtrusive about these various gifts, but close inspection revealed uncommonly fine taste. To Niou went twelve trays of aloeswood, and, on stands, steamed cakes of the five-colored cereals. The women in attendance upon Nakanokimi received trays on stands, of course, and thirty cypress boxes. Everything was in the best taste, in nothing was there even a hint of wanton display. On the seventh day the festivities were sponsored by the empress. The crowds were even larger. Courtiers of medium and high rank were numberless, and at their head was Her Majesty’s own chamberlain. The emperor sent a sword — was he not to show his delight, he said, at Niou’s having become a father? On the ninth day it was Yūgiri’s turn. The occasion was for him a somewhat distasteful one, but he did not want to risk offending Niou. All of his sons were in attendance, and the greatest care was taken that there be no suggestion of hostility. No doubt Nakanokimi, whose physical discomfort had not been helped by worries about her rival, found all these attentions cheering.
Kaoru’s feelings were mixed. She would be even more aloof and inaccessible now that she had become a mother, and she would be showered with affection; and on the other hand he could scarcely object to the fact that his original plans had worked out so well.
Toward the end of the month, following the initiation ceremonies, Kaoru took the Second Princess for his bride. There were private evening rites at the palace.
Some complained. “Everyone has been talking about what a fuss he makes over her — and now he gives her to a commoner! She must have expected something better. It would have been all right, perhaps, to give his august permission eventually— but why did he have to rush things so?”
But the emperor, once he had made a decision, was a man to carry it out with alacrity. Provision would eventually have to be made for the princess, and he was prepared to go against precedent in making it now. Yet it must be said that though princesses are always marrying, few daughters of emperors so young and vigorous can have been rushed so precipitously into marriage with commoners.
“What a singular esteem for him our sovereign shows, and how singularly lucky he is,” said Yūgiri to his own Second Princess. “Your late father bestowed your sister upon my father only when he was in his last years and about to retire from the world. And just look at me, if you will, picking up a princess without a by-your-leave.”
It was true, she thought, flushing. She did not answer.
On the third night after the wedding, the emperor had gifts presented to all those who had been of service to his daughter, her maternal uncles and the rest. Quietly and without display, he took notice too of Kaoru’s guards, outrunners, grooms, and footmen. The stiffness of court etiquette was avoided in all these attentions. Kaoru regularly and dutifully waited on his bride, but his heart was still in the past. The daytime hours he spent at home in brooding despondency. He would set out to visit her early in the evening, all the while telling himself that he must move her to Sanjō.
Delighted, his mother offered to let him have the main hall. Altogether too much, he replied. He had a gallery extended to the chapel, with the apparent intention of moving his mother to the west side of the main hall. The east wing had been beautifully rebuilt after the fire, and still greater care was now taken to see that it was perfect in every detail. The emperor heard of these plans, and was uneasy. Was it wise for his daughter to give herself up so soon after marriage to life in her husband’s house? In their concern for their children monarchs are no different from ordinary men. He wrote to his sister, Kaoru’s mother, of his worries. She had been committed to his special care by their father, the late Suzaku emperor, and his concern had not diminished when she became a nun. Whatever she asked was granted, with great care that no detail be over-looked.
Kaoru was thus favored by the fondest attentions that two people of the very highest station had to offer; and still he was not happy. One could come upon him sunk in thought, intent only upon hurrying his plans for the Uji monastery.
Counting off the days, he was also immersed in preparations for the infant prince’s fiftieth-day ceremonies. He saw to the details of baskets and cypress boxes for rice cakes and the like. Determined that the celebration be no ordinary one, he brought together troops of aloeswood and sandalwood carvers and workers of gold and silver, and each sought to outdo all the others.
He visited the Nijō mansion, choosing as usual a time when Niou would not be at home. Perhaps it was her imagination, but to Nakanokimi he seemed to have taken on a maturer dignity. She received him confidently — he would surely have left behind those troublesome ways of his.
But no. He choked with tears, and pity for himself was undisguised. “The world seems a darker place than ever. I have gone against the demands of my own heart.”
“Please, you must not say so. What if someone were to catch even a whisper of it?” But in fact she was deeply moved, the tenacity of his affection for her sister being quite evident. He was unable to forget, and not even the enviable match he had made for himself seemed to help. If only her sister had lived! But then of course she would be in the same predicament as Nakanokimi herself; neither would have cause to envy the other. Their origins simply were not such as to command the respect of the world. Her sister’s decision not to give herself to Kaoru seemed more than ever the wise one.
Kaoru begged to see the child. She had reservations, but told herself that it would be cruel to refuse him. There was the one unpleasant matter in which his resentment was a fact she must be resigned to living with, but in everything else she would follow his wishes. Not giving a direct answer, she sent the child out with its nurse. One would have expected a child of such parents to be beautiful, but in fact it had a skin so fair as almost to arouse forebodings, and it babbled and laughed in high, sweet tones. If only it were his, thought Kaoru — not, it would seem, having entirely given up thoughts of this world. If the one for whom he longed had followed the way of the world and left behind a child, he might find consolation. And such were the workings of his intractable heart that he had had no thought over the days of the possibility that his wellborn wife might have a child. Still, one would not wish to describe him as merely perverse. Had he been a man of reprehensible tendencies, the emperor would surely not have insisted upon having him for a son-in-law. In high matters of state,
one would imagine, he showed uncommon talents. nsTouched and pleased that the princess had consented to let him see the child, he talked on at greater length than usual, and presently it was dark. The pity was that he could not stay on into the night, making himself quite at home. Sighing and sighing again, he departed.
“What a remarkable perfume,” said the women. Indeed some of the younger ones found it rather a trial.”‘So noisy the warbler’ — I imagine we will be pestered by warblers looking for our blossoms.”
The approach to the Sanjō mansion from the palace was in a direction which would be interdicted by the stars once summer had come. He therefore moved his wife to Sanjō late in the Third Month — before what is called, I believe, “the parting of the seasons.” On the day before her removal, the emperor was host at a wisteria viewing in her mother’s apartments. (It being a state assembly, the princess did not herself act as hostess.) The blinds were rolled up and the royal seat put out on the south veranda. The keepers of the palace larder saw that the courtiers of various ranks were suitably entertained. Yūgiri and Kōbai were in attendance, as were two of Higekuro’s sons, a councillor and a guards captain. Two princes of the blood, Niou and Prince Hitachi, were also present. Courtiers of medium rank were seated beneath the wisteria arbors in the south garden, with court musicians disposed along the east side of the Kōrōden Gallery, immediately beyond. As dusk came on they played a strain in the sōjō mode. Musical instruments were brought out from the princess’s rooms for the emperor’s delectation. Yūgiri and certain lesser officials delivered them to the imperial presence. Yūgiri also presented two koto scores in the late Genji’s own hand. Genji had given them to Kaoru’s mother, and now, for presentation to the emperor, they were attached to felicitous pine branches. Lutes as well as kotos of the several varieties were brought out, all of them once the property of the Suzaku emperor. Then there was the flute that had been the source of a revelation in a dream, memento of a man long dead, which the emperor had on an earlier occasion pronounced to be of unexcelled tone: thinking there would not be another affair so brilliant, it would seem, its owner had it brought out. The emperor gave a Japanese koto to Yūgiri and a lute to Niou. Kaoru quite outdid himself on the flute. Numbers of medium-ranking courtiers famous for their voices serenaded the emperor most admirably. The princess sent out cakes of the five-colored cereals. As for the table settings, there were four trays of aloeswood and stands of sandalwood, and cloths of varied lavender embroidered with wisteria branches. There were glass cups and silver saucers, and indigo decanters. The guards captain busied himself seeing that the cups were kept full. Since it would not do to press too many drinks upon Yūgiri, and since no princes of the blood were present who could appropriately receive the royal cup, His Majesty turned to Kaoru. The young man protested that he was unworthy of the honor, but presently, whatever he may have read into the august invitation, he accepted and raised the cup high.
“To Your Majesty’s health.” Even so ordinary a toast he managed to utter with a difference — or perhaps his very special position made it seem so to the assembly. He transferred the wine to another cup, and with incomparable dignity descended to the garden to offer ritual thanks. Men of the highest rank, ministers and princes of the blood and the like, find such attentions flattering; and for Kaoru there was the singular honor of having been received as a royal son-in-law. His rank did carry its limitations, however, and in the end he had to return to his low seat.
Kōbai was annoyed. He had hoped to be so honored. He had had intentions upon the girl’s mother, and had continued to write to her even after her presentation at court; and his thoughts had then turned to the daughter. He had let it be known that he would not be averse to being looked upon as her protector. The mother had chosen not to inform the emperor, however, and Kōbai had not emerged from the affair with grounds for satisfaction.
“No doubt,” he said, “our friend was born under better stars than the rest of us, but I do think His Majesty is making a bit of a fool of himself. All this fuss over getting a daughter married! And I don’t think it sets a very good precedent when a commoner no different from you and me takes over rooms practically next door to the celestial chamber itself, and is treated today as if he were the guest of honor.”
He had not wanted to be left out of what promised to be a brilliant assembly, but he was not happy.
Torches were lighted. Each guest, as he placed his poem upon the lectern, seemed more pleased with himself than the one before. Sure that the poems would be of the usual trite and fusty sort, I did not think I would trouble myself to write them down; but I do seem to have made note of a few after all, by way of remembering the occasion. (I must warn that rank bears little relation to performance as a poet.)
This would seem to be Kaoru’s, presented with a sprig of wisteria for the royal cap:
“Wisteria, thought l, to grace the august bonnet;
And my sleeve has caught upon a high, high branch.”
Such are the airs one assumes when one marries a princess.
And this His Majesty’s reply:
“Its fragrance shall last through all the centuries.
We shall not then be weary of it today.”
Someone else presented this:
“The wisteria spray that graces the august bonnet
Competes with the purple clouds of paradise.”
And yet another:
“It sends its cascade of flowers to the loftiest heights.
Of a most uncommon hue is this wisteria.”
The last would seem to be by the unhappy Kōbai.
I may have made mistakes in transcribing certain of these attempts at poetry, but can give assurance that none was conspicuous for its originality.
The hours passed, the concert was more and more interesting. Kaoru was in splendid voice as he sang “How Grand the Day.” Kōbai joined in, and one still recognized the voice for which he had been famous as a youth. Yūgiri’s seventh son, a mere child, played the shō pipes so charmingly that he was given a robe by the emperor. Yūgiri himself descended to the garden to offer the ritual thanks. It was almost dawn when the emperor withdrew to his rooms, having made certain that appropriate gifts were at hand for ranking courtiers and princes of the blood. The princess had gifts, each appropriate to his rank, for lesser courtiers and for the musicians.
The next night she was escorted to Kaoru’s Sanjō mansion. The ceremonies accompanying the move were of unusual grandeur, with all the
I ladies in attendance. The princess rode in a brocaded carriage with a wide, flaring roof. In the procession were three carriages similarly brocaded but with plain roofs, six carriages whose facings of plaited palmetto were embossed with gold, twenty such carriages without the gold, and two carriages with wickerwork facings. There were thirty ladies-in-waiting, each attended by eight little maids of honor and eight serving women, and they were joined by women who had been sent from Kaoru’s house in twelve carriages. The ranks of courtiers down to the Sixth Rank quite exhausted the possibilities of gorgeous display.
And so Kaoru had her with him, and could observe her at his leisure; and he was not unhappy with what he saw. She was small, pretty, and quiet, with no defects that immediately caught the eye. He had been lucky — and when would he have a better chance to forget Oigimi? Yet he continued to grieve. He could not hope for comfort on this earth, he feared. If only he might find enlightenment, and an understanding of what their strange, unhappy relationship had been a punishment for, he might be able to send it on its way. He lost himself in plans for the Uji villa.
Toward the end of the Fourth Month, when the excitement of the Kamo festival had passed, he set out once again for Uji. He inspected the building and gave appropriate orders, and, thinking it would be unkind not to visit the “rotting, ivy-covered tree” while he was on the precincts, he made his way to the nun’s quarters. A procession of some dignity was just then coming across the bridge: a modest woman’s carriage guarded by a band of rough East Country soldiers with quivers at their hips, and attended by a considerable number of servants. Some provincial lady or other, he said to himself as he started inside. His men were noisily making their way through the gate when it became apparent that the other procession was coming to the villa. Quieting his men, Kaoru sent to ask who they might be.
The answer came in rustic accents: “Our lady’s the daughter of the old governor of Hitachi. She’s been to the temple at Hatsuse. We put up here on the way out too.”
Well, now: this was someone of whom he had had news! He ordered his men to take cover.
“Please bring her carriage in,” he sent by messenger. “There is someone else staying here, but he is over in the north wing.”
His men were in travel dress not notable for its finery. The newcomers seemed ill at ease all the same, apparently sensing that the guest was of high rank. Leading their horses aside, they stood at rigid attention. The carriage was pulled up at the west end of a gallery joining the main hall to an outbuilding. The house was without blinds, quite exposed to the public gaze. Kaoru took up his position in a room with lowered shutters, and a search revealed a convenient aperture in one of the doors to the east. To guard against tell-tale rustling, he stripped down to a singlet and trousers.
The lady was reluctant to leave her carriage. She sent to inquire of the nun who this apparently well-placed guest might be. But Kaoru had said that his identity was under no circumstances to be revealed.
“Please do come in,” said a servant who knew what was expected of him. “We do have a guest, but he is in another part of the house.”
A young woman climbed out and turned to raise the carriage blinds. She was far less countrified than the guards. Then came an older woman.
“Be quick about it, please, if you will,” she said to her mistress.
“But I have a feeling I’m being watched.” The low voice suggested considerable refinement.
“There you go again. Always imagining things.” The woman seemed very confident of herself. “You remember perfectly well that the shutters were down the last time too. And where would anyone be watching from?”
Hesitantly, the lady came out. The hair and the shape of the head, the bearing of the slight little figure, added to the impression of good breeding — and reminded him astonishingly of Oigimi. His heart raced with longing to see her face, which was hidden behind a fan. The carriage, a high one, had been stopped at a hollow in the ground. The other two women had jumped down with agility, but their mistress seemed afraid. Hesitantly, she at length climbed down and made her way inside. She had on a robe of deep red, and over it a cloak that seemed to be of pink lined in lavender, with another cloak, of pale green, showing beneath. A screen four feet or so high had been spread against the door through which Kaoru was watching, but he had a clear view, the aperture being yet higher. The lady seated herself beside an armrest. She was evidently suspicious of these doors, for her face was turned carefully away.
“You’ve had a hard day. Wasn’t the Kizu awful?”
“It was so much lower when we crossed last spring. But this is nothing compared to the roads in the east.”
The two women showed no sign of fatigue. Their mistress had lain down, in silence. The arm upon which she rested her head was plump and pretty. Such a charming girl, one knew, could not have been sired by a boor like the governor of Hitachi. Kaoru’s back was beginning to ache, but he stood motionless, lest they sense his presence.
“What a fine smell,” said the younger woman. “Some high-class incense, I imagine. Something the nun will be burning, maybe?”
“A really fine smell. These ladies from the capital go on being all elegant and stylish even when they run off to the mountains. The governor’s lady was pretty pleased with herself when it came to perfumes and such, but way off there in the east what chance did she have of putting together a smell like this one? You can say it’s a nunnery if you want, but I say she does pretty well for herself. Quality shows through even when you have to stick to blues and grays.”
A girl came in from the veranda beyond. “Something that might make your lady feel better,” she said. Boxes were brought in one after another.
“Do have some of this,” said the women, pressing sweets upon their mistress.
She did not open her eyes, however, and so the two of them, with loud crunches, commenced devouring chestnuts or something of the sort. It was a noise he was not used to, and it bothered him. He drew away from the door. But again and again he came back. How strange that he should be so drawn to her when he was able to keep company quite as he wished with the grandest of ladies, even the empress, women of great beauty and elegance — and so cold to ordinary femininity that people thought the matter worth commenting upon — how strange that he should be unable to pull himself away from this less than remarkable young lady.
The nun sent over greetings; but his men, knowing that there were matters to conceal, said that he was not feeling well, and was resting. He had suggested that he wished to meet the girl, thought the nun; and now, seeing his opportunity, he would be waiting for nightfall. How could she know that he was even now indulging himself? As always, provisions came from his manor in numerous hampers and boxes. He had several sent to the nun, who passed a good portion on to the new arrivals and otherwise saw to their needs. Putting her dress in order, she presently came to offer formal greetings. Her dress did indeed suggest “quality,” and in her features there remained traces of her youthful beauty.
“I was expecting you yesterday. What delayed you?”
“Our lady was so tired you couldn’t believe it,” said the older woman, “and we stopped last night by the Kizu ferry. And this morning she took her time about feeling better.”
They awakened her. Shyly, she turned away from the nun, and Kaoru had a clear view of her face. It was true: he had not been able to examine Oigimi’s features with any great care, but the lines about the eyes, the flowing hair, were so like hers that he was in tears. The voice was gentle and well bred, and this time he was reminded astonishingly of Nakanokimi.
What a sad life the girl had led! The tragedy was that he had not met her before. And she was so like her sisters! He would have been drawn to a girl of low status, a girl from some minor cadet branch of the family, had he been able to detect such a resemblance; and the girl before him, though unrecognized, was without doubt the Eighth Prince’s own daughter. He wanted to go in immediately and say to her: “So you were deceiving us. You are still alive.” There had been an emperor across the seas who sent an emissary to the land of the dead for spangles and bodkins, mementos of his love; and they had offered little consolation. This lady was, to be sure, not Oigimi, but it seemed that there might be some lessening of the pain. A bond from another life had brought them together.
The nun withdrew after a very short interview. The perfume that had been detected by the women, it would seem, had led her to suspect what was happening, and rendered conversation difficult.
It was growing dark. Kaoru slipped out and, making himself presentable, called the nun to her door, slightly open, as always. “How lucky that I should be here now. You will remember what I asked of you?”
“I had been waiting for an opportunity to tell her of your wishes. And so last year went by, and then this spring I saw them, mother and daughter, when they passed through on their way to Hatsuse. I did let drop a hint to the mother. A very inadequate substitute her daughter would be for our dead lady, she said. I knew you would be busy, and thought I would wait for another time, and that is why I did not tell you. Then I heard that she would be going to Hatsuse again this month. I’m sure she makes a point of stopping here because of her father. This time something, I don’t know what, kept the mother in the city, and the girl came alone; and so it did not seem right to tell her about you.”
“I didn’t want these country people to see me dressed as I am and so I swore my men to silence. But I know them, and doubt very much if they will have kept the secret. So what shall we do now? I disagree with you. I think the very fact that she is alone makes things easier. Tell her, if you will, please, that there must be a bond between us. How else are we to account for this meeting?”
“A most convenient bond, appearing for us straight from the blue.” She smiled. “I will tell her.” And she went inside.
“I had heard the call of that strange and lovely bird,
And parted the grasses, hoping to find its kin.”
It was a poem that he whispered as if to himself; but she took it in to the lady.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57