History of Literature






MURASAKI SHIKIBU


"The Tale of Genji"

 

 

 


 




The Tale of Genji   (Part II)

 

 


Translated by Edward G.Seidensticker

 

Chapter 31

The Cypress Pillar


"I dread having His Majesty hear of it," said Genji. "Suppose we try to keep it secret for a while."
But the gentleman in question was not up to such restraint. Though several days had passed since the successful conclusion to his suit, Tamakazura did not seem happy with him, and it pained him to note that she still seemed to think her lot a sad one. Yet he could tell himself that the bond between them had been tied in a former life, and he shuddered to think how easily a lady who more nearly approached his ideal each time he saw her might have gone to another. He must offer thanks to Bennomoto even as to the Buddha of Ishiyama. Bennomoto had so incurred the displeasure of her lady that she had withdrawn to the privacy of her room; and it must indeed have been through the intervention of the Buddha that, having made so many men unhappy, the lady had gone to a man for whom she had no great affection.

Genji too was unhappy. He was sorry that she had done as she had, but of course helpless to change things. Since everyone had apparently acquiesced in the match, he would only be insulting Higekuro if at this late date he gave any sign of disapproval. He personally saw to arrangements for the nuptials, which were magnificent.

Higekuro wanted to take her home with him as soon as possible. Genji suggested, however, that haste might seem to show an inadequate regard for her rank and position, and pointed out that a lady who could hardly be expected to give her a warm welcome was already in residence there.

"Tact and deliberation are called for if you are to escape the reproaches of the world."

"It is perhaps after all the less difficult course," Tono Chujo was meanwhile saying to himself. "I had had misgivings about sending her to court. A lady without the support of influential relatives can have a difficult time in competition for the royal affections. I would have wanted to help her, of course, but what could I have done with another daughter there ahead of her?"

And indeed it would have been unkind to send her to court when the prospect was that she would join the ranks of lesser ladies and see the emperor infrequently.

Tono Chujo was most pleased with the reports he had of the thirdnight ceremonies.

Though no formal announcement was made, the marriage was the talk of the day.

The emperor heard of it. "A pity. But she seems to have been meant for him. She does still seem to be interested in her work. Perhaps if I make it clear that I have no personal designs upon her -- "

It was now the Eleventh Month, a time of Shinto festivals, which kept her busy. She had offices at Rokujo, where she was visited by a steady stream of chamberlains and ladies-in-waiting. His Excellency the general, hoping that he was not making a nuisance of himself, spent his days with her. She did in fact think him rather a nuisance.

Prince Hotaru and her other suitors were of course unhappy. Murasaki's brother was the unhappiest of all, for the gossips were having malicious fun over the affairs of another sister, Higekuro's wife. But he told himself that a confrontation with Higekuro would do him no good.

Higekuro had been offered as a model of sobriety, a man who had not been known to lose his head over a woman. Now see him, delirious with joy, a changed man! Stealing in and out of Tamakazura's rooms in the evening and morning twilight, he was the very model of youthful infatuation. The women were vastly amused.

There was little sign these days of Tamakazura's essentially cheerful nature. She had withdrawn into a brooding silence and seemed intent on making it clear to the world that her husband had not been her first choice. What would Genji be thinking of it all? And Prince Hotaru, who had been so friendly and attentive? She had never shown much warmth toward Higekuro, and in that regard she had not changed.

Genji stood acquitted of the charges that had been leveled against him. Reviewing the record, he could tell himself that he had shown very little interest, really, in amorous dalliance.

"You did not have enough faith in me," he said to Murasaki.

It would invite a proper scandal if now he were to surrender to temptation. There had been times when he had thought he would do anything to have the girl, and it was not easy to give her up.

He called on her one day when Higekuro was out. So despondent that she was feeling physically ill, she did not want to see him. Half concealed behind curtains, she sought to compose herself for an interview. Genji addressed her most ceremoniously and they talked for a time of things that did not greatly interest them. The company of a plainer sort of man made her see more than ever what a surpassingly handsome and elegant man Genji was. Yes, her lot had been and continued to be a sad one. She was in tears, which she sought to hide from him.

As the conversation moved to more intimate topics he leaned forward and looked through an opening in the curtains. She was more beautiful, he thought, for being thinner. It had been very careless of him to let her go.

"I made no move myself to try the river,
But I did not think to see you cross with another.
"It is too unbelievably strange." He brushed away a tear.

She turned away and hid her face.

"I wish I might vanish as foam on a river of tears.
Before I come to the river Mitsuse."
"Not the river I would choose myself," he said, smiling. "There is no detour around the other, I am told, and I had hoped that I might take you gently by the hand and help you. I am joking, but I am sure that you now see the truth. Few men can have been as harmlessly silly as I was. I think you see, and I take comfort in the thought."

He changed the subject, fearing that she saw all too well. "It is sad that His Majesty should still be asking for you. Perhaps you should make a brief appearance at court. The general seems to think you his property, to do with as he pleases, and so I suppose it will not be possible to put you in the royal service. Things have not turned out quite as I had hoped. His Lordship at Nijo seems satisfied, however, and that is the important thing."

He said much that amused her and also embarrassed her. She could only listen. He was sorry for her, and gave no hint of the improper designs which he had not quite put aside. He offered many helpful suggestions for her work at court. It seemed that he did not want her to go immediately to Higekuro's house.

Higekuro was not pleased at the thought of having her in court ser vice. Then it occurred to him, though such deviousness went against his nature, that a brief appearance at court might be just what he wanted. He could take her from the palace to his house. He set about redecorating it and restoring rooms that had been allowed to decay and gather dust over the years. He was quite indifferent to the effect of all this activity upon his wife, and thought nothing at all of the effect on his dear children. A man of feeling and sensitivity thinks first of others, but he was an obstinate, unswerving sort of man, whose aggressiveness was constantly giving offense. His wife was not a woman to be made light of. She was the pampered daughter of a royal prince, comely and well thought of. For some years a malign and strangely tenacious power had made her behavior eccentric in the extreme and not infrequently violent. Though he no longer had much affection for her, he still considered her his principal wife, unchallenged in her claim to that position. Now, suddenly, there was another lady, superior in every respect. More to the point, the shadows and suspicions surrounding this second lady had been dispelled. She had become a perfectly adequate object for his affections, which were stronger every day.

"And so you are to live miserably off in a corner of the house," said Prince Hyobu, her father, "while a fashionable young lady takes over the rest? What will people say when they hear of that arrangement? No. While I am alive I will not permit them to laugh at you."

He had redecorated the east wing of his house and wanted her to come home immediately. The thought of going as a discarded wife so distressed her that the fits of madness became more frequent. She took to her bed. She was of a quiet, pleasant nature, almost childishly docile and amiable in her saner moments, and people would have enjoyed her company if it had not been for her great disability. Because of it she had so neglected herself that she could hardly expect to please a man who was used to the best. Yet they had been together for many years and he would be sorry in spite of everything to have her go.

"People of taste and sensibility see even their casual affairs through to a proper conclusion. You have not been well, and I have not wanted to bring the matter up -- but you should give a thought to the promises we made. We meant them to last, I think. I have put up with your rather unusual illness for a very long time and I have meant to take care of you to the end, and now it seems that you are prepared to forestall me. You must think of the children, and you could think of me too. I doubt very much that I have behaved improperly. You are emotional, as all women are, and you are angry with me. It is quite understandable that you should be. You cannot of course know my real feelings and intentions. But do please reserve judgment for a little while longer. Your father is being rash and reckless, taking you off the minute he hears that something is wrong. Of course I cannot be sure whether he is serious or whether he wants to frighten me."

He permitted himself a tentative smile, which did not please her. Even those of her women whom he had especially favored, Moku and Chujo among them, thought and said, with proper deference, that he was behaving badly. The lady herself, whom he had found in one of her lucid moments, wept quietly.

"I cannot complain that you do not find my stupidity and eccentricities to your taste. But it does not seem fair that you should bring Father into the argument. It is not his fault, poor man, that I am what I am. But I am used to your arbitrary ways, and do not propose to do anything about them."

She was still handsome as she turned angrily away. She was a slight woman and illness made her seem even more diminutive. Her hair, which had once been long and thick, now looked as if someone had been pulling it out by the roots. It was wild from long neglect and dank and matted from weeping, altogether a distressing sight. Though no one could have described her as a great beauty, she had inherited something of her father's courtliness, badly obscured now by neglect and illness. There was scarcely a trace left of youthful freshness.

"Can you really think I mean to criticize your father? The suggestion is ill advised in the extreme and could lead to serious misunderstanding. The Rokujo house is such perfection that it makes a plain, rough man like me feel very uncomfortable. I want to have her here where I can be more comfortable, that is all. Genji is a very important man, but that is not the point. You should think rather of yourself and what they will say if word gets to that beautifully run house of the unpleasantness and disorder here. Do try to control yourself and be friendly to her If you insist on going, then you may be sure that I will not forget you. My love for you will not vanish and I will not join in the merriment -- indeed it will make me very sad -- when the world sees you making a fool of yourself. Let us be faithful to our vows and try to help each other."

"I am not worried about myself. You may do with me as you wish. It is Father I am thinking of. He knows how ill I am and it upsets him enormously that after all these years people should be talking about us. I do not see how I can face him. And you are surely aware of another thing, that Genji's wife is not exactly a stranger to me. It is true that Father did not have responsibility for her when she was a girl, but it hurts him that she should now have made herself your young lady's sponsor. It is no concern of mine, of course. I but observe."

"Most perceptively. But I fear that once again you are a victim of delusions. Do you think that a sheltered lady like her could know about the affairs of the lady of whom you are so comtemptuous? I do not think that your father is being very fatherly and I would hate to have these allegations reach Genji."

They argued until evening. He grew impatient and fretful, but unfortunately a heavy snow was falling, which made it somewhat awkward for him to leave. If she had been indulging in a fit of jealousy he could have said that he was fighting fire with fire and departed. She was calmly lucid, and he had to feel sorry for her. What should he do? He withdrew to the veranda, where the shutters were still raised.

She almost seemed to be urging him on his way. "It must be late, and you may have trouble getting through the snow."

It was rather touching -- she had evidently concluded that nothing she said would detain him.

"How can I go out in such weather? But things will soon be different. People do not know my real intentions, and they talk, and the talk gets to Genji and Tono Chujo, who of course are not pleased. It would be wrong of me not to go. Do please try to reserve judgment for a time. Things will be easier once I have brought her here. When you are in control of yourself you drive thoughts of other people completely from my mind."

"It is worse for me," she said quietly, "to have you here when your thoughts are with someone else. An occasional thought for me when you are away might do something to melt the ice on my sleeves."

Taking up a censer, she directed the perfuming of his robes. Though her casual robes were somewhat rumpled and she was looking very thin and wan, he thought the all too obvious melancholy that lay over her features both sad and appealing. The redness around her eyes was not pleasant, but when as now he was in a sympathetic mood he tried not to notice. It was rather wonderful that they had lived together for so long. He felt a little guilty that he should have lost himself so quickly and completely in a new infatuation. But he was more and more restless as the hours went by. Making sure that his sighs of regret were audible, he put a censer in his sleeve and smoothed his robes, which were pleasantly soft. Though he was of course no match for the matchless Genji, he was a handsome and imposing man.

His attendants were nervous. "The snow seems to be letting up a little," said one of them, as if to himself. "It is very late."

Moku and Chujo and the others sighed and lay down and whispered to one another about the pity of it all. The lady herself, apparently quite composed, was leaning against an armrest. Suddenly she stood up, swept the cover from a large censer, stepped behind her husband, and poured the contents over his head. There had been no time to restrain her. The women were stunned.

The powdery ashes bit into his eyes and nostrils. Blinded, he tried to brush them away, but found them so clinging and stubborn that he had to throw off even his underrobes. If she had not had the excuse of her derangement he would have marched from her presence and vowed never to return. It was a very perverse sort of spirit that possessed her.

The stir was enormous. He was helped into new clothes, but it was as if he had had a bath of ashes. There were ashes deep in his side whiskers. Clearly he was in no condition to appear in Tamakazura's elegant rooms.

Yes, she was ill, he said angrily. No doubt about that -- but what an extraordinary way to be ill! She had driven away the very last of his affection. But he calmed himself. A commotion was the last thing he wanted at this stage in his affairs. Though the hour was very late, he called exorcists and set them at spells and incantations. The groans and screams were appalling.

Pummeled and shaken by the exorcists as they sought to get at the malign spirit, she screamed all through the night. In an interval of relative calm he got off a most earnest letter to Tamakazura.

"There has been a sudden and serious illness in the house and it has not seemed right to go out in such difficult weather. As I have waited in hopes of improvement the snow has chilled me body and soul. You may imagine how deeply troubled I am, about you, of course, and about your women as well, and the interpretation they may be placing on it all.

"I lie in the cold embrace of my own sleeves.
Turmoil in the skies and in my heart.
"It is more than a man should be asked to endure."

On thin white paper, it was not a very distinguished letter. The hand was strong, however. He was not a stupid or uncultivated man. His failure to visit had not in the least upset Tamakazura. She did not look at his letter, the product of such stress and turmoil, and did not answer it. He passed a very gloomy day.

The ravings were so violent that he ordered prayers. He was praying himself that her sanity be restored even for a little while. It was all so horrible. Had he not known what an essentially gentle creature she was, he would not have been able to endure it so long.

He hurried off in the evening. He was always grumbling, for his wife paid little attention to his clothes, that nothing fitted or looked right, and indeed he was a rather strange sight. Not having a change of court dress at hand, he was sprinkled with holes from the hot ashes and even his underrobes smelled ominously of smoke. Tamakazura would not be pleased at this too clear evidence of his wife's fiery ways. He changed underrobes and had another bath and otherwise did what he could for himself.

Moku perfumed the new robes. A sleeve over her face, she whispered:

"Alone with thoughts which are too much for her,
She has let unquenchable embers do their work."
And she added: "You are so unlike your old self that not even we underlings can watch in silence."

The eyebrows over the sleeve were very pretty, but he was asking himself, rather unfeelingly, one must say, how such a woman could ever have interested him.

"These dread events so fill me with rage and regret
That I too choke from the fumes that rise within me.
"I will be left with nowhere to turn if word of them gets out." Sighing, he departed.

He thought that Tamakazura had improved enormously in the one night he had been away. He could not divide his affections. He stayed with her for several days, hoping to forget the disturbances at home and fearful of incidents that might damage his name yet further. The exorcists continued to be busy, he heard, and malign spirits emerged noisily from the lady one after another. On occasional trips home he avoided her rooms and saw his children, a daughter twelve or thirteen and two younger sons, in another part of the house. He had seen less and less of his wife in recent years, but her position had not until now been challenged. Her women were desolate at the thought that the final break was approaching.

Her father sent for her again. "It is very clear that he is abandoning you. Unless you wish to look ridiculous you cannot stay in his house. There is no need for you to put up with this sort of thing so long as I am here to help you."

She was somewhat more lucid again. She could see that her marriage was a disaster and that to stay on until she was dismissed would be to lose her self-respect completely. Her oldest brother was in command of one of the guards divisions and likely to attract attention. Her younger brothers, a guards captain, a chamberlain, and an official in the civil affairs ministry, came for her in three carriages. Her women had known that a final break was unavoidable, but they were sobbing convulsively. She was returning to a house she had left many years before and to less spacious rooms. Since it was clear that she would not be able to take all of her women with her, some of them said that they would go home and return to her service when her affairs were somewhat more settled. They went off taking their meager belongings with them. The lamentations were loud as the others saw to the cleaning and packing as became their several stations.

Her children were too young to understand the full proportions of the disaster that had overtaken them.

"I do not care about myself," she said to them, weeping. "I will face what comes, and I do not care whether I live or die. It is you I am sad for. You are so very young and now you must be separated and scattered. You, my dear," she said to her daughter, "must stay with me whatever happens. It may be even worse for you," she said to the boys. "He will not be able to avoid seeing you, of course, but he is not likely to trouble himself very much on your account. You will have someone to help you while Father lives, but Genji and Tono Chujo control the world. The fact that you are my children will not make things easier for you. I could take you out to wander homeless, of course, but the regrets would be so strong that I would have them with me in the next world."

They were sobbing helplessly.

She summoned their nurses. "It is the sort of thing that happens in books. A perfectly good father loses his head over a new wife and lets her dominate him and forgets all about his children. But he has been a father in name only. He forgot about them long ago. I doubt that he can be expected to do much for them."

It was a forbidding night, with snow threatening. Her brothers tried to hurry her.

"A really bad storm might be blowing up."

They brushed away tears as they looked out into the garden. Higekuro had been especially fond of his daughter. Fearing that she would never see him again, she lay weeping and wondering how she could possibly go.

"Do you so hate the thought of going with me?" said her mother.

The girl was hoping to delay their departure until her father came home, but there was little likelihood that he would leave Tamakazura at so late an hour. Her favorite seat had been beside the cypress pillar in the east room. Now it must go to someone else. She set down a poem on a sheet of cypress-colored notepaper and thrust a bodkin through it and into a crack in the pillar. She was in tears before she had finished writing.

"And now I leave this house behind forever.
Do not forget me, friendly cypress pillar."
"I do not share these regrets," said her mother.

"Even if it wishes to be friends,
We may not stay behind at this cypress pillar."
The women were sobbing as they took their farewells of trees and flowers to which they had not paid much attention but which they knew they would remember fondly.

Moku, being in Higekuro's service, would stay behind.

This was Chujo's farewell poem:

"The waters, though shallow, remain among the rocks,

And gone is the image of one who would stay beside them.

"I had not dreamed that I would have to go."

"What am I to say?" replied Moku.

"The water among the rocks has clouded over.
I do not think my shadow long will linger."
More aware than ever of the uncertainty of life, the lady looked back at a house she knew she would not see again. She gazed at each twig and branch until house and garden were quite out of sight. Though it was not as if she were leaving a place she loved, there are always regrets for a familiar house.

If it was an angry father who awaited her, it was a still angrier mother. The princess had not paused to catch her breath as she told her husband how she felt about it all. "You seem very proud to have Genji for a son-in-law. He was born our enemy, I say, and the strength of his hostility has never ceased to amaze me. He loses no chance to make things difficult for our girl at court. You have said that he will change once he has taught us a lesson for not helping him during his troubles. Other people have said so too. I say it is odd if he is so fond of his Murasaki that he doesn't have a thought for her family now and then. But that's only the beginning. At his age he takes in a stray he knows nothing about and to keep on the right side of his Murasaki he finds an honest upright man no breath of scandal has ever touched and marries her off to him."

"I must ask you to hold your tongue. The world has only good things to say of Genji and you may not permit yourself the luxury of abusing him. I am sure you are right when you say that he wanted to get even. It was my bad luck to give him cause. I can see that in his quiet way he has been very efficient and intelligent about handing out rewards and punishments, and if my punishment has been especially severe it is because we are especially close. You will remember what an occasion he made of my fiftieth birthday some years ago. It was more than I deserved, the talk of the whole court. I count it among the great honors of my life."

But she was a strong-minded woman and he only made her angrier. Her language was more and more abusive.

Higekuro learned that his wife had left him. One might have expected such behavior, he said, from a rather younger wife. But he did not blame her. Prince Hyobu was an impetuous man, and it had all been his doing. Higekuro was sure that left to herself she would have thought of the children and tried to keep up appearances.

"A fine thing," he said to Tamakazura. "Itwill make things easier for us, of course, but I fear I miscalculated. She is a gentle soul and I was sure she would just keep to herself in her corner of the house. That headstrong father of hers is behind it all. I must go and see what has happened. I will seem completely irresponsible if I do not."

He was handsome and dignified in a heavy robe, a singlet of white lined with green, and gray-green brocade trousers. The women thought that their lady had not done at all badly for herself, but this new development did nothing to give her a happier view of her marriage. She did not even glance at him.

He stopped by his house on his way to confront Prince Hyobu. Moku and the others told him what had happened. He tried manfully to control himself but their description of his daughter reduced him to tears.

"Your lady does not seem to see that it has been good of me to put up with her strange ways for so long. A less indulgent man would not have been capable of it. But we need not discuss her case further. She seems beyond helping. The question is what she means to do with the children."

They showed him the slip of paper at the cypress pillar. Though the hand was immature the poem touched him deeply. He wept all the way to Prince Hyobu's, where it was not likely that he would be permitted to see the girl.

"He has always been good at ingratiating himself with the right people," said the prince to his daughter, and there was much truth in it. "I do not think that we need be surprised. I heard several years ago that he had lost his senses over that girl. It would be utter self-deception to hope for a recovery. You will only invite further insults if you stay with him." In this too there was much truth.

He did not find Higekuro's addresses convincing.

"This does not seem a very civilized way to behave," said Higekuro. "I cannot apologize enough for my own inadequacy. I was quite confident that she would stay with me because of the children, and that was very stupid of me. But might you not be a little more forbearing and wait until it comes to seem that I have left her no alternative?"

He asked, though not hopefully, to see his daughter. The older son was ten and in court service, a most likable boy. Though not remarkably good-looking, he was intelligent and popular, and old enough to have some sense of what was happening. The other son was a pretty child of eight or so. Higekuro wept and stroked his hair and said that he must come home and help them remember his sister, whom he resembled closely.

Prince Hyobu sent someone out to say that he seemed to be coming down with a cold and could not receive guests. It was an awkward situation.

Higekuro presently departed, taking the boys with him. All the way back to his house, where he left them, for he could not after all take them to Rokujo, he gave them his side of the story.

"Just pretend that nothing is amiss. I will look in on you from time to time. It will be no trouble at al?"

They were yet another weight on his spirits, which revived considerably, however, at the sight of his new wife, in such contrast to the queer old wife who had left him.

He made Prince Hyobu's hostility his excuse for not writing. The prince thought it rather exaggerated and extreme.

"I think it very unfair of her to be angry with me," said Murasaki.

"It is difficult for all of us," said Genji. "Tamakazura has always been an unmanageable young lady, and now she has won me the emperor's displeasure. I understand that Prince Hotaru has been very angry. But he is a reasonable man, and the signs are that he has accepted my explanations. Romantic affairs cannot be kept secret, whatever precautions we may take. I am glad that I have nothing on my conscience."

The excitement she had caused did nothing to dispel Tamakazura's gloom, which was more intense as time went by. Higekuro was worried: the emperor was likely to hold him responsible for the abrupt change in her plans, and Genji and Tono Chujo would doubtless have thoughts in the matter. It was not unprecedented for an official to have a wife in the royal service, and so he presented her at court just before the New Year caroling parties. The presentation ceremonies were very grand, having behind them, besides Higekuro's own efforts, all the prestige of the two ministers, her foster father and her real father. Yugiri busied himself most energetically in her behalf and her brothers were in lively competition to win her favor.

She was assigned apartments on the east side of the Shokyoden Pavilion. Prince Hyobu's daughter occupied the west rooms of the same building and only a gallery separated them. In spirit they were very far apart indeed. It was an interesting and lively time, a time of considerable rivalry among the emperor's ladies. Besides Empress Akikonomu, they included Tono Chujo's daughter, this daughter of Prince Hyobu, and the daughter of the Minister of the Left. As for the lesser ranks that so often figure in untidy incidents, there were only the daughters of two councillors.

The caroling parties were very gay, all the ladies having invited their families to be present. The array of festive sleeves was dazzling as each lady tried to outdo the others. The crown prince was still very young, but his mother was a lady of fashion who saw to it that his household was no duller than the others. The carolers visited the emperor, the empress, and the Suzaku emperor in that order. Having had to omit Rokujo, they returned from the Suzaku Palace to sing for the crown prince. Some of them were rather drunk when, in the beautiful beginnings of dawn, they came to "Bamboo River." Among the courtiers of the middle ranks Tono Chujo's sons, some four or five of them, were especially good-looking and talented. His eighth son, by his principal wife, was one of his favorites, very pretty indeed in page's livery. Tamakazura was delighted with him, standing beside Higekuro's older son, and of course she could hardly think him a stranger. She had already given her rooms at court a fashionable elegance with which the better-established ladies found it hard to compete. She had not ventured any startlingly new color schemes but she managed to give a remarkable freshness to the familiar ones.

Now that she was at court she hoped to enjoy herself, and in this hope she had the enthusiastic support of her women. The bolts of cloth with which she rewarded the carolers were similar to those offered by the other ladies and yet subtly different. Though she was expected to offer only light refreshments, her rooms seemed more festive than any of the others; and though precedent and regulation were carefully honored, great attention had gone into all of the details, none of which was merely routine. Higekuro had taken an active part in the arrangements.

He sent repeated messengers from his offices, all with the same message: "We will leave together as soon as it is dark. I do not want you to make this your occasion for establishing residence here. Indeed I would be very upset."

She did not answer.

"The Genji minister," argued her women, "says that we needn't be in such a hurry. He says that His Majesty has seen little of us and it is our duty to let him see more. Don't you think it would be rather abrupt and even a little rude if we were to slip off this very night?"

"I plead with her and plead with her," said Higekuro, "and seem to have no effect at all."

Though Prince Hotaru had come for the carols, his attention was chiefly on Tamakazura. Unable to restrain himself, he got off a message. Higekuro was on duty in the guards quarter. It was from his offices, said the women, that the note had come. She glanced at it.

"You fly off wing to wing through mountain forests,
And in this nest of mine it is lonely spring.
"I hear distant, happy singing."

She flushed, fearing that she had not been kind to the prince. And how was she to answer? just then the emperor came calling. He was unbelievably handsome in the bright moonlight, and the very image of Genji. It seemed a miracle that there should be two such men in the world. Genji had been genuinely fond of her, she was sure, but there had been those unfortunate complications. There were none in the emperor's case. Gently, he reproved her for having gone against his wishes. She hid her face behind a fan, unable to think of an answer.

"How silent you are. I would have expected you to be grateful for these favors. Are you quite indifferent?

"Why should I be drawn to lavender
So utterly remote and uncongenial?
"Are we likely to be treated to deeper shades of purple?"

She found his good looks intimidating, but told herself that he was really no different from Genji. And her answer -- is it to be interpreted as thanks for having been promoted to the Third Rank before she had done anything to deserve the honor?.

"I know not the meaning of this lavender,
Though finding in it marks of august grace.
"I shall do everything to show that I am grateful."

He smiled. "Suppose I summon a qualified judge to tell us whether it is not perhaps a little late to be donning the colors of gratitude."

She was silent. She did not wish to seem coy, but she was confused at evidences that he shared certain tendencies with lesser men. She did not seem very friendly, he was thinking, but doubtless she would change as time went by.

Higekuro was very restless indeed. She must go away with him immediately, he said. Somewhat concerned about appearances herself, she contrived a plausible excuse with the expert assistance of her father and others and was at length able to leave.

"Goodbye, then." The emperor seemed genuinely regretful. "Do not let anyone tell you that because this has happened you must not come again. I was the first to be interested in you and I let someone else get ahead of me. It does not seem fair that he should remain unchallenged. But there we are. I can think of precedents."

She was far more beautiful thin distant rumor had made her. Any man would have regretted seeing her go, and he was in a sense a rejected suitor. Not wishing her to think him light-headed and frivolous, he addressed her most earnestly and did everything he could to make her feel comfortable. She understood and, though awed, wished she could stay with him.

He was still at her side when a hand carriage was brought up to take her away. Her father's men were waiting and Higekuro was making a nuisance of himself.

"You are guarded too closely," said the emperor.

"Invisible beyond the ninefold mists,
May not the plum blossom leave its scent behind?"
It may have been that the emperor's good looks made his poem seem better than it was.

"Enamored of the fields, I had hoped to stay the night," he continued, "but I find someone impatiently reaching to pluck the flowers. How shall I write to you?"

Sorry to have made him unhappy, she replied:

"I count not myself among the finer branches,
Yet hope that the fragrance may float upon the breeze."
He looked back time after time as he finally made his exit.

Higekuro had meant all along to take her with him but had kept his plans secret, lest Genji oppose them.

"I seem to be coming down with a cold," he said to the emperor, as if no further explanation were necessary. "I think I should take care of myself, and would not want to have her away from me."

Though Tono Chujo thought it all rather sudden and unceremonious, he did not want to risk offending Higekuro. "Do as you see fit," he said. "I have not had a great deal to do with her plans."

Genji was startled but helpless. The lady was a little startled herself at the direction in which the smoke was blowing. Higekuro was enjoying the role of lady stealer.

She thought he had behaved very badly, showing his jealousy of the emperor so openly. A coarse, common sort of man -- she made less attempt than ever to hide her distaste.

Prince Hyobu and his wife, who had spoken of him in such strong terms, were beginning to wish that he would come visiting. But his life was full. His days and nights were dedicated to his new lady.

The Second Month came. It had been cruel of her, Genji was thinking. She had caught him off guard. He thought about her a great deal and wondered what people would be saying. It had all been fated, no doubt, and yet he could not help thinking that he had brought it on himself. Higekuro was so unsubtle a man that Genji feared venturing even a playful letter. On a night of boredom when a heavy rain was falling, however, he remembered that on other such nights he had beguiled the tedium by visiting her, and got off a note. He sent it secretly to Ukon. Not sure what view she would take of it, he limited himself to commonplaces.

"A quiet night in spring. It rains and rains.
Do your thoughts return to the village you left behind?
"It is a dull time, and I grumble -- and no one listens."

Ukon showed it to Tamakazura when no one else was near. She wept. He had been like a father, and she longed to see him. But it was, as he suggested, impossible. She had not told Ukon how unseemly his behavior had sometimes been and she now had no one with whom to share her feelings. Ukon had suspicions of the truth, but they were not very precise.

"It embarrasses me to write to you," Tamakazura sent back, "but I am afraid that you might be worried. As you say, it is a time of rainy boredom.

"It rains and rains. My sleeves have no time to dry.
Of forgetfulness there comes not the tiniest drop."
She concluded with conventional remarks of a daughterly sort.

Genji was near tears as he read it, but did not wish to treat these women to a display of jewel-like teardrops. As the rising waters threatened to engulf him, he thought of how, all those years ago, Kokiden had kept him from seeing her sister Oborozukiyo. Yet so novel was the Tamakazura affair that it seemed without precedents. Men of feeling did have a way of sowing bitter herbs. He tried to make himself accept the plain facts, that the lady was not a proper object for his affections and that these regrets came too late. He took out a japanese koto, and it too brought memories. What a gentle touch she had had! He plucked a note or two and, trying to make it sound lighthearted, sang "The Jeweled Grasses" to himself. It is hard to believe that the lady for whom he longed would not have pitied him if she could have seen him.

Nor was the emperor able to forget the beauty and elegance he had seen so briefly. "Off she went, trailing long red skirts behind her." It was not a very refined old poem, but he found it somehow comforting when his thoughts turned to her. He got off a secret note from time to time.

These attentions gave her no pleasure. Still lamenting her sad fate, she did not reply. Genji and his kindness were much on her mind.

The Third Month came. Wisteria and yamabuki were in brilliant flower. In the evening light they brought memories of a beautiful figure once seated beneath them. Genji went to the northeast quarter, where Tamakazura had lived. A clump of yamabuki grew untrimmed in a hedge of Chinese bamboo, very beautiful indeed. "Robes of gardenia, the silent hue," he said to himself, for there was no one to hear him.

"The yamabuki wears the hue of silence,
So sudden was the parting at Ide road.
"I still can see her there."

He seemed to know for the first time -- how strange! -- that she had left him.

Someone having brought in a quantity of duck's eggs, he arranged them to look like oranges and sent them off to her with a casual note which it would not have embarrassed him to mislay.

"Through the dull days and months I go on thinking resentfully of your strange behavior. Having heard that someone else had a hand in the matter, I can only regret my inability to see you unless some very good reason presents itself." He tried to make it seem solemnly parental.

"I saw the duckling hatch and disappear.
Sadly I ask who may have taken it."
Higekuro smiled wryly. "A lady must have very good reasons for visiting even her parents. And here is His Lordship pretending that he has some such claim upon your attentions and refusing to accept the facts."

She thought it unpleasant of him. "I do not know how to answer."

"Let me answer for you." Which suggestion was no more pleasing.

"Off in a corner not counted among the nestlings,
It was hidden by no one. It merely picked up and left.
"Your question, sir, seems strangely out of place. And please, I beg of you, do not treat this as a billet-doux."

"I have never seen him in such a playful mood," said Genji, smiling. In fact, he was hurt and angry.

The divorce had been a cruel wrench for Higekuro's wife, whose lucid moments were rarer. He continued to consider himself responsible for her, however, and she was as dependent upon him as ever. He was very mindful of his duties as a father. Prince Hyobu still refused to allow him near his daughter, Makibashira, whom he longed to see. Young though she was, she thought that they were being unfair to him, and did not see why she should be so closely guarded.

Her brothers went home frequently and of course brought back re ports of his new lady. "She seems very nice. She is always thinking of new games."

She longed to go with them. Boys were the lucky ones, free to go where they pleased.

Tamakazura had a strange talent for disturbing people's lives.

In the Eleventh Month she had a son, a very pretty child. Higekuro was delighted. The last of his hopes had been realized. As for the general rejoicing, I shall only say that her father, Tono Chujo, thought her good fortune not at all surprising. She seemed in no way inferior to the daughters on whom he had lavished such attention. Kashiwagi, who still had not entirely freed himself of unbrotherly feelings, wished that she had gone to court as planned.

"I have heard His Majesty lament that he has no sons," he said, and one may have thought it a little impertinent of him, when he saw what a fine child it was. "How pleasing for all of us if it were a little prince."

She continued to serve as wardress of the ladies' apartments, though it was not reasonable to expect that she would again appear at court.

I had forgotten about the minister's other daughter, the ambitious one who had herself been desirous of appointment as wardress. She was a susceptible sort of girl and she was restless. The minister did not know what to do with her. The sister at court lived in dread of scandal.

"We must not let her out where people will see her," said the minister.

But she was not easily kept under cover.

One evening, I do not remember exactly when, though it must have been at the loveliest time of autumn, several fine young gentlemen were gathered in the sister's rooms. There was music of a quiet, undemanding sort. Yugiri was among them, more jocular than usual.

"Yes, he _is_ different," said one of the women.

The Omi lady pushed herself to the fore. They tried to restrain her but she turned defiantly on them and would not be dislodged.

"Oh, _there_ he is," she said in a piercing whisper of that most proper young man. "_There's_ the one that's different."

Now she spoke up, offering a poem in firm, clear tones:

"If you're a little boat with nowhere to go,
Just tell me where you're tied. I'll row out and meet you.
"Excuse me for asking, but are you maybe the open boat that comes back again and again?"

He was startled. One did not expect such blunt proposals in these elegant rooms. But then he remembered a lady who was much talked about these days.

"Not even a boatman driven off course by the winds
Would wish to make for so untamed a shore."
She could not think how to answer -- or so one hears.

 

 

Chapter 32

A Branch of Plum


Genji was immersed in preparations for his daughter's initiation ceremonies. Similar ceremonies were to be held for the crown prince in the Second Month. The girl was to go to court immediately afterwards.
It was now the end of the First Month. In his spare time Genji saw to blending the perfumes she would take with her. Dissatisfied with the new ones that had come from the assistant viceroy of Kyushu, he had old Chinese perfumes brought from the Nijo storehouses.

"It is with scents as with brocades: the old ones are more elegant and congenial.

Then there were cushions for his daughter's trousseau, and covers and trimmings and the like. New fabrics did not compare with the damasks and red and gold brocades which an embassy had brought from Korea early in his father's reign. He selected the choicest of them and gave the Kyushu silks and damasks to the serving women.

He laid out all the perfumes and divided them among his ladies. Each of them was to prepare two blends, he said. At Rokujo and elsewhere people were busy with gifts for the officiating priests and all the important guests. Every detail, said Genji, must be of the finest. The ladies were hard at work at their perfumes, and the clatter of pestles was very noisy indeed.

Setting up his headquarters in the main hall, apart from Murasaki, Genji turned with great concentration to blending two perfumes the formulas for which -- how can they have come into his hands? -- had been handed down in secret from the day of the emperor Nimmyo. In a deeply curtained room in the east wing Murasaki was at work on blends of her own, after the secret Hachijo tradition. The competition was intense and the security very strict.

"Let the depths and shallows be sounded," said Genji solemnly, "before we reach our decisions." His eagerness was so innocent and boyish that few would have taken him for the father of the initiate.

The ladies reduced their staffs to a minimum and let it be known that they were not limiting themselves to perfumes but were concerned with accessories too. They would be satisfied with nothing but the best and most original jars and boxes and censers.

They had exhausted all their devices and everything was ready. Genji would review the perfumes and seal the best of them in jars.

Prince Hotaru came calling on the tenth of the Second Month. A gentle rain was falling and the rose plum near the veranda was in full and fragant bloom. The ceremonies were to be the next day. Very close since boyhood, the brothers were admiring the blossoms when a note came attached to a plum branch from which most of the blossoms had fallen. It was from Princess Asagao, said the messenger. Prince Hotaru was very curious, having heard rumors.

"I made certain highly personal requests of her," said Genji, smiling and putting the letter away. "I am sure that as always she has complied with earnest efficiency."

The princess had sent perfumes kneaded into rather large balls in two jars, indigo and white, the former decorated with a pine branch and the latter a branch of plum. Though the cords and knots were conventional, one immediately detected the hand of a lady of taste. Inspecting the gifts and finding them admirable, the prince came upon a poem in faint ink which he softly read over to himself.

"Its blossoms fallen, the plum is of no further use.
Let its fragrance sink into the sleeves of another."
Yugiri had wine brought for the messenger and gave him a set of lady's robes, among them a Chinese red lined with purple.

Genji's reply, tied to a spray of rose plum, was on red paper.

"And what have you said to her?" asked the prince. "Must you be so

"I would not dream of having secrets from you."

This, it would seem, is the poem which he jotted down and handed to his brother:

"The perfume must be hidden lest people talk,
But I cannot take my eye from so lovely a blossom."
"This grand to-do may strike you as frivolous," said Genji, "but a man does go to very great troubles when he has only one daughter. She is a homely little thing whom I would not wish strangers to see, and so I am keeping it in the family by asking the empress to officiate. The empress is a lady of very exacting standards, and even though I think of her as one of the family I would not want the smallest detail to be wrong."

"What better model could a child have than an empress?"

The time had come to review the perfumes.

"It should be on a rainy evening," said Genji. "And you shall judge them. Who if not you?"

He had censers brought in. A most marvelous display was ranged before the prince, for the ladies were determined that their manufactures be presented to the very best advantage.

"I am hardly the one who knows," said the prince.

He went over them very carefully, finding this and that delicate flaw, for the finest perfumes are sometimes just a shade too insistent or too bland.

Genji sent for the two perfumes of his own compounding. It being in the old court tradition to bury perfumes beside the guardsmen's stream, he had buried them near the stream that flowed between the main hall and the west wing. He dispatched Koremitsu's son, now a councillor, to dig them up. Yugiri brought them in.

"You have assigned me a most difficult task," said the prince. "I fear that my judgment may be a bit smoky."

The same tradition had in several fashions made its way down to the several contestants. Each had added ingeniously original touches. The prince was faced with many interesting and delicate problems.

Despite Asagao's self-deprecatory poem, her "dark" winter incense was judged the best, somehow gentler and yet deeper than the others. The prince decided that among the autumn scents, the "chamberlain's perfumes," as they are called, Genji's had an intimacy which however did not insist upon itself. Of Murasaki's three, the plum or spring perfume was especially bright and original, with a tartness that was rather daring.

"Nothing goes better with a spring breeze than a plum blossom," said the prince.

Observing the competition from her summer quarter, the lady of the orange blossoms was characteristically reticent, as inconspicuous as a wisp of smoke from a censer. She finally submitted a single perfume, a summer lotus-leaf blend with a pungency that was gentle but firm. In the winter quarter the Akashi lady had as little confidence that she could hold her own in such competition. She finally submitted a "hundred pace" sachet from an adaptation of Minamoto Kintada's formula by the earlier Suzaku emperor, of very great delicacy and refinement.

The prince announced that each of the perfumes was obviously the result of careful thought and that each had much to recommend it.

"A harmless sort of conclusion," said Genji.

The moon rose, there was wine, the talk was of old times. The mistenshrouded moon was weirdly beautiful, and the breeze following gently upon the rain brought a soft perfume of plum blossoms. The mixture of scents inside the hall was magical.

It was the eve of the ceremony. The stewards' offices had brought musical instruments for a rehearsal. Guests had gathered in large numbers and flute and koto echoed through all the galleries. Kashiwagi, Kobai, and Tono Chujo's other sons stopped by with formal greetings. Genji insisted that they join the concert. For Prince Hotaru there was a lute, for Genji a thirteen-stringed koto, for Kashiwagi, who had a quick, lively touch, a Japanese koto. Yugiri took up a flute, and the high, clear strains, appropriate to the season, could scarcely have been improved upon. Beating time with a fan, Kobai was in magnificent voice as he sang "A Branch of Plum." Genji and Prince Hotaru joined him at the climax. It was Kobai who, still a court page, had sung "Takasago" at the rhyme-guessing contest so many years before. Everyone agreed that though informal it was an excellent concert.

Prince Hotaru intoned a poem as wine was brought in:

"The voice of the warbler lays a deeper spell
Over one already enchanted by the blossoms.
"For a thousand years, if they do not fall?"

Genji replied:

"Honor us by sharing our blossoms this spring
Until you have taken on their hue and fragrance."
Kashiwagi recited this poem as he poured for Yugiri:

"Sound your bamboo flute all through the night
And shake the plum branch where the warbler sleeps."
Yugiri replied:

"I thought we wished to protect them from the winds,
The blossoms you would have me blow upon madly.
"Most unthinking of you, sir." There was laughter.

This was Kobai's poem:

"Did not the mists intercede to dim the moonlight

The birds on these branches might burst into joyous blossom."

And indeed music did sound all through the night, and it was dawn when Prince Hotaru made ready to leave. Genji had a set of informal court robes and two sealed jars of perfume taken out to his carriage.

"If she catches a scent of blossoms upon these robes,
My lady will charge me with having misbehaved."
"How very sad for you," said Genji, coming out as the carriage was

being readied.

"I should have thought your lady might be pleased

To have you come home all flowers and brocades.

"She can scarcely be witness to such a sight every day."

The prince could not immediately think of an answer.

There were modest but tasteful gifts, ladies' robes and the like, for all the other guests.

Genji went to the southwest quarter early that evening. A porch at the west wing, where Akikonomu was in residence, had been fitted out for the ceremony. The women whose duty it would be to bind up the initiate's hair were already in attendance. Murasaki thought it a proper occasion to visit Akikonomu. Each of the two ladies had a large retinue with her. The ceremonies reached a climax at about midnight with the tying of the ceremonial train. Though the light was dim, Akikonomu could see that the girl was very pretty indeed.

"Still a gawky child," said Genji. "I am giving you this glimpse of her because I know you will always be good to her. It awes me to think of the precedent we are setting."

"Do I make a difference?" replied Akikonomu, very young and pretty herself. "None at all, I should have thought."

Such a gathering of beauty, said Genji, was itself cause for jubilation.

The Akashi lady was of course saedthat she would not see her daughter on this most important of days. Genji debated the possibility of inviting her but concluded that her presence would make people talk and that the talk would do his daughter no good.

I shall omit the details. Even a partial account of a most ordinary ceremony in such a house can be tedious at the hands of an incompetent

The crown prince's initiation took place later in the month. He was mature for his years and the competition to enter his service should have been intense. It seemed to the Minister of the Left, however, that Genji's plans for his daughter made the prospects rather bleak for other ladies. Colleagues with nubile daughters tended to agree, and kept the daughters at home.

"How petty of them," said Genji. "Do they want the prince to be lonely? Don't they know that court life is only interesting when all sorts of ladies are in elegant competition?"

He postponed his daughter's debut. The Minister of the Left presently relented and dispatched his third daughter to court. She was called Reikeiden.

It was now decided that Genji's daughter would go to court in the Fourth Month. The crown prince was very impatient. The hall in which Genji's mother had lived and Genji had had his offices was now assigned to his daughter. The finest craftsmen in the land were busy redecorating the rooms, which it might have seemed were splendid enough already. Genji himself went over the plans and designs.

And there was her library, which Genji hoped would be a model for later generations. Among the books and scrolls were masterpieces by calligraphers of an earlier day.

"We live in a degenerate age," said Genji "Almost nothing but the 'ladies' hand' seems really good. In that we do excel. The old styles have a sameness about them. They seem to have followed the copybooks and allowed little room for original talent We have been blessed in our own day with large numbers of fine calligraphers. Back when I was myself a student of the'ladies' hand' I put together a rather distinguished collection. he finest specimens in it, quite incomparable, I thought, were some informal jottings by the mother of the present empress. I thought that I had never seen anything so fine. I was so completely under their spell that I behaved in a manner which I fear did damage to her name. Though the last thing I wanted to do was hurt her, she became very angry with me. But she was a lady of great understanding, and I somehow feel that she is watching us from the grave and knows that I am trying to make amends by being of service to her daughter. As for the empress herself, she writes a subtle hand, but" -- and he lowered his voice-"it may sometimes seem a little weak and wanting in substance.

"Fujitsubo's was another remarkable hand, remarkable and yet perhaps just a little uncertain, and without the richest overtones. Oborozukiyo is too clever, one may think, and somewhat given to mannerism; but among the ladies still here to please us she has only two rivals, Princess Asagao and you yourself, my dear."

"The thought of being admitted to such company overwhelms me," said Murasaki.

"You are too modest. Your writing manages to be gentle and intimate without ever losing its assurance. It is always a pleasant surprise when someone who writes well in the Chinese style moves over to the Japanese and writes that just as well."

He himself had had a hand in designing the jackets and bindings for several booklets which still awaited calligraphers. Prince Hotaru must copy down something in one of them, he said, and another was for a certain guards commander, and he himself would see to putting something down in one or two others.

"They are justly proud of their skills, but I doubt that they will leave me any great distance behind."

Selecting the finest inks and brushes, he sent out invitations to all his ladies to join in the endeavor. Some at first declined, thinking the challenge too much for them. Nor were the "young men of taste," as he called them, to be left out. Yugiri, Murasaki's oldest brother, and Kashiwagi, among others, were supplied with fine Korean papers of the most delicate hues.

"Do whatever you feel like doing, reed work or illustrations for poems or whatever."

The competition was intense. Genji secluded himself as before in the main hall. The cherry blossoms had fallen and the skies were soft. Letting his mind run quietly through the anthologies, he tried several styles with fine results, formal and cursive Chinese and the more radically cursive Japanese "ladies' hand." He had with him only two or three women whom he could count on for interesting comments. They ground ink for him and selected poems from the more admired anthologies. Having raised the blinds to let the breezes pass, he sat out near the veranda with a booklet spread before him, and as he took a brush meditatively between his teeth the women thought that they could gaze at him for ages on end and not tire. His brush poised over papers of clear, plain reds and whites, he would collect himself for the effort of writing, and no one of reasonable sensitivity could have failed to admire the picture of serene concentration which he presented.

"His Highness Prince Hotaru."

Shaking himself from his reverie and changing to informal court dress, Genji had a place readied for his guest among the books and papers. As the prince came regally up the stairs the women were delighted anew. The two brothers carried themselves beautifully as they exchanged formal greetings.

"My seclusion from the world had begun to be a little trying. It was thoughtful of you to break in upon the tedium."

The prince had come to deliver his manuscript. Genji read through it immediately. The hand could not have been called strikingly original, but of its sort it was disciplined and orderly. The prince had chosen poems from the older anthologies and set each of them down in three short lines. The style was a good cursive that made spare use of Chinese characters.

"I had not expected anything half so good," said Genji. "You leave me with no recourse but to break my brushes and throw them all away."

"I do at least give myself high marks for the boldness that permitted me to enter such a competition."

Genji could not very well hide the manuscript he had been at work on himself. They went over it together. The cursive Chinese characters on unusually stiff Chinese paper were very good indeed. As for the passages in the "ladies' hand," they were superb, gently flowing strokes on the softest and most delicately tinted of Korean papers. A flow of admiring tears threatened to join the flow of ink. The prince thought that he could never tire of such pleasures. On bright, bold papers made by the provisioner for our own royal court Genji had jotted down poems in a whimsical cursive style, the bold abandon of which was such as to make the prince fear that all the other manuscripts must seem at best inoffensive.

The guards commander had also hoped to give an impression of boldness, but a certain muddy irresolution was hidden, or rather an attempt had been made to hide it, by mere cleverness. The selection of poems, moreover, left him open to charges of affectation.

Genji was more secretive with the ladies' manuscripts and especially Princess Asagao's.

The "reed work" was very interesting, each manuscript different from the others. Yugiri had managed to suggest the flow of water in generous, expansive strokes, and his vertical strokes called to mind the famous reeds of Naniwa. The joining of reeds anaswater was accomplished very deftly. There were sudden and bold variations, so that, turning a page, the reader suddenly came upon craggy, rocklike masses.

"Very fine indeed," said the prince, a man of wide and subtle interests. "He has obviously taken it very seriously and worked very hard."

As the conversation ranged over the varieties of calligraphy and manuscripts, Genji brought out several books done in patchwork with old and new papers. The prince sent his son the chamberlain to bring some scrolls from his own library, among them a set of four on which the emperor Saga had copied selections from the Manyoshu, and a Kokinshu at the hand of the emperor Daigo, on azure Chinese papers with matching jade rollers, intricate damask covers of a darker blue, and flat Chinese cords in multicolored checkers. The writing was art of the highest order, infinitely varied but always gently elegant. Genji had a lamp brought near.

"I could look at them for weeks and always see something new. Who in our own day can do more than imitate the smallest fragment?"

They were for Genji's daughter, said the prince. "Even if I had a daughter of my own, I would want to be very sure that she was capable of appreciating them. As it is, they would rot ignominiously away."

Genji gave the chamberlain a fine Korean flute and specimens of Chinese patchwork in a beautifully wrought aloeswood box.

He now immersed himself in study of the cursive Japanese styles. Having made the acquaintance of the more notable calligraphers, he commissioned from each a book or scroll for his daughter's library, into which only the works of the eminent and accomplished were to be admitted. In the assembled collection there was not an item that could have been called indifferent, and there were treasures that would have filled gaps in the great court libraries across the seas. Young people were begging to see the famous patchwork. There were paintings too. Genji wanted his own Suma diary to go to his descendants, but decided that his daughter was perhaps still a little young for it.

Tono Chujo caught distant echoes of the excitement and was resentful. His daughter Kumoinokari was being wasted in the full bloom of her youth. Her gloom and boredom weighed on his own spirits -- and Yugiri seemed quite unconcerned. Tono Chujo knew that he would look ridiculous if he were suddenly to admit defeat. He was beginning to regret that he had not grandly nodded his acquiescence back in the days when Yugiri was such an earnest plaintiff. He kept these thoughts to himself, and he was too honest with himself to be angry with the boy. Yugiri was aware of them, but the people around Kumoinokari had once treated him with contempt and he was not going to give them the satisfaction of seeming eager. Yet he showed that he was still interested by not being even slightly interested in other ladies. These were matters which he could not treat of even in jest. It may have been that he was seeking a chance to show his councillor's robes to the nurse who had had such contempt for the humbler blue.

Genji thought it time he was married. "If you no longer want the minister's daughter, then Prince Nakatsukasa and the Minister of the Right have both let it be known that they would welcome a proposal. Suppose you were to take one of their daughters."

Yugiri listened respectfully but did not answer.

"I did not pay a great deal of attention to my father's advice and so I am in no position to lecture to you. But I am old enough now to see what an unerring guide he would have been if I had chosen to listen.

"People think there is something odd about you because you are not married, and if in the end it seems to have been your fate to disappoint us, well, we can only say that you once showed promise. Do please always be on guard against the possibility that you are throwing yourself away because your ambitions have proven unreal.

"I grew up at court and had little freedom. I was very cautious, because the smallest mistake could make me seem reckless and giddy. Even so, people said that I showed promiscuous tendencies. It would be a mistake for you to think that because you are still relatively obscure you can do as you please The finest of men -- it was true long ago and it is still true today -- can disgrace themselves because they do not have wives to keep them from temptation. A man never recovers from a scandal, nor does the woman he has let himself become involved with. Even a difficult marriage can be made to work. A man may be unhappy with his wife, but if he tries hard he can count on her parents to help him. If she has none, if she is alone in the world and without resources, then pity for her can make him see her good points. The man of discrimination makes the best of the possibilities before him."

It was when he had little else to do that he offered such advice.

But for Yugiri the thought of taking another wife was not admissible. Kumoinokari was not comfortable with his attentions these days because she knew how disturbed and uncertain her Father was. She was sorry for herself too, but tried to hide her gloom.
Sometimes, when the longing was too much for Yugiri, there would be an impassioned letter. A more experienced lady, though aware that there was no one except the man himself to question about his intentions, might have suspected posing and posturing. She found only sentiments that accorded with her own.

Her women were talking. "It seems that Prince Nakatsukasa has reached a tacit understanding with Genji and is pushing ahead with the arrangements."

Tono Chujo was troubled. There were tears in his eyes when, very gently, he told Kumoinokari what he had heard. "It seems very unkind of the boy. I suppose that Genji is trying to get back at me. I cannot give my consent now without looking ridiculous."

Intensely embarrassed, she too was weeping. He thought her charming as she turned away to hide her tears. He left feeling more uncertain than ever. Should he make new attempts to learn what they all were thinking?

Kumoinokari went out to the veranda. Why was it, she asked herself, that the tide of tears must be forever waxing and joy forever on the wane? What would her poor father be thinking?

A letter from Yugiri came in upon the gloom. She opened it, and could detect no change in his manner.

"This coldness takes you the usual way of the world
Am I the deviant, that I cannot forget you?"
She did not like this calm refusal to say anything of his new affair. Yet she answered.

"You cannot forget, and now you have forgotten.
You are the one who goes the way of the world."
That was all. What could she possibly mean? He looked at it from this angle and that -- so one is told -- and could make no sense of it.

 

 

Chapter 33

Wisteria Leaves


Yugiri thought himself odd that he should be so gloomy when everyone else was so caught up in the excitement. His singleness of purpose had come to seem obsessive. Now there appeared a possibility that Tono Chujo was prepared to look the other way -- and so why did he not slip through? But no. An air of cool indifference had served him well thus far and it must be maintained to the end. It cost him a great deal. As for Kumoinokari, she feared that if the rumors her father had brought were true, then this indifference was not feigned; and so even as they turned from each other they went on thinking about each other.
Calm and resolute on the surface, Tono Chujo suspected that he was no longer in control of his daughter's affairs. If on the assumption that the reports about Prince Nakatsukasa's daughter were true he were to begin thinking of other arrangements for Kumoinokari, the man to whom he turned would hardly feel flattered, nor was Tono Chujo's own dignity likely to emerge unimpaired. There would be talk and there might be incidents. Well, he had made a mistake, and that fact could not be kept secret. He must surrender and hope to do so with some dignity.

But he must wait for the proper occasion. He could not step forth and make a great show of welcoming Yugiri as his own. That would be too utterly ridiculous. The time would come, however. A surface calm hid these tensions.

The anniversary of Princess Omiya's death fell on the twentieth of the Third Month. Tono Chujo attended memorial services at the Gokurakuji Temple, south of the city. All of his sons were with him, a very grand entourage indeed. As handsome as any of them, Yugiri was also of the party. Though he had avoided Tono Chujo since the days when the latter had treated him so badly, he had not let the smallest sign of his resentment show. Tono Chujo was increasingly aware of it all the same.

Genji too commissioned memorial services, and Yugiri solemnly busied himself with services of his own.

As they returned from the Gokurakuji in the evening, cherry petals were drifting through the spring haze. In a reminiscent mood, Tono Chujo intoned lines from the anthologies. Yugiri was no less moved by the beauty of the evening. It looked like rain, someone said. Yugiri did not seem to hear.

Tono Chujo (one may imagine that it was with some apprehension) tugged at his sleeve.

"Why are you angry with me? Might this not be the occasion to forgive me, whatever I may have done? I think I have a right myself to complain, that you should have cast me aside in my declining years."

"Grandmother's last instructions," said Yugiri, very politely, "were that I look to you for advice and support. But you have not seemed to welcome my presence."

Suddenly there was a downpour. They hurried home in twos and threes.

What could have produced this sudden change? The words themselves had seemed casual enough, but they came from a man before whom Yugiri seldom felt comfortable. He lay awake all night asking what they could mean.

Perhaps his patience had been rewarded. Tono Chujo seemed to be relenting. He continued to seek a proper occasion, neither too ostentatious nor too casual, for a reconciliation.

Early in the Fourth Month the wisteria at Tono Chujo's veranda came into profuse bloom, of a subtly richer hue than most wisteria. He arranged a concert, thinking that it must not go unnoticed. As the colors mounted richer in the twilight, he sent Kashiwagi with a note.

"It was a pity that we were not permitted a more leisurely talk under the cherry blossoms. If you are free, I would be most honored to see you.

"Come join me in regrets for the passing of spring
And wisteria now aglow in the evening light."
It was attached to a magnificent spray of the flower.

Restraining his excitement at the letter awaited so long, Yugiri sent back a polite answer:

"I grope my way through the gathering shades of evening

With no great hopes of coming upon wisteria."

"I am not sure I have struck the right note," he said to Kashiwagi. "Would you look it over, please?"

"All that is required of you is that you come with me."

"You are far too grand an escort."

He sent Kashiwagi ahead and went to show Genji the letter.

"I think he must have his reasons," said Genji, who seemed pleased with himself. "I had thought that he was not showing proper respect towards his late mother, but this changes things."

"I doubt that it is so very important. Everyone says that his wisteria is very fine this year. I imagine that he was bored and arranged a concert in its honor."

"He sent a very special messenger, in any event. You must go."

And so a nervous Yugiri had his father's blessing.

"It would not do to overdress," Genji continued. "A magenta would be all right, I suppose, if you were not yet on the council or if you were between offices. Do please dress very carefully." He sent one of Yugiri's men with a fine robe and several singlets from his own wardrobe.

Yugiri did take great care with his dress. Tono Chujo had begun to grow restless when finally he arrived. Seven or eight of Tono Chujo's sons, led by Kashiwagi, came out to receive him. They were all very handsome, but Yugiri was even handsomer, with a calm dignity that rather put them to shame. Tono Chujo showed him to his place. It was clear that the preparations for receiving him had been thorough.

"Be sure that you get a good look at him," Tono Chujo had said to his wife and her young women as he changed to formal dress. "He is completely in control of himself. In that respect I think he is more than his father's equal, though of course Genji is so handsome that a smile from him can make you think all the world's problems have been solved. I doubt that anyone minds very much if he sometimes seems a little flippant in his treatment of public affairs. Yugiri is a sterner sort and he has studied hard. I for one would have trouble finding anything wrong with him, and I suspect that most people Would have the same trouble."

Dispensing with the stiffer formalities, he turned immediately to the matter of honoring his wisteria.

"There is much to be said for cherry blossoms, but they seem so flighty. They are so quick to run off and leave you. And then just when your regrets are the strongest the wisteria comes into bloom, and it blooms on into the summer. There is nothing quite like it. Even the color is somehow companionable and inviting." He was still a very handsome man. His smile said a great deal.

Though the lavender was not very apparent in the moonlight, he worked hard at admiring it. The wine flowed generously and there was music. Pretending to be very drunk and to have lost all thought for the proprieties, he pressed wine upon Yugiri, who, though sober and cautious as always, found it hard to refuse.

"Everyone agrees that your learning and accomplishments are more than we deserve in this inferior day of ours. I should think you might have the magnanimity to put up with old dotards like myself. Do you have in your library a tract you can refer to in the matter of filial piety? I must lodge a complaint that you who are so much better informed than most about the teachings of the sages should in your treatment of me have shown indifference to their high principles." Through drunken tears -- might one call them? -- came these adroit hints.

"You do me a very grave injustice, sir. I think of you as heir to all the ages, and so important that no sacrifice asked of me could be too great. I am a lazy, careless man, but I cannot think what I might have done to displease you."

The moment had come, thought Tono Chujo. "Underleaves of wisteria," he said, smiling. Kashiwagi broke off an unusually long and rich spray of wisteria and presented it to Yugiri with a cup of wine. Seeing that his guest was a little puzzled, Tono Chujo elaborated upon the reference with a poem of his own:

"Let us blame the wisteria, of too pale a hue,
Though the pine has let itself be overgrown."
Taking a careful though elegant sip from the cup that was pressed upon him, Yugiri replied:

"Tears have obscured the blossoms these many springs,
And now at length they open full before me."
He poured for Kashiwagi, who replied:

"Wisteria is like the sleeve of a maiden,
Lovelier when someone cares for it."
Cup followed cup, and it would seem that poem followed poem with equal rapidity; and in the general intoxication none were superior to these.

The light of the quarter-moon was soft and the pond was a minor, and the wisteria was indeed very beautiful, hanging from a pine of medium height that trailed its branches far to one side. It did not have to compete with the lusher green of summer.

Kobai, in his usual good voice, sang "The Fence of Rushes," very softly.

"What an odd one to have chosen," Tono Chujo said, laughing. Also in fine voice, he joined in the refrain, changing the disturbed house into "a house of eminence." The merriment was kept within proper bounds and all the old enmity vanished.

Yugiri pretended to be very drunk. "I am not feeling at all well," he said to Kashiwagi, "and doubt very much that I can find my way home. Let me borrow your room."

"Find him a place to rest, my young lord," said Tono Chujo. "I am afraid that in these my declining years I do not hold my liquor well and may create a disturbance. I shall leave you." He withdrew.

"Are you saying that you mean to pass one night among the flowers?" said Kashiwagi. "It is a difficult task you assign your guide."

"The fickle flowers, watched over by the steadfast pine? Please, sir-do not let any hint of the inauspicious creep into the conversation."

Kashiwagi was satisfied, though he did not think that he had risen to the occasion as wittily as he might have. He had a very high opinion of Yugiri and would not have wished the affair to end otherwise. With no further misgivings he showed his friend to Kumoinokari's room.

For Yugiri it was a waking dream. He had waited, long and well. Kumoinokari was very shy but more beautiful than when, all those years before, he had last seen her. He too was satisfied.

"I knew that people were laughing," he said, "but I let them laugh, and so here we are. Your chief claim to distinction through it all, if I may say so, has been your chilliness. You heard the song your brother was singing, I suppose. It was not kind of him. The fence of rushes -- I would have liked to answer with the one about the Kawaguchi Barrier."

This, she thought, required comment: "Deplorable.

"So shallow a river, flowing out to sea.
Why did so stout a fence permit it to pass?"
He thought her delightful.

"Shallowness was one, but only one,
Among the traits that helped it pass the barrier.
"The length of the wait has driven me mad, raving mad. At this point I understand nothing." Intoxication was his excuse for a certain fretful disorderliness. He appeared not to know that dawn was approaching.

The women were very reluctant to disturb him.

"He seems to sleep a confident and untroubled sleep," said Tono Chujo.

He did, however, leave before it was full daylight. Even his yawns were handsome.

His note was delivered later in the morning with the usual secrecy. She had trouble answering. The women were poking one another jocularly and the arrival of Tono Chujo added to her embarrassment. He glanced at the note.

"Your coldness serves to emphasize my own inadequacy, and makes me feel that the best solution might be to expire.

"Do not reprove me for the dripping sleeves
The whole world sees. I weary of wringing them dry."
It may have seemed somewhat facile.

"How his writing has improved." Tono Chujo smiled. The old resent ments had quite disappeared. "He will be impatient for an answer, my dear."

But he saw that his presence had an inhibiting effect and withdrew.

Kashiwagi ordered wine and lavish gifts for the messenger, an assistant guards commander who was among Yugiri's most trusted attendants. He was glad that he no longer had to do his work in secret.

Genji thought his son more shiningly handsome than ever this morning. "And how are you? Have you sent off your letter? The most astute and sober of men can stumble in the pursuit of a lady, and you have shown your superiority in refusing to be hurried or to make a nuisance of yourself. Tono Chujo was altogether too stern and uncompromising. I wonder what people are saying now that he has surrendered. But you must not gloat and you must be on your best behavior. You may think him a calm, unruffled sort of man, but he has a strain of deviousness that does not always seem entirely manly and does not make him the easiest person in the world to get along with." Genji went on giving advice, it will be seen, though he was delighted with the match.

They looked less like father and son than like brothers, the one not a great deal older than the other. When they were apart people were sometimes not sure which was which, but when they were side by side distinctive traits asserted themselves. Genji was wearing an azure robe and under it a singlet of a Chinese white with the pattern in clear relief, sprucely elegant as always. Yugiri's robe was of a somewhat darker blue, with a rich saffron and a softly figured white showing at the sleeves. No bridegroom could have been more presentable.

A procession came in bearing a statue of the infant Buddha. It was followed somewhat tardily by priests. In the evening little girls brought offerings from the several Rokujo ladies, as splendid as anything one would see at court. The services too were similar, the chief difference being the rather curious one that more care and expense would seem to have gone into these at Rokujo.

Yugiri was impatient to be on his way. He dressed with very great care. He had had his little dalliances, it would seem, none of them very important to him, and there were ladies who felt pangs of jealousy as they saw him off. But he had been rewarded for years of patience, and the match was of the sort the poet called "watertight." Tono Chujo liked him much better now that he was one of the family. It was not pleasant to have been the loser, of course, but his extraordinary fidelity over the years made it difficult to hold grudges. Kumoinokari was now in a position of which her sister at court might be envious. Her stepmother could not, it is true, restrain a certain spitefulness, but it was not enough to spoil the occasion. Her real mother, now married to the Lord Inspector, was delighted.

The presentation of the Akashi girl at court had been fixed for late in the Fourth Month.

Murasaki went with Genji to the Miare festival, which preceded the main Kamo festival. She invited the other Rokujo ladies to join them, but they declined, fearing that they might look like servants. Her procession was rather quiet and very impressive for the fact, twenty carriages simply appointed and a modest number of outrunners and guards. She paid her respects at the shrine very early on the morning of the festival proper and took a place in the stands. The array of carriages was imposing, large numbers of women having come with her from the other Rokujo households. Guessing from considerable distances whose lady she would be, people looked on in wondering admiration.

Genji remembered another Kamo festival and the treatment to which the Rokujo lady, mother of the present empress, had been subjected. "My wife was a proud and willful woman who proved to be wanting in common charity. And see how she suffered for her pride -- how bitterness was heaped upon her." He drew back from speaking too openly about the horrible conclusion to the rivalry. "The son of the one lady is crawling ahead in the ordinary service, and the heights to which the daughter of the other has risen bring on an attack of vertigo. Life is uncertain for all of us. We can only hope to have things our way for a little while. I worry about you, my dear, and how it will be for you when I am gone."

He went to speak to some courtiers of the higher ranks who had gathered before the stands. They had come from Tono Chujo's mansion with Kashiwagi, who represented the inner guards. Koremitsu's daughter too had come as a royal legate. A much admired young lady, she was showered with gifts from the emperor, the crown prince, and Genji, among others. Yugiri managed to get a note through the cordons by which she was surrounded. He had seen her from time to time and she had been pained to learn of his marriage to so fine a lady.

"This sprig of -- what is it called? -- this sprig in my cap.
So long it has been, I cannot think of the name."
One wonders what it may have meant to her. She answered, even in the confusion of being seen into her carriage.

"The scholar armed with laurel should know its name.
He wears it, though he may not speak of it.
"Not everyone, perhaps -- but surely an erudite man like you?"

Not a very remarkable poem, he thought, but better than his own.

Rumor had it that they were still meeting in secret.

It was assumed that Murasaki would go to court with the Akashi girl. She could not stay long, however, and she thought that the rime had come for the girl's real mother to be with her. It was sad for them both, mother and daughter, that they had been kept apart for so long. The matter had been on Murasaki's conscience and she suspected that it had been troubling the girl as well.

"Suppose you send the Akashi lady with the child," she said to Genji. "She is still so very young. She ought to have an older woman with her. There are limits to what a nurse can do, and I would be much happier about leaving her if I knew that her mother would be taking my place."

How very thoughtful of her, thought Genji. The Akashi lady was of course delighted at the suggestion. Her last wish was being granted. She threw herself into the preparations, none of the other ladies more energetically. The long separation had been especially cruel for the girl's grandmother, the old Akashi nun. The pleasure of watching the girl grow up, her last attachment to this life, had been denied her.

It was late in the night when the Akashi girl and Murasaki rode to court in a hand-drawn carriage. The Akashi lady did not want to follow on foot with the lesser ladies. She was not concerned for her own dignity, but feared that an appearance of inferiority would flaw the gem which Genji had polished so carefully.
Though Genji had wanted the ceremonies to be simple, they seemed to take on brilliance of their own accord. Murasaki must now give up the child who had been her whole life. How she wished that she had had such a daughter, someone to be with in just such circumstances as these! The same thought was for Genji and Yugiri the only shadow upon the occasion.

Leaving on the third day, Murasaki met the Akashi lady, who had come to replace her.

"You see what a fine young lady she has become," said Murasaki, "and the sight of her makes you very aware, I am sure, of how long I have had her with me. I hope that we shall be friends."

It was the first note of intimacy between them. Murasaki could see why Genji had been so strongly drawn to the Akashi lady, and the latter was thinking how few rivals Murasaki had in elegance and dignity. She quite deserved her place of eminence. It seemed to the Akashi lady the most remarkable good fortune that she should be in such company. The old feelings of inferiority came back as she saw Murasaki leave court in a royal carriage, as if she were one of the royal consorts.

The girl was like a doll. Gazing upon her as if in a dream, the Akashi lady wept, and could not agree with the poet that tears of joy resemble tears of sorrow. It had seemed all these years that she had been meat for sorrow. Now she wanted to live on for joy. The god of Sumiyoshi had been good to her.

The girl was very intelligent and the most careful attention had been given to her education, and the results were here for the world to admire. The crown prince, in his boyish way, was delighted with her. Certain rivals made sneering remarks about her mother, but she did not let them bother her. Alert and discerning, she brought new dignity to the most ordinary occasion. Her household offered the young gallants new challenges, for not one of her women was unworthy to be in her service.

Murasaki visited from time to rime. She and the Akashi lady were now on the best of terms, though no one could have accused the latter of trying to push herself forward. She was always a model of reserve and diffidence.

Genji had numbered the girl's presentation at court among the chief concerns of his declining years, which he feared might not be numerous. Now her position was secure. Yugiri, who had seemed to prefer the unsettled bachelor's life, was most happily married. The time had come, thought Genji, to do what he wanted most to do. Though it saddened him to think of leaving Murasaki, she and Akikonomu were good friends and she was still the most important person in the Akashi girl's life. As for the lady of the orange blossoms, her life was not perhaps very exciting, but Yugiri could be depended on to take care of her. Everything seemed in order.

Genji would be forty next year. Preparations were already under way at court and elsewhere to celebrate the event. In the autumn he was accorded benefices equivalent to those of a retired emperor. His life had seemed full enough already and he would have preferred to decline the honor. All the old precedents were followed, and he was so hemmed in by retainers and formalities that it became almost impossible for him to go to court. The emperor had his own secret reason for dissatisfaction: public opinion apparently would not permit him to abdicate in favor of Genji.

Tono Chujo now became chancellor and Yugiri was promoted to middle councillor. He so shone with youthful good looks when he went to thank the emperor that Tono Chujo was coming to think Kumoinokari, away from the cruel competition at court, the most fortunate of his daughters.

Yugiri had not forgotten her nurse's scorn for his blue sleeves. One day he handed the nurse a chrysanthemum delicately tinged by frost.

"Did you suspect by so much as a mist of dew
That the azure bloom would one day be a deep purple?
"I have not forgotten," he added with a bright, winning smile.

She was both pleased and confused.

"What mist of dew could possibly fail to find it,
Though pale its hue, in so eminent a garden?"
She was now behaving, one might almost have said, like his motherin-law.

His new circumstances had made the Nijo house seem rather cramped. He moved into his grandmother's Sanjo house, which was of course a place of fond memories. It had been neglected since her death and extensive repairs were necessary. His grandmother's rooms, redecorated, became his own personal rooms. The garden badly needed pruning. The shrubbery was out of control and a "sheaf of grass" did indeed threaten to take over the garden. He had the weeds cleared from the brook, which gurgled pleasantly once more.

He was sitting out near the veranda with Kumoinokari one beautiful evening. Memories of their years apart were always with them, though she, at least, would have preferred not to remember that all these women had had their thoughts in the matter. Yugiri had summoned various women who had lived in odd corners of the house since Princess Omiya's death. It was for them a very happy reunion.

Said Yugiri:

"Clearest of brooks, you guard these rocks, this house.
Where has she gone whose image you once reflected?"
And Kumoinokari:

"We see the image no more. How is it that
These pools among the rocks yet seem so happy?"
Having heard that the garden was in its autumn glory, Tono Chujo stopped by on his way from court. New life had come to the sedate old house, not much changed from his mother's day. A slight flush on his cheeks, Yugiri too was thinking of the old princess. Yes, said Tono Chujo to himself, they were a well-favored pair, one of them, he might add, more so than the other. While Kumoinokari was distinguished but not unique, Yugiri was without rivals. The old women were having a delightful time, and the conversation flowed on and on.

Tono Chujo looked at the poems that lay scattered about. "I would like to ask these same questions of your brook," he said, brushing away a tear, "but I rather doubt that you would welcome my senile meanderings.

"The ancient pine is gone. That need not surprise us-
For see how gnarled and mossy is its seedling."
Saisho, Yugiri's old nurse, was not quite ready to forget old grievances. It was with a somewhat satisfied look that she said:

"I now am shaded by two splendid trees
Whose roots were intertwined when they were seedlings."
It was an old woman's poem. Yugiri was amused, and Kumoinokari embarrassed.

The emperor paid a state visit to Rokujo late in the Tenth Month. Since the colors were at their best and it promised to be a grand occasion, the Suzaku emperor accepted the invitation of his brother, the present emperor, to join him. It was a most extraordinary event, the talk of the whole court. The preparations, which occupied the full attention of everyone at Rokujo, were unprecedented in their complexity and in the attention to brilliant detail.

Arriving late in the morning, the royal party went first to the equestrian grounds, where the inner guards were mustered for mounted review in the finery usually reserved for the iris festival. There were brocades spread along the galleries and arched bridges and awnings over the open places when, in early afternoon, the party moved to the southeast quarter. The royal cormorants had been turned out with the Rokujo cormorants on the east lake, where there was a handsome take of small fish. Genji hoped that he was not being a fussy and overzealous host, but he did not want a single moment of the royal progress to be dull. The autumn leaves were splendid, especially in Akikonomu's southwest garden. Walls had been taken down and gates opened, and not so much as an autumn mist was permitted to obstruct the royal view. Genji showed his guests to seats on a higher level than his own. The emperor ordered this mark of inferiority dispensed with, and thought again what a satisfaction it would be to honor Genji as his father.

The lieutenants of the inner guards advanced from the east and knelt to the left and right of the stairs before the royal seats, one presenting the take from the pond and the other a brace of fowl taken by the royal falcons in the northern hills. Tono Chujo received the royal command to prepare and serve these delicacies. An equally interesting repast had been laid out for the princes and high courtiers. The court musicians took their places in late afternoon, by which time the wine was having its effect. The concert was quiet and unpretentious and there were court pages to dance for the royal guests. It was as always the excursion to the Suzaku Palace so many years before that people remembered. One of To no Chujo,s sons, a boy of ten or so, danced "Our Gracious Monarch" most elegantly. The emperor took off a robe and laid it over his shoulders, and Tono Chujo himself descended into the garden for ritual thanks.

Remembering how they had danced "Waves of the Blue Ocean" on that other occasion, Genji sent someone down to break off a chrysanthemum, which he presented to his friend with a poem:

"Though time has deepened the hue of the bloom at the hedge,

I do not forget how sleeve brushed sleeve that autumn."

He himself had done better than most, thought Tono Chujo, but Genji had no rivals. No doubt it had all been fated. An autumn shower passed, as if sensing that the moment was right.

"A purple cloud is this chrysanthemum,
A beacon star which shines upon us all.
And grows brighter and brighter."
The evening breeze had scattered leaves of various tints to make the ground a brocade as rich and delicate as the brocades along the galleries. The dancers were young boys from the best families, prettily dressed in coronets and the usual gray-blues and roses, with crimsons and lavenders showing at their sleeves. They danced very briefly and withdrew under the autumn trees, and the guests regretted the approach of sunset. The formal concert, brief and unassuming, was followed by impromptu music in the halls above, instruments having been brought from the palace collection. As it grew livelier a koto was brought for each of the emperors and a third for Genji. The Suzaku emperor was delighted to hear "the Uda monk" again after so many years and be assured that its tone was as fine as ever.

"This aged peasant has known many autumn showers
And not before seen finer autumn colors."
This suggestion that the day was uniquely glorious must not, thought the emperor, go unchallenged:

"Think you these the usual autumn colors?
Our garden brocade imitates an earlier one."
He was handsomer as the years went by, and he and Genji might have been mistaken for twins. And here was Yugiri beside them -- one stopped in amazement upon seeing the same face yet a third time. Perhaps it was one's imagination that Yugiri had not quite the emperor's nobility of feature. His was in any event the finer glow of youth.

He was unsurpassed on the flute. Among the courtiers who serenaded the emperors from below the stairs Kobai had the finest voice. It was cause for general rejoicing that the two houses should be so close.

 

 

Chapter 34

New Herbs



The Suzaku emperor had been in bad health since his visit to Rokujo. Always a sickly man, he feared that this illness might be his last. Though it had long been his wish to take holy orders and retire from the world, he had not wanted to do so while his mother lived.

"My heart seems to be urging me in that direction -- and in any event I fear I am not long for this world." And he set about making the necessary preparations.

Besides the crown prince he had four children, all girls. The mother of the Third Princess had herself been born a royal princess, the daughter of the emperor who had preceded Genji's father. She had been reduced to commoner status and given the name Genji. Though she had come to court when the Suzaku emperor was still crown prince and might one day have been named empress, her candidacy had no powerful backers. Her mother, of undistinguished lineage, was among the emperor's lesser concubines, and not among the great and brilliant ladies at court. Oborozukiyo had been brought to court by her powerful sister, Kokiden, the Suzaku emperor's mother, and had had no rival for his affection; and so the mother of the Third Princess had had a sad time of it. The Suzaku emperor was sorry and did what he could for her, but after he left the throne it was not a great deal. She died an obscure and disappointed lady. The Third Princess was the Suzaku emperor's favorite among his children.

She was now some thirteen or fourteen. The Suzaku emperor worried about her more than about any of the others. To whom could she look for support when he finally withdrew from the world?

He had chosen his retreat, a temple in the western hills, and now it was ready. He was busy both with preparations for the move and with plans for the Third Princess's initiation. He gave her his most prized treasures and made certain that everything she had, even the most trifling bauble, was of the finest quality. Only when his best things had gone to her did he turn to the needs of his other daughters.

Knowing of course that his father was ill and learning of these new intentions, the crown prince paid a visit. His mother was with him. Though she had not been the Suzaku emperor's favorite among his ladies, she could not, as mother of the crown prince, be ignored. They had a long talk about old times. The Suzaku emperor offered good advice on the management of public affairs when presently his son's time on the throne should begin. The crown prince was a sober, mature young man and his mother's family was powerful. So far as his affairs were concerned, the Suzaku emperor could retire with no worries.

"It is your sisters. I fear I must worry about them to the end. I have heard, and thought it a great pity, that women are shallow, careless creatures who are not always treated with complete respect. Please do not forget your sisters. Be good to them when your day comes. Some of them have reliable enough sponsors. But the Third Princess -- it is she I worry about. She is very young and she has been completely dependent on me. And now I am abandoning her." He brushed away a tear. "What will happen to the poor child?''

He also asked the crown prince's mother to be good to her. He had been rather less fond of her than of the Third Princess's mother, however, and there had been resentments and jealousies back in the days when his several ladies were competing for his attention. Though he surmised that no very deep rancor persisted, he knew that he could not expect her to trouble herself greatly in the Third Princess's behalf.

Seriously ill as the New Year approached, he no longer ventured from behind his curtains. He had had similar attacks before, but they had not been so frequent or stubborn. He feared that the end might be near. It was true that he had left the throne, but he continued to be of service to the people he had once favored, and their regrets were genuine. Genji made frequent inquiries, and, to the sick man's very great pleasure, proposed a visit.

Yugiri came with the news and was invited behind the royal curtains for an intimate talk.

"During his last illness Father gave me all manner of advice and instructions. He seemed to worry most about your father and about the present emperor. There is a limit, I fear, to what a reigning monarch can do. My affection for your father continued to be as it had always been, but a silly little incident provoked me to behavior which I fear he has not been able to forgive. But I only suspect this to be the case. He has not through all the long years let slip a single word of bitterness. In happier times than these the wisest of men have sometimes let personal grievances affect their impartiality and cloud their judgment until a wish to even scores has lured them from the straight way of justice. People have watched him carefully, wondering when his bitterness might lead him similarly astray, but not for a moment has he ever lost control of himself. It would seem that he has the warmest feelings towards the crown prince. Nothing could please me more than the new bond between them. I am not a clever man, and we all know what happens to a father when he starts thinking about his children. I have rather withdrawn from the crown prince's affairs, not wanting to make a fool of myself, and left them to your father.

"I do not think that I went against Father's wishes in my behavior towards the emperor, whose radiance will shine through the ages and perhaps make future generations overlook my own misrule. I am satisfied. When I saw your father last autumn a flood of memories came back. It would please me enormously if I might see him again. We have innumerable things to talk about." There were tears in his eyes. "Do insist that he come."

"I fear that I am not as well informed as I might be on what happened long ago, but since I have been old enough to be of some service I have tried this way and that to inform myself in the ways of the world. Father and I sometimes have a good talk about important things and about trivialities as well, but I may assure you that I have not once heard him suggest that he was a victim of injustice. I have occasionally heard him say that since he retired from immediate service to the emperor and turned to the quiet pursuits he has always enjoyed most, he has become rather self-centered and has not been at all faithful to the wishes of your royal father. While Your Majesty was on the throne he was still young and inexperienced, he has said, and there were many more eminent and talented men than he, and so his accomplishments fell far short of his hopes. Now that he has withdrawn from public affairs he would like nothing better than a free and open interview with Your Majesty. Unfortunately his position makes it difficult for him to move about, and so time has gone by and he has neglected you sadly."

Not yet twenty, Yugiri was in the full bloom of youth, a very handsome boy indeed. The Suzaku emperor looked at him thoughtfully, wondering whether he might not offer a solution to the problem of the Third Princess.

"They tell me that you are now a member of the chancellor's family. It worried me to see the matter so long in abeyance, and I was enormously relieved at news of your marriage. And yet it would be less than candid of me not to acknowledge that I felt certain regrets at the same time."

What could this mean? Then Yugiri remembered rumors about the Suzaku emperor's concern for the Third Princess, and his wish to find a good husband for her before he took holy orders.

But to let it appear that he had guessed with no trouble at all might not be good manners. "I am not much of a prize," he said as he took his leave, "and I fear that I was not very eagerly sought after."

The women of the house had all gathered for a look at him.

"What a marvelous young man. And see how beautifully he carries himself."

This sort of thing from the younger ones. The older ones were not so sure. "You should have seen his father when he was that age. He was so handsome that he left you quite giddy."

The Suzaku emperor overheard them. "Yes, Genji was unique. But why do you say 'that age'? He has only improved as the years have gone by. I often say to myself that the word 'radiant' was invented especially for him. In grand matters of public policy we all fall silent when he speaks, but he has another side too, a gentle sense of humor that is irresistible. There is no one quite like him. I sometimes wonder what he can have been in his other lives. He grew up at court and he was our father's favorite, the joy and treasure of his life. Yet he was always a model of quiet restraint. When he turned twenty, I seem to remember, he was not yet even a middle councillor. The next year he became councillor and general. The fact that his son has advanced more rapidly is evidence, I should think, that the family is well thought of. Yugiri's advice in official matters has always been careful and solid. I may be mistaken, but I doubt that he does less well in that respect than his father."

The Third Princess was a pretty little thing, still very young in her ways and very innocent. "How nice," said the Suzaku emperor, "if we could find a good, dependable man to look after you. Someone who would see to your education too. There are so many things you need to know."

He summoned her nurses and her more knowledgeable attendants for a conference about the initiation ceremonies. "It would be quite the best thing if someone could be persuaded to do for her what Genji did for Prince Hyobu's daughter. I can think of no one in active court service. His Majesty has the empress, and his other ladies are all so very well favored that I would fear for her in the competition and worry about her lack of adequate support. I really should have dropped a hint or two while Yugiri was still single. He is young but extremely gifted, and he would seem to have a brilliant future."

"But he is such a steady, proper young man. Through all those years he thought only of the girl who is now his wife, and nothing could pull him away from her. He will doubtless be even more unbudgeable now that they are married. I should think that the chances might be better with his father. It would seem that Genji still has the old acquisitive instincts and that he is always on the alert for ladies of really good pedigree. I am told that he still thinks of the former high priestess of Kamo and sometimes gets off a letter to her."

"But that is exactly what worries me -- his eagerness for the hunt."

Yet it would seem that the Suzaku emperor's thoughts were running in much the same direction. There might be unpleasantness of some description, since there were all those other ladies; but he could do worse than ask that Genji take in the Third Princess much as he might have brought home a daughter.

"I'm sure that everyone with a marriageable daughter has the same thought, that when all is said and done Genji would not be a bad son-inlaw. Life is short and a man wants to do what he can with it. If I had been born a woman I suspect I might have been drawn to him in a not too sisterly fashion. I used to think so when we were boys, and I have never been surprised at all when I have seen a lady losing her senses over him."

It may have been that he was thinking of his own Oborozukiyo.

Among the princess's nurses was a woman of good family whose elder brother was a moderator of the middle rank. He had long been among Genji's more trusted followers and he had been of good service to the Third Princess as well. One day when he was with her his sister told him of the Suzaku emperor's remarks.

"Perhaps you might find occasion to speak to His Lordship. It is a common enough thing for princesses to remain single, but it is good all the same when one of them finds a man who is fond of her and will look after her. My poor lady, only her father really cares about her. Except for us, of course -- and what can _we_ do? As a matter of fact, I would feel better if I were the only one concerned. There are other women with her, and one of them could easily bring about her ruin. It would be an enormous relief if something could be arranged while her father is still with us. Even a princess may be fated for unhappy things, and I do worry most inordinately. There are jealousies because she is her father's favorite. I only wish it were in my power to protect her."

"Genji is a more reliable man than you would imagine. When he has had an affair, even the most lighthearted sort of adventure, he ends up by taking the lady in and making her one of his own. The result is that he has a large collection. But no man can distribute his affections indefinitely, and it would seem that there is one lady who dominates them. I should imagine, though I cannot be sure, that there are numbers of ladies who feel rather neglected as a result. But if it should be the princess's fate to marry him, I doubt that the one lady need be a dangerous threat to her. I must admit all the same that I have misgivings. I have heard him say, without making a great point of it, that his life has been too well favored in an otherwise poorly favored day, and that it would be greedy and arrogant of him to want more, but that he himself and others too have thought that in his relations with women he has not been completely successful. I think I can see what he means. Not one of his ladies need be ashamed of her family, and not one of them is of really the very best. They are all in some measure his inferior. I should think that your lady might be exactly what is needed."

The nurse found occasion to speak of these matters to the Suzaku emperor. "My brother says that His Lordship at Rokujo would without question be friendly to a proposal from Your Majesty. He would see in it the fulfillment of all his wishes. With Your Majesty's concurrence my brother would be happy to transmit a proposal. Yet we have misgivings. His Lordship is very kind to them all, after their various stations, but even a commoner who does not have her royal dignity to worry about finds it unpleasant to be one of many wives. I wonder if the strain on my lady might not perhaps be too much. I gather that she has other suitors. I hope that Your Majesty will consider all the possibilities very carefully before coming to a decision. Ladies tend these days to think first about their own convenience and to be indifferent to the claims of high birth. My own lady is really so very innocent and inexperienced, astonishingly so, indeed, and there is a limit to what we others can do for her. When we are conscien tious we do our work under direction, and we find ourselves helpless if it begins to weaken."

"I have worried a great deal, and think I am aware of all the arguments and considerations. It may be the more prudent course for a princess to remain single. The claims of birth cannot be relied upon to protect a marriage from bitterness and unhappiness. They are certain to come. And on the other hand there are unmarried princesses who suddenly find themselves alone in the world, quite without protection. In the old days people were diffident and respectful and would not have dreamed of violating the proprieties, but in our own day the most determined and purposeful lady cannot be sure that she is not going to be insulted. Such, in any event, has been the purport of the various discussions I have overheard. A lady who was until yesterday guarded by worthy and influential parents today finds herself involved in a scandal with an adventurer of no standing at all and brings dishonor upon her dead parents. Such instances are constantly coming to my attention. And so there are arguments on both sides. The fact that a lady was born a princess is no guarantee that things will go well for her. You cannot imagine how I have worried.

"When a lady has put herself in the hands of those who ought to know best, then she can resign herself to what must be, and if it is not happy then at least she does not have herself to blame. Or if she is not that sort of lady, affairs may shape themselves so that in the end she may congratulate herself upon her independence. Even then the initial secrecy and the affront to her parents and advisers are not good. They do injury to her name from which it is not easy to recover. What a silly, heedless girl, People say, even of a commoner. Or if a lady's wishes should have been consulted but she finds herself joined to a man who does not please her, and people are heard to say that it is just as they thought it would be -- then her advisers may be taxed with carelessness. I have reason to believe that the Third Princess is not at all reliable in these matters, and that you people are reaching out and taking her affairs into your own hands. If it were to become known that that is the case, the results could easily be disastrous."

These troubled meditations, as he prepared to leave the world, did not make things easier for the princess's women.

"I think I have been rather patient," continued the Suzaku emperor, "waiting for her to grow up and become just a little more aware of things, but now I begin to fear that my deepest wish may be denied me. I can wait no longer.

"It is true that Genji has other ladies, but he is a sober and intelligent man, indeed a tower of strength. Let us not worry about the others. She must make a place for herself. It would be hard to think of a more dependable man.

"But let us consider the other possibilities.

"There is my brother, Prince Hotaru. He is a thoroughly decent man and certainly no stranger, nor is he someone we may consider we have any right to look down upon. But I sometimes think that his preoccupation with deportment rather diminishes his stature and even makes him seem less than completely serious. I doubt that we can depend on him in such an important matter.

"I have heard that the Fujiwara councillor would like to manage her affairs. I have no doubt that he would be a very loyal servant, and yet-might one not hope for a less ordinary sort of man? The precedents all suggest that true eminence is what matters, and that an eagerness to be of service is not quite enough.

"There is Kashiwagi. Oborozukiyo tells me that he suffers from secret longings. Perhaps he might someday do, but he is still very young and rather obscure. I am told that he has remained single because he wants the very best. No one else has been so dedicated to such high ambitions. He has studied hard, and I have no doubt that he will one day be among the most useful of public servants. But I doubt that he is quite what we want at the moment."

No one troubled him with the affairs of his other daughters, who worried him much less. It was strange how reports of his secret anxiety had so spread that it had become a matter of public concern.

It came to the attention of Tono Chujo, who presented his addresses through Oborozukiyo, his sister-in-law. "Kashiwagi is still single because he is determined to marry a princess and no one else. You might point this fact out to the Suzaku emperor when he is making final plans for his daughters. If Kashiwagi were to be noticed I would feel greatly honored myself."

Oborozukiyo did what she could to advance her nephew's cause.

Prince Hotaru, having been rejected by Tamakazura, was determined to show her that he could do even better. It was not likely that the affairs of the Third Princess had escaped his notice. Indeed, he was very restless.

The Fujiwara councillor was very close to the Suzaku emperor, whose chief steward he had been for many years. With his master's retirement from the world his prospects were bleak. It would seem that he was trying to call the Suzaku emperor's attention to his claims as the man most competent to manage the princess's affairs.

Yugiri had of course been taken into the royal confidence. It excited him, apparently, to think that the Suzaku emperor, having said so much, could not shrug off a proposal from him. But Kumoinokari had joined her destinies to his. He had been steadfast through all the unfriendly years and could not admit the possibility of making her unhappy now. And of course marriage to the chancellor's daughter limited his options. Action on two fronts, so to speak, could be very exacting and very unpleasant. Always the most prudent of young men, he kept his own counsel. Yet he watched each new development with great interest, and he was not at all sure that he would not be disappointed when a husband was finally chosen for the princess.

The crown prince too was well informed. He offered it as his view that one must be very careful about setting precedents. "You must deliberate on every facet of the case. However excellent a man may be, a commoner is still a commoner. But if Genji is to be your choice, then I think he should be asked to look after her as a father looks after a daughter."

"I quite agree. I can see that you have thought the matter over carefully."

Increasingly enthusiastic about Genji's candidacy, the Suzaku emperor summoned the moderator, brother of the Third Princess's nurse, and asked that Genji be made aware of his thoughts.

Genji was of course very much aware of them already. "I am sorry to hear it. He may fear that he has not much longer to live, but how can he be sure that I will outlive him? If we could be sure to die in the order in which we were born, then of course I might expect to be around for a little while yet. But I can look after her without marrying her. I could hardly be indifferent towards any of his children. If he is especially concerned about the Third Princess, then I will want to respect his wishes. Though of course nothing in this world is certain.

"I am overwhelmed by these evidences of trust and affection. But supposing I were to follow her father's example and retire to a hermitage myself -- would that not be sad for her? And she would be a strong bond tying me to a world I wish to leave.

"What of Yugiri? He is still young and not very important, I know, but he will someday be one of the grand ministers. He has all the qualifications. If the Suzaku emperor is so inclined, I am not being frivolous, I most emphatically assure you, when I commend Yugiri to his attention. Perhaps he has held back because he knows that the boy is a monogamous sort and that he already has his wife."

Genji seemed to be withdrawing his candidacy. Knowing that the Suzaku emperor's decision had not been hasty, the moderator was much distressed. He described all the deliberations in great detail.

Genji smiled. "Yes, he is very fond of her, and I can imagine how he must worry. But there is one unassailable way to end his worries: make her one of the emperor's ladies. He has numbers of fine ladies already, I know, but they need not be a crucial consideration. It is by no means a firm rule that ladies who come to court later are at a disadvantage. He has only to look back to the days of our late father. The dowager empress was his first wife. She came to court when he was still crown prince and she seemed to have everything her way, and yet there were the years when she was quite overshadowed by Fujitsubo, the very last of his ladies. Your princess's mother was, I believe, Fujitsubo's sister, only less well endowed, people tell me, than she. With such fine looks on both sides of the family it cannot be doubted that your princess is very lovely."

The Suzaku emperor took the last remark as evidence that Genji was himself not uninterested.

The year drew to an end. The Suzaku emperor made haste to get his affairs in order. The plans for the Third Princess's initiation were so grand that it seemed likely to oust all other such affairs from the history books. The west room of the Oak Pavilion was fitted out for the ceremonies. Only the most resplendent imported brocades were used for hangings and cushions, and the results would have pleased a Chinese empress.

Suzaku had long before asked Tono Chujo to bestow the ceremonial train. He was such a busy man that one was reluctant to make demands upon his time, but he had never turned away a request from Suzaku. The other two ministers and all the high courtiers were also present, even some who had had previous engagements. Indeed the whole court was present, including the whole of the emperor's private household and that of the crown prince. Eight royal princes were among the guests. For the emperor and the crown prince and many others too there was sadness mingled with the joy. It would be the last such affair arranged by the Suzaku emperor. The warehouses and supply rooms were searched for the most splendid of imported gifts. A large array of equally splendid gifts came from Rokujo, some in Genji's own name and some in that of the Suzaku emperor. It was Genji who saw that Tono Chujo was properly rewarded for his services.

From Akikonomu came robes and combs and the like, all of them selected with the greatest care. She got out combs and bodkins from long ago and made sure that the necessary repairs did not obscure their identity. On the evening of the ceremony she dispatched them by her assistant chamberlain, who also served in the Suzaku Palace, with instructions that they be delivered directly to the Third Princess. With them was a poem:

"I fear these little combs are scarred and worn.
I have used them to summon back an ancient day."
The Suzaku emperor chanced to be with the princess when the gift was delivered. The memories were poignant. Perhaps Akikonomu meant to share some of her own good fortune with the princess. It was a beautiful gift in any case. He got off a note of thanks from which he tried to exclude his own feelings:

"I only hope that she may be as you,
All through the myriad years of the boxwood comb."
It was with a considerable effort of the will that he was present at the ceremonies, for he was in great pain. Three days later he took the tonsure. Even an ordinary man leaves grief and regret behind him, and in his case the regret was boundless.

Oborozukiyo refused to leave his side.

"My worries about my daughters may come to an end," he said, "but how can I stop worrying about you?"

He forced himself to sit up. The grand abbot of Hiei shaved his head and there were three eminent clerics to administer the vows. The final renunciation, symbolized by the change to somber religious habit, was very sad indeed. Even the priests, who should long ago have left sorrow behind them, were unable to hold back their tears. As for the Suzaku emperor's daughters and ladies and attendants high and low, the halls and galleries echoed with their laments. And even now, he sighed, he could not have the peace he longed for. The Third Princess was still too much on his mind.

He was of course showered with messages, from the emperor and from the whole court.

Hearing that he was a little better, Genji paid a visit. Genji's allowances were now those of a retired emperor, but he was determined to avoid equivalent ceremony. He rode in a plain carriage and kept his retinue to a minimum, and preferred a carriage escort to the more ostentatious mounted guard. Delighted at the visit, the Suzaku emperor braved very great discomfort to receive him. He shared Genji's wishes that the visit be informal and had places set out in his private parlor. Genji was shocked and saddened at the change in his brother. A shadow seemed to sweep over the past and on into the future, and he was in tears.

"Father's death more than anything made me aware of impermanence and change. I resolved that I must leave the world. But I have never had much will power, and I have delayed, and so you see me unable to raise my head before you who have done the great thing first. I have known how much easier it should be for me than for you and I have made the resolve over and over again, and somehow regret for the world has always been stronger."

The Suzaku emperor was also weeping. In an uncertain voice he talked of old and recent happenings. "For years I have had a persistent feeling that I would not last the night, and still the years have gone by. Fearing that I might die without accomplishing the first of my resolves, I have finally taken the step. Now that I have changed to these dark robes I know more than ever how little time I have ahead of me. I fear that I shall not go far down the way I have chosen. I must be satisfied with the easier route. I shall calm my thoughts for a time and invoke the holy name, and that will be all. I am not a man of very grand and rare substance, and I cannot think that I was meant for anything different. I must reprove myself for the years of lazy indecision."

He described his plans and hopes and managed to touch upon the matter that worried him most. "I am sad for all of my daughters, but most of all for the most inadequately protected of them."

Genji was sad for his brother, and in spite of everything rather interested in the Third Princess. "Yes, the higher a lady's standing, the sadder it is for her to be without adequate defenses. I am very much aware that our crown prince is among our greatest blessings. The whole world looks upon him as more than this inferior day of ours has any right to expect, and I know perhaps better than anyone how unlikely he is to refuse Your Majesty's smallest request. There is no cause for concern, none at all. Yet it is as Your Majesty has said: there is a limit to what even he can do. When his day comes he may be able to manage public affairs quite as he wishes, but there is no assurance that he can arrange things ideally for his own sisters. Yes, the safest thing by far would be to find someone whom the Third Princess can depend upon in everything. Let the vows be exchanged and the man charged with responsibilities he cannot deny. If Your Majesty will insist upon worrying about the whole of the vast, distant future, then a decision must be made and a suitable guardian chosen, promptly but quietly."

"I quite agree. But it is by no means easy. Many princesses have been provided with suitable husbands while their fathers have still occupied the throne. The matter is more urgent for my own poor girl, and her affairs are the last which I still think of as my own. Promptly and quietly, you say -- but they remain beyond my power either to ignore or to dispose of. And as I have worried my health has deteriorated, and days and weeks which will not return have gone by to no purpose.

" It is not easy for me to make the request, and no easier for you, I am sure, to be the object -- but might I ask that you take the girl in your very special charge and, quite as you think appropriate, find a husband for her? I should have made a proposal to your son while he was still single, and it is a great source of regret that I was anticipated by the chancellor. "

"He is a serious, dependable lad, but he is still very young and inexperienced. It may seem presumptuous of me -- but let us suppose that I were myself to take responsibility. Her life need not be much different from what it is now, though there is the disquieting consideration that I am no longer young, and the time may come when I can no longer be of service to her."

And so the contract was made.

In the evening there was a banquet, for Genji's party and the Suzaku household. The priest's fare was unpretentious but beautifully prepared and served. The tableware and the trays of light aloeswood also suggested the priestly vocation and brought tears to the eyes of the guests. The melancholy and moving details were innumerable, but I fear that they would clutter my story.

It was late in the night when Genji and his men departed, the men bearing lavish gifts. The Fujiwara councillor was among those who saw them off. There had been a fall of snow and the Suzaku emperor had caught cold. But he was happy. The future of the Third Princess seemed secure.

Genji was worried. Murasaki had heard vague rumors, but she had told herself that it could not be. Genji had once been very serious about the high priestess of Ise, it seemed, but in the end he had held himself back. She had not worried a great deal, and asked no questions.

How would she take this news? Genji knew that his feelings towards her would not change, or if they did it would be in the direction of greater intensity. But only time could. assure her of that fact, and there would be cruel uncertainty in the meantime. Nothing had been allowed to come between them in recent years, and the thought of having a secret from her for even a short time made him very unhappy.

He said nothing to her that night.

The next day was dark, with flurries of snow.

"I went yesterday to call on the Suzaku emperor. He is in very poor health indeed." It was in the course of a leisurely conversation that Genji brought the matter up. "He said many sad things, but what seems to trouble him most as he goes off to his retreat is the future of the Third Princess." And he described that part of the interview. "I was really so extremely sorry for him that I found it impossible to refuse. I suppose people will make a great thing of it. The thought of taking a bride at my age has seemed so utterly preposterous that I have tried through this and that intermediary to suggest a certain want of ardor. But to see him in person and have it directly from him -- I simply could not bring myself to refuse. Do you think that when the time does finally come for him to go off into the mountains we might have her come here? Would that upset you terribly? Please do not let it. Trust me, and tell yourself what is the complete truth, that nothing is going to change. She has more right to feel insecure than you do. But I am sure that we can arrange things happily enough for her too."

She was always torturing herself over the smallest of his affairs, and he had dreaded telling her of this one.

But her reply was quiet and unassertive. "Yes, it is sad for her. The only thing that worries me is the possibility that she might feel less than completely at home. I shall be very happy if our being so closely related persuades her that I am no stranger."

"How silly that this very willingness to accept things should bother me. But it does. It makes me start looking for complications, and I am sure I will feel guiltier as the two of you get used to each other. You must pay no attention to what people say. Rumors are strange things. It is impossible to know where they come from, but there they are, like living creatures bent on poisoning relations between a man and a woman. You must listen only to yourself and let matters take their course. Do not start imagining things, and do not torture yourself with empty jealousies."

It was a tempest out of the blue which there was no escaping. Murasaki was determined that she would not complain or give any hint of resentment. She knew that neither her wishes nor her advice would have made any difference. She did not want the world to think that she had been crushed by what had to come. There was her sharp-tongued stepmother, so quick to blame and to gloat -- she had even held Murasaki responsible for the curious solution to the Tamakazura problem. She was certain to gloat over this, and to say that Murasaki deserved exactly what had come to her. Though very much in control of herself, Murasaki was prey to these worries. The very durability of her relations with Genji was sure to make people laugh harder. But she gave no hint of her unhappiness.

The New Year came, and at the Suzaku Palace the Third Princess's wedding plans kept people busy. Her several suitors were deeply disappointed. The emperor, who had let it be known that he would welcome her at court, was among them.

It was Genji's fortieth year, to which the court could not be indifferent and which had long promised to send gladness ringing through the land. With his dislike for pomp and ceremony, Genji only hoped that the rejoicing would not be too loud.

The Day of the Rat fell on the twenty-third of the First Month. Tamakazura came with the new herbs that promise long life. She came very quietly, not letting anyone know of her intentions. Faced with an accomplished fact, Genji could hardly turn her and her gifts away. She too disliked ceremony, but the movements of so important a lady were certain to be noticed.

A west room of the main southeast hall was made ready to receive her. New curtains were hung and new screens set out, as were forty cushions, more comfortable and less ostentatious, thought Genji, than ceremonial chairs. In spite of the informality, the details were magnificent. Wardrobes were laid out upon four cupboards inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and there was a fine though modest array of summer and winter robes, incense jars, medicine and comb boxes, inkstones, vanity sets, and other festive paraphernalia. The stands for the ritual chaplets were of aloeswood and sandalwood, beautifully carved and fitted in the modern manner, with metal trimmings in several colors. Tamakazura's touch was apparent everywhere. She was a lady of refinement and sensibility, and when she exerted herself the results were certain to be memorable -- though she agreed with Genji that lavish display was in poor taste.

The party assembled and Genji and Tamakazura exchanged greetings, formal but replete with memories. Genji seemed so youthful that one wondered whether he might not have miscalculated his age. He looked more like her bridegroom than her foster father. She was shy at first, not having seen him in a very long time, but determined not to raise unnecessary barriers. She had brought her two sons with her, very pretty boys indeed. It rather embarrassed her to have had two sons in such quick succession, but Higekuro, her husband, had said that they must be introduced to Genji, and that there was not likely to be a better occasion. They were in identical dress, casual and boyish, and they still wore their hair in the page-boy fashion, parted in the middle.

"I try not to worry about my age," said Genji, "and to pretend that I am still a boy, and it gives me pause to be presented with the new generation. Yugiri has children, I am told, but he makes a great thing of not letting me see them. This day which you were the first to remember does after all bring regrets. I had hoped to forget my age for a little while yet."

Tamakazura was very much the matron, in an entirely pleasant way. Her congratulatory poem was most matronly:

"I come to pray that the rock may long endure
And I bring with me the seedling pines from the field."
Genji went through the ceremony of sampling the new herbs, which were arranged in four aloeswood boxes. He raised his cup.

"Long shall be the life of the seedling pines-

To add to the years of the herbs brought in from the fields?"

There was a large assembly of high officials in the south room. Prince Hyobu had been of two minds about coming. He finally decided, at about noon, that to stay away would be to attract attention to his daughter's misfortunes. Yes, of course it was annoying that Higekuro should be making such a show of his close relations with Genji, but his other children, Prince Hyobu's grandchildren, were doubly close to Genji, through their mother and through their stepmother, and had been assigned a conspicuous part in the celebrations.

There were forty baskets of fruit and forty boxes of food, presented by as many courtiers, with Yugiri leading the procession. Genji poured wine for his guests and sampled a broth from the new herbs. Before him were four aloeswood stands, laid out with the finest tableware in the newest fashion.

Out of respect for the ailing Suzaku emperor, no musicians had been summoned from the palace. Tono Chujo had brought wind instruments, taking care from far in advance to choose only the best. "There is not likely to be another banquet so splendid," he said.

It was an easy, informal concert. Tono Chujo had also brought the Japanese koto that was among his most prized treasures. He was one of the finest musicians of the day, and when he put himself out no one was his equal -- certainly no one was eager to take up the japanese koto when he had finished. At Genji's insistence Kashiwagi did finally venture a strain, and everyone agreed that he was very little if at all his father's inferior. There was something almost weirdly beautiful about his playing, to make people exclaim in wonder that though of course talent could be inherited no one would have expected so original a style to be handed from father to son. There is perhaps nothing so very mysterious about the secret Chinese repertory, for all its variety. The scores may be secret but they are fixed and not hard to read. It is rather the Japanese koto, the improvising after the dictates of one's fancy, all the while deferring to the requirements of other instruments, that fills the listener with wonder. His koto tuned very low, Tono Chujo managed an astonishingly rich array of overtones. Kashiwagi chose a higher, more approachable tuning. Not informed in advance that he had such talents, the audience, princes and all, was mute with admiration.

Genji's brother, Prince Hotaru, chose a seven-stringed Chinese koto, a palace treasure rich in associations, having been handed down from emperor to emperor. In his last years Genji's father had given it to his eldest daughter, who numbered it among her dearest treasures. Tono Chujo had asked for it especially to honor the occasion. Prince Hotaru, who had drunk rather freely and was in tears, glanced tentatively at Genji and pushed the koto towards him. All this gaiety seemed to demand novel music, and though both Tamakazura and Genji had wished to avoid ostentation it was in the end a most remarkable concert. The singers, gathered at the south stairway, were all in fine voice. They presently shifted to a minor key, to announce that the hour was late and the music should be more familiar and intimate. "Green Willow" was enough to make the warblers start from their roosts. Since the affair was deemed exempt from public sumptuary regulations, the gifts were of astonishing richness and variety, for Tamakazura and for all the other guests. She made ready to leave at dawn.

"I live quite apart from the world," said Genji, "and I find myself losing track of time. Your very courteous reminder is also a melancholy one. Do stop by occasionally to see how I have aged. It is a great pity that an elder statesman cannot move about as he would wish, and so I do not see you often."

Yes, the associations were both melancholy and happy. He thought it a pity that she must leave so soon, nor did she want to go. She honored her real father in a formal and perfunctory way, but it was to Genji that she owed the larger debt. He had taken her in and made a place for her, and her gratitude increased as the years went by.

The Third Princess came to Rokujo towards the middle of the Second Month. The preparations to receive her were elaborate. The west room of the main southeast hall in which Genji had sampled the new herbs became her boudoir. Very great attention had been given to appointing her women's rooms as well, in the galleries and two wings to the west. The trousseau was brought from the Suzaku Palace with all the ceremony of a presentation at court, and it goes without saying that similar pomp accompanied the formal move to Rokujo. Her retinue was enormous, led by the highest courtiers. Among them was a reluctant one, the Fujiwara councillor who had hoped to take charge of her affairs. Genji broke with precedent by himself coming out to receive her. Certain limitations were imposed upon a commoner, and she was after all neither going to court nor receiving a prince as a bridegroom; and all in all it was a most unusual event.

Through the three days following, the nuptial ceremonies, arranged by the Suzaku and Rokujo households, were of very great dignity and elegance.

It was an unsettling time for Murasaki. No doubt Genji was giving an honest view of the matter when he said that she would not be overwhelmed by the Third Princess. Yet for the first time in years she felt genuinely threatened. The new lady was young and, it would seem, rather showy in her ways, and of such a rank that Murasaki could not ignore her. All very unsettling; but she gave no hint of her feelings, and indeed helped with all the arrangements. Genji saw more than ever that there was really no one like her.

The Third Princess was, as her father had said, a mere child. She was tiny and immature physically, and she gave a general impression of still greater, indeed quite extraordinary, immaturity. He thought of Murasaki when he had first taken her in. She had even then been interesting. She had had a character of her own. The Third Princess was like a baby. Well, thought Genji, the situation had something to recommend it: she was not likely to intrude and make Murasaki unhappy with fits of jealousy. Yet he did think he might have hoped for someone a _little_ more interesting.
For the first three nights he was faithfully in attendance upon her. Murasaki was unhappy but said nothing. She gave herself up to her thoughts and to such duties, now performed with unusual care, as scenting his robes. He thought her splendid. Why, he asked himself, whatever the pressures and the complications, had he taken another wife? He had been weak and he had given an impression of inconstancy, and brought it all upon himself. Yugiri had escaped because the Suzaku emperor had seen what an unshakable pillar of fidelity he was.

Genji was near tears. "Please excuse me just this one more night. I have no alternative. If after this I neglect you, then you may be sure that I will be angrier with myself than you can ever be with me. We do have to consider her father's feelings."

"Do not ask us bystanders," she said, a faint smile on her lips, "to tell you how to behave."

He turned away, chin in hand, to hide his confusion.

"I had grown so used to thinking it would not change.
And now, before my very eyes, it changes."
He took up the paper on which she had jotted down old poems that fitted her mood as well as this poem of her own. It was not the most perfect of poems, perhaps, but it was honest and to the point.

"Life must end. It is a transient world.
The one thing lasting is the bond between us."
He did not want to leave, but she said that he was only making things more difficult for her. He was wearing the soft robes which she had so carefully scented. She had over the years seen new threats arise only to be turned away, and she had finally come to think that there would be no more. Now this had happened, and everyone was talking. She knew how susceptible he had been in his earlier years, and now the whole future seemed uncertain. It was remarkable that she showed no sign of her disquiet.

Her women were talking as of the direst happenings.

"Who would have expected it? He has always kept himself well challenge. So things have been quiet. I doubt that our lady will let them defeat her -- but we must be careful. The smallest mistake could make things very difficult."

Murasaki pretended that nothing at all was amiss. She talked pleasantly with them until late in the night. She feared that silence on the most important subject might make it seem more important than it was.

"I am so glad that she has come to us. We have had a full house, but I sometimes think he has been a little bored with us, poor man. None of us is grand enough to be really interesting. I somehow hope that we will be the best of friends. Perhaps it is because they say that she is still a mere child. And here you all are digging a great chasm between us. If we were of the same rank, or perhaps if I had some slight reason to think myself a little her superior, then I would feel that I had to be careful. But as it is -- you may think it impertinent of me to say so -- I only want to be friendly."

Nakatsukasa and Chujo exchanged glances. "Such kindness," one of them, I do not know which, would seem to have muttered. They had once been recipients of Genji's attentions but they had been with Murasaki for some years now, and they were among her firmer allies.

Inquiries came from the ladies in the other quarters, some of them suggesting that they who had long ago given up their ambitions might be the more fortunate ones. Murasaki sighed. They meant to be kind, of course, but they were not making things easier. Well, there was no use in tormenting herself over things she could not change, and the inconstancy of the other sex was among them.

Her women would think it odd if she spent the whole night talking with them. She withdrew to her boudoir and they helped her into bed. She was lonely, and the presence of all these women did little to disguise the fact. She thought of the years of his exile. She had feared that they would not meet again, but the agony of waiting for word that he was still alive was in itself a sort of distraction from the sorrow and longing. She sought to comfort herself now with the thought that those confused days could so easily have meant the end of everything.

The wind was cold. Not wanting her women to know that she could not sleep, she lay motionless until she ached from the effort. Still deep in the cold night, the call of the first cock seemed to emphasize the loneliness and sorrow.

She may not have been in an agony of longing, but she was deeply troubled, and perhaps for that reason she came to Genji in his dreams. His heart was racing. Might something have happened to her? He lay waiting for the cock as if for permission to leave, and at its first call rushed out as if unaware that it would not yet be daylight for some time. Still a child, the princess kept her women close beside her. One of them saw him out through a corner door. The snow caught the first traces of dawn, though the garden was still dark. "In vain the spring night's darkness," whispered her nurse, catching the scent he had left behind.

The patches of snow were almost indistinguishable from the white garden sands. "There is yet snow by the castle wall," he whispered to himself as he came to Murasaki's wing of the house and tapped on a shutter. No longer in the habit of accommodating themselves to nocturnal wanderings, the women let him wait for a time.

"How slow you are," he said, slipping in beside her. "I am quite congealed, as much from terror as from cold. And I have done nothing to deserve it."

He thought her rather wonderful. She did nothing at all, and yet, hiding her wet sleeves, she somehow managed to keep him at a distance. Not even among ladies of the highest birth was there anyone quite like her. He found himself comparing her with the little princess he had just left.

He spent the day beside her, going over their years together, and charging her with evasion and deviousness.

He sent a note saying that he would not be calling on the princess that day. "I seem to have caught a chill from the snow and think I would be more comfortable here."

Her nurse sent back tartly by word of mouth that the note had been passed on to her lady. Not a very amiable sort, thought Genji.

He did not want the Suzaku emperor to know of his want of ardor, but he did not seem capable even of maintaining appearances. Things could scarcely have been worse. For her part, Murasaki feared that the Suzaku emperor would hold her responsible.

Waking this time in the familiar rooms, he got off another note to the princess. He took great trouble with it, though he was not sure that she would notice. He chose white paper and attached it to a sprig of plum blossom.

"Not heavy enough to block the way between us,
The flurries of snow this morning yet distress me."
He told the messenger that the note was to be delivered at the west gallery.

Dressed in white, a sprig of plum in his hand, he sat near the veranda looking at patches of snow like stragglers waiting for their comrades to return. A warbler called brightly from the rose plum at the eaves. "Still inside my sleeve," he said, sheltering the blossom in his hand and raising a blind for a better look at the snow. He was so youthfully handsome that no one would have taken him for one of the great men of the land and the father of a grown son.

Sure that he could expect no very quick answer from the princess, he went to show Murasaki his sprig of plum. "Blossoms should have sweet scents. Think what the cherry blossom would be if it had the scent of the plum -- we would have an eye for no other blossom. The plum comes into bloom when there is no contest. How fine if we could see it in competition with the cherry."

An answer did presently come. It was on red tissue paper and folded neatly in an envelope. He opened it with trepidation, hoping that it would not be too irredeemably childish. He did not want to have secrets from Murasaki, and yet he did not want her to see the princess's hand, at least for a time. To display the princess in all her immaturity seemed somehow insulting. But it would be worse to make Murasaki yet unhappier. She sat leaning against an armrest. He laid the note half open beside her.

"You do not come. I fain would disappear,
A veil of snow upon the rough spring winds."
It was every bit as bad as he had feared, scarcely even a child's hand -- and of course in point of years she was not a child at all. Murasaki glanced at it and glanced away as if she had not seen it. He would have offered it up for what it was, evidence of almost complete uselessness, had it been from anyone else.

"So you see that you have nothing to worry about," he said.

He paid his first daytime call upon the princess. He had dressed with unusual care and no doubt his good looks had an unusually powerful effect on women not used to them. For the older and more experienced of them, the nurse, for instance, the effect was of something like apprehension. He was so splendid that they feared complications. Their lady was such a pretty little child of a thing, reduced to almost nothing at all by the brilliance of her surroundings. It was as if there were no flesh holding up the great mounds of clothing. She did not seem shy before him, and if it could have been said that her openness and freedom from mannerism were for purposes of putting him at his ease, then it could also have been said that they succeeded very well. Her father was not generally held to be a virile sort of man, but no one denied his superior taste and refinement, and the mystery was that he had done so little by way of training her. And of course Genji, like everyone else, knew that she was his favorite, and that he worried endlessly about her. It all seemed rather sad. The other side of the matter was that she did undeniably have a certain girlish charm. She listened quietly and answered with whatever came into her mind. He must be good to her. In his younger days his disappointment would have approached contempt, but he had become more tolerant. They all had their ways, and none was enormously superior to the others. There were as many sorts of women as there were women. A disinterested observer would probably have told him that he had made a good match for himself. Murasaki was the only remarkable one among them all, more remarkable now than ever, he thought, and he had known her very well for a very long time. He had no cause for dissatisfaction with his efforts as guardian and mentor. A single morning or evening away from her and the sense of deprivation was so intense as to bring a sort of foreboding.

The Suzaku emperor moved into his temple that same month. Numbers of emotional letters came to Rokujo, for Genji and of course for the princess. He said several times that Genji must not think about him but must follow his own judgment in his treatment of the princess. He could not even so hide his disquietude. She was so very young and defenseless.

He also wrote to Murasaki. "I fear I have left an unthinking child on your hands. Do please be tolerant. I venture to comfort myself with the thought that the close relationship between you will make it difficult for you to reject her.

"Deep into these mountains I would go,
But thoughts of one I leave still pull me back.
"If I express myself foolishly it is because the heart of a father is darkness. You must forgive me."

Genji was with her when it was delivered. It showed deep feeling, he said, and must be treated with respect. He ordered wine for the messenger.

Murasaki did not know how to reply. A long and elaborate letter somehow did not seem appropriate. She finally made do with an impromptu poem:

"If your thoughts are upon the world you leave behind,
You should not make a point of cutting your ties."
She gave the messenger a set of women's robes.

So fine was her handwriting that it set the Suzaku emperor to worrying anew. He should not have left his artless daughter in a house where the other ladies were so subtle.

There were sad farewells now that the rime had come for his ladies to go their several ways. Oborozukiyo moved into Kokiden's Nijo mansion. After the Third Princess she had been most on the Suzaku emperor's mind. She thought of becoming a nun, but he dissuaded her, saying that a great rush to holy orders would be unseemly. She devoted more and more of her time to collecting holy images and otherwise preparing for the religious vocation.

The disastrous conclusion to their affair had made it impossible for Genji to forget her. He wanted very much to see her again. Their positions were such, however, that they must always be on good behavior, and the memory of the disaster was still vivid. He kept his wishes to himself. But he did want very much to know something of her thoughts now that she had cut the old entanglements. Though quite aware of the impropriety, he wrote to her from time to time, pretending that his letters, in fact rather warm, were routine inquiries after her health. Because they were no longer young, she sometimes answered. He could tell that she was much improved, and now he did want very much to see her. From time to time he got off a sad petition to her woman Chunagon.

He summoned Chunagon's brother, the former governor of Izumi, and addressed him as if they were young adventurers again. "There is something I want very much to speak to your sister's lady about, Something confidential. You must arrange a secret interview. I no longer go off keeping lighthearted rendezvous, and I am sure that she is as careful as I am, and that we need not worry about being detected."

f But she answered sadly that she could not even consider receiving him. As she had gown in her understanding of the world she had come to see rather better that she had been badly treated. And what had they to talk about now, save regret that the Suzaku emperor was leaving them? Yes, a meeting might be kept secret -- but what was she to tell her own conscience?

She had welcomed his advances, however, back in the days when they had presented far greater difficulties. Though her solicitude for the Suzaku emperor, now off in his hermitage, was without doubt genuine, she could hardly say that she and Genji had been nothing to each other. She might now make a great thing of her chastity, but the telltale flock of birds, as the poet said, would not come back. He summoned his courage and hoped that he might rely for shelter on the grove of Shinoda.

"The Hitachi lady in the east lodge at Nijo has not been well," he said to Murasaki. "I have been too busy to look in on her, and I have been feeling guilty. It would not do to raise a great stir in the middle of the day. I think a quiet evening visit is what is called for, something no one even need know about."

She thought him improbably nervous about visiting a lady who had never meant a great deal to him. But a certain reserve had grown up between them and she let his explanation pass.

As for the Third Princess, he made do with an exchange of notes. He spent the whole day scenting his robes. It was well after dark when he set off with four or five close retainers. His carriage was a plain one covered with woven palm fronds, putting one in mind of his youthful exploits. The governor of Izumi had been sent ahead to announce his approach.

Oborozukiyo's women informed her in whispers, and she was aghast. "What can the governor have told him?"

"You must receive him politely, my lady, and send him on his way. You have no alternative."

Reluctantly, she had him shown in.

After inquiring about her health, he asked that intermediaries be dispensed with. "I will not object if you keep curtains between us, and I assure you that I am no longer the unthinking boy you once knew."

She sighed and came forward. So, in spite of everything, she was not completely unapproachable -- and they had known each other well enough that a certain excitement communicated itself through the barred door behind which she sat at the southeast corner of the west wing.

"Remember, please, that you have been in my thoughts for a sum of years which I can reckon up very easily. Do not be so girlish."

It was very late. The call of a waterfowl and the answering call of its mate were like reminders of the old affair. The house, once so crowded and noisy, was almost deserted. He could not be accused of wishing to imitate Heichu as he brushed away a tear. He spoke with a calm self-possession of which he would not earlier have been capable, and yet he rattled irritably at the door.

"So many years, and we meet at Meeting Barrier.
A barrier it remains, but not to my tears."
"Though tears may flow as the spring at Meeting Hill,
The road between us was long ago blocked off."
She knew that she was not being very friendly. Memories came back and she asked herself who had been chiefly responsible for their misfortunes. It was not wrong of him to want to see her. She had become more aware of her own inadequacies as she had come to know more of the world. In public life and in private the occasions for guilt and regret had been numberless and had turned her more and more strongly in upon herself. Now the old affair seemed suddenly very near, and she was not capable of treating him coldly. She seemed as young and engaging as ever, and her very great reticence gave her a charm as fresh as upon their first meeting. He found it very difficult to leave her. Birds were already singing in an unusually beautiful dawn. The cherry blossoms had fallen and new leaves were a pale green through morning mists. He remembered a wisteria party long ago, at just this time of the year. All the years since seemed to come flooding back at once.

Chunagon saw him off. He turned back as he started to leave.

"How can wisteria be so beautiful? Just see what a magical color it is -- and I must leave it."

The morning sun was now pouring over the hills. He had always been a dazzlingly handsome man, thought Chunagon, and the years had only improved him. Why could he and her lady not have come together? Life at court was difficult and constricting and her lady had not reached the highest position. Kokiden had insisted on having things her own way, and the scandal had served no purpose at all. Nothing had come of her lady's love for Genji.

Many things had still been left unsaid, but he was not master of his own movements. He feared prying eyes as the sun rose higher, and his men, who had had his carriage brought up to a gallery, were coughing politely but nervously. He had one of them break off a spray of wisteria.

"I have not forgotten the depths into which I plunged,
And now these waves of wisteria seek to engulf me."
Chunagon was very sorry for him, leaning against a balustrade in an attitude of utter dejection. Though even more fearful than he of being seen, Oborozukiyo felt constrained to answer.

"No waves at all of which to be so fearful.
My heart, unchastened, sends out waves to join them."
Genji regretted the harm his youthful heedlessness had done, and yet, perhaps encouraged by evidences that her gate was not very closely guarded, he took his leave only after she had promised to see him again. Why, after all, should he deny his feelings? She had been important to him, and the affair had been brief.

A very sleepy Genji returned to Rokujo. It was not hard for Murasaki to guess what had happened, but she gave no hint of her suspicions. Her silence was more effective than the most violent tantrum, and made Genji feel a little sorry for himself. Did she no longer care what he did? His avowals of undying love were more fervent than ever, and he so rejected the claims of secrecy, which he quite recognized, as to tell her a little of what had happened the night before. There had been a very short interview through screens, he said, and it had left him far from satisfied. He hoped that another might be arranged, so tastefully and discreetly that no one could reprove him for it.

A suggestion of a smile came to her lips. "Such a marvel of rejuvenation." But her voice trembled as she went on: "An ancient affair is superimposed on a new one, and I am caught beneath."

She was never lovelier than when on the verge of tears.

"Sulking is the one thing I cannot bear. Pinch me and beat me and pour out all your anger, but do not sulk. It is not what I trained you for."

And presently, it would seem, the whole story came forth.

He was in no hurry to visit the Third Princess. She did not seem to care a great deal whether he came or not, but her women were unhappy. If she had made trouble he would probably have been more worried about her than about Murasaki; but as it was she worried him no more than a pretty, harmless toy.

Genji's daughter, the crown princess, had not yet been permitted to come home from court. Young and pampered, she needed a rest, and as the warm weather came she began feeling unwell and thought it unkind of the crown prince not to let her go. Her condition was for the crown prince a most interesting and indeed exciting one. She was still very young, rather too young, people thought, to have children. Finally her request was granted and she came home to Rokujo.

She was given rooms on the east side of the main southeast hall, where the Third Princess was also living. Her mother, now blissfully happy, was with her.

Murasaki was to come calling. "Perhaps we might open the doors to the princess's rooms," she suggested to Genji, "and I can introduce myself. I have been looking for an occasion. I do want to be friendly, and I think it might please her."

Genji smiled. "Nothing could please me more. You will find her a mere child. Perhaps you can make us all happy by being her teacher."

As she sat before her minor she was less worried about the princess than about the Akashi lady. She washed her hair and brushed it carefully and took very great pains with her dress. Genji thought her incomparably lovely.

He went to the princess's rooms. "The lady in the east wing will be going to see the lady who has just come from court, and she has said that she thinks it a good opportunity for the two of you to become friends. I hope you will see her. She is a very good lady, and so young that you

"I'm sure I will be very tongue-tied. Tell me what to say."

"You will think of things. Just let the conversation take its course. You needn't feel shy."

He wanted the two of them to like each other. He was embarrassed that the princess should be so immature for her years, but very pleased that Murasaki had suggested a meeting.

And so she was being received in audience, thought Murasaki -- but was she really so much the princess's inferior? Genji had come upon her in unfortunate circumstances, and that was the main difference between them. Calligraphy was her great comfort when she was in low spirits. She would take up a brush and jot down old poems as they came to her, and the unhappiness in them would speak to her very directly.

Back from seeing the other two ladies, his daughter and his new wife

Genji was filled with wonder at this more familiar lady. They had been together for so many years, and here she was delighting him anew. She managed with no loss of dignity -- and it was a noble sort of dignity -- to be bright and humorous. He counted over the several aspects of beauty and found them here gathered together; and she was at her loveliest. But then she always seemed her loveliest, more beautiful each year than the year before, today than yesterday. It was her power of constant renewal that most filled him with wonder.

She slipped her jottings under an inkstone. He took them up. The writing was not perhaps her very best, but it had great charm and subtlety.

"I detect a change in the green upon the hills.
Is autumn coming to them? Is it coming to me?"
He wrote beside it, as if he too were at writing practice:

"No change do we see in the white of the waterfowl.
Not so constant the lower leaves of the _hagi_."
She might write of her unhappiness, but she did not let it show. He thought her splendid.

Free this evening of obligations at Rokujo, he decided to hazard another secret visit to Nijo. Self-loathing was not enough to overcome temptation.

To the crown princess, Murasaki was more like a mother than her real mother. Murasaki thought her even prettier than when they had last met. They talked with all the old ease and intimacy.

Murasaki then went to see the Third Princess. Yes indeed -- still very much a child. Murasaki addressed her in a motherly fashion and reminded her what close relatives they were.

She turned to the princess's nurse, Chunagon. "It will seem impertinent of me to say so, but we do after all 'wear the same garlands.' I have been very slow about introducing myself, I am afraid, but I will hope to see a great deal of you, and I hope too that you will let me know immediately of any derelictions and oversights of which I am guilty."

"You are very kind. My lady has been feeling rather disconsolate without her father, and nothing could be more comforting. It was his hope as he prepared to leave the world that you would not turn away from her, but would look upon her, still very much a child, as someone to educate and improve. My lady is being very quiet, but I know that she shares these hopes."

"Ever since the Suzaku emperor honored me with a letter I have wanted to do something; but I have found, alas, that I am capable of so very little."

Gently, she sought to draw the princess into conversation about illustrated romances and the like. Even at her age, she said, she still played with dolls. She left the princess feeling, in a childish, half-formed way, that this was a kind and gentle lady, not so old in heart and manner as to make a young person feel uncomfortable. Genji had been right. They frequently exchanged notes and from time to time Murasaki joined her in her games.

The world has an unpleasant way of gossiping about people in high places. How, everyone asked, was Murasaki responding to it all? Some lessening of Genji's affection seemed inevitable, and some loss of place and prestige. When it became clear beyond denying that his affection had if anything increased, there were those who said that he really ought to be nicer to his princess. Finally it became clear that the two ladies were getting on very well together, and the world had to look elsewhere for its gossip.

In the Tenth Month, Murasaki made offerings in Genji's honor, choosing a temple in Saga, to the west of the city. She had meant to respect his distaste for ceremony, but the images and sutras, the latter in wonderfully wrought boxes and covers, made one think of an earthly paradise. She commissioned a reading, very solemn and grand, of the sutras for the protection of the realm. The temple was a large one and the congregation was enormous and included most of the highest officials, in part, perhaps, because the fields and moors were at their autumn best. Already the carriages and horses sent up a wintry rustling through the dry grasses.

The other ladies at Rokujo also commissioned holy readings, each one seeking to outdo her fellows.

Genji ended his fast on the twenty-third. Unlike the other Rokujo ladies, Murasaki still thought of Nijo as her real home. It was there that she arranged a banquet. She herself saw to the arrangements, the festive dress and the like. The other ladies all volunteered their services. The occupants of the outer wings at Nijo were temporarily moved elsewhere and their rooms refitted to accommodate the important guests and their retinues, down to grooms and footmen. The chair of honor, decorated with mother-of-pearl, was put out on a porch before the main hall. Twelve wardrobe stands, on which were the usual summer and winter robes and quilts and spreads, were set out in the west room -- though the observer

was left to guess what might lie beneath the rich covers of figured purple.

Before the chair of honor were two tables spread with a Chinese silk of a gradually deeper hue towards the fringes. The ceremonial chaplet was on an aloeswood stand with flared legs and decorations in metal applique " gold birds in silver branches, designed by the Akashi lady and in very good taste indeed. The four screens behind, commissioned by Prince Hyobu, were excellent. Convention required landscapes of the four seasons, but he had been at pains to insure that they be more than routine. The array of treasures on four tiered stands along the north wall quite suited the occasion. The highest-ranking guests, the ministers and Prince Hyobu and the others, had seats near the south veranda of the main hall. As for the lower ranks, almost no one failed to appear. Awnings had been set out for the musicians in the garden, to the left and right of the dance platform. Gifts for the guests were laid out along the southeast verandas, viands in eighty boxes and robes in forty Chinese chests.

The musicians took their places in early afternoon. There were dances which one is not often privileged to see, "Myriad Years" and "The Royal Deer," and, as sunset neared, the Korean dragon dance, to flute and drum. Yugiri and Kashiwagi went out to dance the closing steps. The image of the two of them under the autumn leaves seemed to linger on long afterwards. For the older members of the audience it was joined to the image of a dance long before, "Waves of the Blue Ocean," at the Suzaku Palace, in the course of that memorable autumn excursion. In face and manner and general repute the sons seemed very little if at all inferior to the fathers. Indeed, their careers were advancing rather more briskly. And how many years had it been since that autumn excursion? That the friendship of the first generation should be repeated in the second told of very close ties from other worlds. Genji was in tears as memories flooded back.

In the evening the musicians withdrew along the lake and hillock. The white robes which Murasaki's stewards had given them from the Chinese chests were draped over their shoulders, and one thought of the white cranes that promise ten thousand years of life.

And now the guests began their own concert, and it too was very fine. The crown prince had provided the instruments, including a lute and a seven-stringed koto that had belonged to his father, the Suzaku emperor, all of them heirlooms with rich associations. It was long since Genji had last enjoyed such a concert, and each turn and phrase brought memories of his years at court. If only Fujitsubo had lived to permit him the pleasure of arranging just such a concert for her! He somehow felt that he had let her die without knowing what she had meant to him.

The emperor often thought of his mother, and his longing for her was intensified by the fact -- indeed it was the great unhappiness of his life-that he was unable to do filial honor to his real father. He had hoped that the festivities might accommodate another royal progress to Rokujo, but finally acceded to Genji's repeated orders that no one was to be inconvenienced.

Back at Rokujo towards the end of the year, Akikonomu arranged the final jubilee observances, readings at the seven great Nara temples and forty temples in and near the capital. To the former she sent forty bolts of cotton and to the latter four hundred double bolts of silk. She was much in Genji's debt, and never again would she have such an opportunity to show her gratitude. She wanted everything to be as her late mother and father would have had it; but since Genji's wish to avoid display had frustrated even the emperor's hopes, she limited herself to a small part of what she would have wished to do.

"I have seen it happen so often," said Genji. "People make a great thing of fortieth birthdays and promptly they die. Let us speak softly this time, and wait for something really memorable.

But she was, after all, empress, and what she arranged was inevitably magnificent. She was hostess at a banquet in the main hall of her southwest quarter, similar in most of its details to Murasaki's Nijo banquet. The gifts for the important guests were as at a state banquet. For royal princes there were sets of ladies' robes, very imaginatively chosen, and, after their several ranks, the other guests received white robes, also for ladies, and bolts of cloth. Among the fine old objects (it was like a display of the very finest) were some famous belts and swords which she had inherited from her father and which were so laden with memory that several of the guests were in tears. We have all read romances which list every gift and offering at such affairs, but I am afraid that they rather bore me; nor am I able to provide a complete guest list.

The emperor still wanted a part in the festivities. A general having resigned because of ill health, he proposed a special jubilee appointment for Yugiri. Genji replied that he was deeply grateful, and only hoped that Yugiri was not too young for the honor.

And so there was another banquet, this time in the northeast quarter, where Yugiri's foster mother, the lady of the orange blossoms, was in residence. It was to be a small, private affair, but like the others it took on magnificence quite of its own accord. Under the personal supervision of the imperial secretariat and upon royal command, supplies were brought from the palace granaries and storehouses. Five royal princes were among the guests, as were both of the ministers and ten councillors, two of the first and three of the middle rank. Neither the crown prince nor the Suzaku emperor was present, but they sent most of their personal aides, and the court attended en masse. By royal command, Tono Chujo, the chancellor, was also present, and he had earlier given his attention to the table settings and decorations. It was a very special honor, for which Genji was deeply grateful. He and Tono Chujo sat opposite each other in the main hall. Tono Chujo was a tall, strongly built man who carried himself with all the dignity of his high office. And Genji was still the shining Genji.

Again there were screens for the four seasons. The polychrome paintings, on figured Chinese silk of a delicate lavender, were very fine, of course, but the superscriptions, by the emperor himself, were superb. (Or did they so dazzle because one knew from whose hand they had come?) The imperial secretariat had provided tiered stands on which were arranged musical instruments and other treasures attesting to Yugiri's new eminence. Darkness was falling as forty guardsmen lined up forty royal horses for review. The dances, "Myriad Years" and "Our Gracious Monarch," were brief but by no means casual, for they did honor to the chancellor as royal emissary. Prince Hotaru took up his favored lute, and his mastery of the instrument was as always impressive. Genji chose a seven-stringed Chinese koto and the chancellor a Japanese koto. Genji had not heard his friend play in a very long time, and thought that he had improved. He kept back few of his own secret skills on the Chinese koto. There was talk of old times. They had been boyhood friends and there were new ties between them, and the cordiality could scarcely have been greater. The wine cups went the rounds time after time, the impromptu concert was an unmixed delight, and pleasant intoxication brought happy tears which no one tried very hard to hold back.

Genji gave Tono Chujo a fine Japanese koto, a Korean flute that was among his particular favorites, and a sandalwood book chest filled with Japanese and Chinese manuscripts. They were taken out to Tono Chujo's carriage as he prepared to leave. There was a Korean dance by officials of the Right Stables to signify grateful acceptance of the horses. Yugiri had gifts for the guardsmen. Once again Genji had asked that unnecessary display be avoided, but of course the emperor, the crown prince, the Suzaku emperor, and the empress were all very close to his house, and the splendor of the arrangements seemed in the end to have taken little account of his wishes.

He had only one son, but such a son, an excellent young man whom everyone admired, that he had little right to feel deprived. He thought again of the bitterness between the two mothers, Akikonomu's and Yugiri's, and the fierceness of their rivalry. Fate had unexpected ways of working itself out.

This time the lady of the orange blossoms chose the festive robes and the like, entrusting many of the details to Kumoinokari. She had always felt somehow left out of family gatherings, and she had been a little frightened at the prospect of receiving such an array of grandees. Here they were and here she was, and it was all because of Yugiri.

The New Year came and the crown princess's time drew near. There were continuous prayers at Nijo and services were commissioned at numerous shrines and temples. Remembering Aoi's last days, Genji was in terror. He had of course wanted Murasaki to have children, but at the same time he had been happy that she was spared the danger. The crown princess was very young and very delicate, a worry to everyone. She fell ill in the Second Month. The soothsayers ordered an immediate change of air. Not wanting to send her a great distance away, Genji moved her to the Akashi lady's northwest quarter. It had two large wings and several galler ies along which altars were put up. Prayers and incantations echoed solemnly through the quarter as famous and successful liturgists set about their work. The Akashi lady was perhaps the most apprehensive of all, for her whole past and future seemed to be coming up for judgment.

The birth of a great-grandchild was for the old Akashi nun a dream breaking in upon the slumbers of old age. She came immediately to the crown princess's side and refused to leave. The princess had of course known the company of her mother over the years, but the Akashi lady had had little to say of the past. And here was this old woman, obviously very happy, talking on and on in a tearful, quavering voice. At first the girl gazed at her in distaste and surprise, but then she remembered hints from her mother that there was such a person at Rokujo. Tears streaming from her eyes, the old nun told of Genji's stay on the Akashi coast and of the crown princess's birth.

"We were at wits' end when he left us and came back to the city. That was that, we said. Fate had been good to us up to a point and no further. But it brought you to redeem us all. Isn't that a lovely thought?"

The girl too was in tears. Without the old lady to tell her, she might never have learned of those sad events so long ago. She began to see that she had no right to consider herself better than her rivals. Murasaki had prepared her for the competition. Otherwise she would not have escaped their open contempt. She had thought herself the grandest of them all, far and away the grandest. The others had scarcely seemed worth the trouble of a sneer. And what must they have been thinking of her all the while! Now she knew the whole truth. She had known that her mother was not of the best lineage, but she had not known that she herself had been born in a remote corner of the provinces. How stupid of her not to have inquired! (One must join her in these reproaches. She really should have been more curious.) She had much to think about: the sad story of her grandmother, for instance, now quite cut off from the world.

Her mother found her lost in these painful thoughts. The liturgists, in small groups, had resoundingly begun their noonday rites. There were few women in immediate attendance on the princess. The old nun had quite taken charge of her.

"But can't you be just a little more careful? The wind is blowing a gale, and you might at least have had them bring something up to close the gaps in the curtains. And here you are hanging over her as if you were her doctor! Don't you know that old people are supposed to keep out of sight?"

Though the old nun must have realized that she had outdone herself, she only cocked her head to one side as if trying to hear a little better. She was not as old as her daughter's remarks suggested, only in her middle sixties. Her nun's habit was in very good taste. Her tearful countenance informed her daughter, who was not at all pleased, that she had been dwelling upon the past.

"I suppose she has been rambling on about things that happened a very long time ago. She has a way of remembering things that never happened at all. Sometimes it all seems like a fantastic dream."

She smiled down at the girl, who was very pretty and who seemed rather more pensive than usual. She could scarcely believe that anyone so charming could be her own daughter -- and the old nun would seem to have upset her with sad talk of the past. It had been the lady's intention to tell the whole story when the final goal was in sight. She doubted that anything the old nun had said could destroy the girl's confidence, but she saw all the same that the conversation had been unsettling.

The holy men having left, the Akashi lady brought in sweets and urged her daughter to take just a morsel. So beautiful and so gentle, the girl brought a new flood of tears from the old nun. A smile suddenly cut a great gap across the aged face, still shining with tears. The Akashi lady tried to signal that the effect was less than enchanting, but to no avail.

"Old waves come upon a friendly shore.
A nun's sleeves dripping brine -- who can object?
"It used to be the thing, or so I am told, to be tolerant of old people and their strange ways."

The crown princess took up paper and a brush from beside her inkstone.

"The weeping nun must take me over the waves
To the reed-roofed cottage there upon the strand."
Turning away to hide her own tears, the Akashi lady set down a poem beside it:

"An old man leaves the world, and in his heart
Is darkness yet, there on the Akashi strand."
How the princess wished that she could remember the morning of their departure!

For all the worry and confusion, the birth, towards the middle of the month, was easy. And the child was a boy. Genji was enormously pleased

This northwest quarter seemed rather cramped and secluded for the celebrations that would follow, though no doubt it was for the old nun "a friendly shore." The princess was soon moved back to the southeast quarter. Murasaki was with her, very beautiful, all in white, the baby in her arms as if she were its grandmother. She had no children of her own, nor had she ever before been present at a childbirth. It was all very new and wonderful. She kept the baby with her through the dangerous and troublesome early days. Quite giving over custody, the Akashi lady busied herself with arrangements for the natal bath. The crown prince was represented by his lady of honor, who watched the Akashi lady carefully and was most favorably impressed. She had known in a general way of the lady's circumstances and had thought how unfortunate it would be for the crown princess to be burdened with an unacceptable mother. Everything convinced her that the lady had been meant for high honors. Natal ceremonies should be familiar enough that I need not go into the details.

It was on the sixth day that the princess was moved back to the southeast quarter. Gifts and other provisions for the seventh-night ceremonies came from the palace. Perhaps because the Suzaku emperor, the little prince's grandfather, was in seclusion and could not do the honors, the emperor sent a secretary as his special emissary and with him gifts of unprecedented magnificence. The empress too sent gifts, robes and the like, more lavish than if the event had taken place at the palace, and princes and ministers seemed to have made the selection of gifts their principal work. No exhortations to frugality came from Genji this time. The pomp and splendor seem so to have dazzled the guests that they failed to notice the gentler, more courtly details that are really worth remembering.

"I have other grandchildren," said Genji, taking the little prince in his arms, "but my good son refuses to let me see them. And now I have this pretty little one to make up for his niggardliness." And indeed the child was pretty enough to justify all manner of boasting.

He grew rapidly, almost perceptibly, as if some mysterious force were giving him its special attention. The selection of nurses and maids had proceeded with great care and deliberation. Only cultivated women of good family were allowed near him.

The Akashi lady kept herself unobtrusively occupied. She knew when to stay in the background, and everyone thought her conduct unexceptionable. Murasaki saw her informally from time to time. Thanks to the little prince, the resentment of the earlier years had quite disappeared, and the Akashi lady was now among her more valued friends. Always fond of children, she made little guardian dolls for the child and more lighthearted playthings too. She seemed very young as she busied herself seeing to his needs.

It was the old nun, the baby's great-grandmother, who felt badly treated. The brief glimpse she had had, she said, threatened to kill her with longing.

The news reached Akashi, where an enlightened old man still had room in his heart for mundane joy. Now, he said to his disciples, he could withdraw from the world in complete peace and serenity. He turned his seaside house into a temple with fields nearby to support it, and appointed for his new retreat certain lands he had acquired deep in a mountainous part of the province, where no one was likely to disturb him. His seclusion would be complete. There would be no more letters and he would see no one. Various small concerns had held him back, and now, with gods native and foreign to give him strength, he would make his way into the mountains.

He had in recent years dispatched messengers to the city only on urgent business, and when a messenger came from his wife he would send back a very brief note. Now he got off a long letter to his daughter.

"Though we live in the same world, you and I, it has been as if I had been reborn in another. I have sent and received letters only on very rare occasions. Personal messages in intimate japanese are a waste of time, I have thought. They contribute nothing to and indeed distract from my devotions. I have been overjoyed all the same at news I have had of the girl's career at court. Now she is the mother of a little prince. It is not for me, an obscure mountain hermit, to claim credit or to seek glory at this late date, but I may say that you have been constantly on my mind, and in my prayers morning and night your affairs have taken precedence over my own trivial quest for a place in paradise.

"One night in the Second Month of the year you were born I had a dream. I supported the blessed Mount Sumeru in my right hand. To the left and right of the mountain the moon and the sun poured a dazzling radiance over the world. I was in the shadow of the mountain, not lighted by the radiance. The mountain floated up from a vast sea, and I was in a small boat rowing to the west. That was my dream.

"From the next day I began to have ambitions of which I should not have been worthy. I began to wonder what the extraordinary dream could signify for one like myself. Your good mother became pregnant. I did not cease looking through texts in the true Buddhist writ and elsewhere for an explanation of the dream. I came upon strong evidence that dreams are to be taken seriously, and, as I have said, I began to have ambitions that might have seemed wholly out of keeping with my lowly station. Your future became my whole life. I withdrew to the countryside because there was a limit to what I could do in the city. Not even the waves of old age, I resolved, would be permitted to sweep me back. I passed long years here by the sea because my hopes were in you. I made many secret vows in your behalf, and the time has now come to fulfill them. Because your daughter is to be mother to the nation you must make pilgrimages to Sumiyoshi and the other shrines. What doubts need we have? My very last wish for the girl is certain to be granted, and I know beyond doubt that it too will be granted, my prayer to be reborn in the highest circle of the paradise to the west of the ten million realms. I await the day when I am summoned to my place on the lotus. Until then I shall devote myself to prayers among clean waters and grasses deep in the mountains. To them I now shall go.

"The dawn is at hand. The radiance soon will pour forth.
I turn from it to speak of an ancient dream."
He had affixed the date, after which there was a postscript: "Do not be disturbed when my last day comes. Do not put on the mourning robes which have so long been customary. You must think of yourself as an avatar and offer a prayer or two, no more, for the repose of the soul of an aged monk. Do not, all the same, let the pleasures and successes of this world distract your attention from the other. We are certain to meet again in the realm to which we all seek admission. It will not be long, you must tell yourself, until we meet there on the far shore, having left these sullied shores behind us."

For his wife there was only a short note: "On the fourteenth I shall leave this grass hut behind and go off into the mountains. I shall give my useless self to the bears and wolves. Live on, and see our hopes to their conclusion. We shall meet in the radiant land."

The messenger, a priest, filled in some of the details. "The third day after he wrote the letter he went off into the mountains. We went with him as far as the foothills, where he made us turn back. Only a priest and two acolytes went on with him. I had thought when I saw him take his first vows that I knew the deepest possible sorrow, but still deeper sorrow lay ahead. He took up the koto and the lute that had kept him company through the years and played on them one last time, and when he said his last prayers in the chapel he left them there. He left most of his other personal possessions there too, after choosing several mementos, in keeping with our several ranks, for us who had joined him in taking holy orders. There were about sixty of us, all very close to him. The rest of his things have come to you here. And so we saw him off into the clouds and mists, and mourn for him in the house he left behind."

The messenger had gone to Akashi as a boy. Still in Akashi, he was now an old man. It is not likely that he exaggerated his account of the sorrow and loneliness.

The most enlightened disciples of the Buddha himself, converted by the Hawk Mountain Sermon, were plunged into grief when finally the flame of his life went out. The old nun's grief was limitless.

The Akashi lady slipped away from the southeast quarter when she heard what sort of letter had come. Her new eminence made it impossible for her to see as much of her mother as in earlier years, but she had to find out for herself what sad news had come. The old nun seemed heartbroken. The lady had a lamp brought near and read the letter, and she too was soon weeping helplessly.

She thought of little things that had happened over the years, things that could have meant nothing to anyone else, and her longing for her father was intense. She would not see him again. She now understood: he had put his faith in a dream as the true and sacred word. It had become an obsession, and a source of great unhappiness and embarrassment for the lady herself. She had feared at times that she might go mad -- and now she saw that the cause of it all was one insubstantial dream.

The old nun at length controlled her weeping. "Because of you, we have had blessings and honors quite beyond anything we deserved. The sorrows and trials have been large in proportion. Though I certainly was not a person of any great distinction, I thought that our decision to leave the familiar city and live in Akashi was itself somehow a mark of distinction. I did not expect that I would be as I am now, a widow and not a widow. I had thought that we would be together in this world and that we would share the same lotus in the next world, where my chief hopes lay. Then your own life took that extraordinary turn and I was back in a city I thought I had left forever. I was happy for you and I grieved for him. And now I learn that we are not to meet again. Everyone thought him a very eccentric and unsociable man even before he left court, but two young strong. We had faith in each other. We are still almost within calling distance of each other, and we are kept apart. Why should it be?" The old lady's face was twisted with grief.

Her daughter too was weeping bitterly. "What good are promises of great things? I do not consider myself worthy of any great honors, but it does seem too sad that he should end his days like a forgotten exile. It is easy to say that what must be must be. He has gone off into those wild mountains, and we cannot any of us be sure how long we will live. It all seems so empty and useless."

They gave the night over to sad talk.

"Genji knows that I was in the southeast quarter last night," said the lady. "I am afraid he will think it rude and selfish of me to have come away without leave. I do not care about myself, but I have her to think of." She returned at dawn.

"And how is the baby?" asked her mother. "Don't you suppose they might let me see him?"

"Oh, I am sure of it. You'll see him before long. The princess speaks very fondly of you, and Genji remarked by way of something or other that if things go well -- it was inviting bad luck to make distant predictions, he said, but if things go well he hopes that you will be here to enjoy them. I cannot be sure, of course, what he had in mind."

The old lady smiled. "There you have it. For better or for worse, I seem to have been meant for peculiar things."

The Akashi lady had someone take the letter box to the southeast quarter.

The crown prince was impatient to have the princess back at court. There were repeated summonses.

"I quite understand," said Murasaki. "Such a happy event, and he is being left out of it." She got the baby ready for a quiet visit to his father.

The princess had hoped for a longer stay at Rokujo. She was seldom permitted to leave court, and it had been a frightening experience for so young a lady. She was even prettier for the loss of weight.

"You have been kept so busy," said her mother. "You need a good, quiet rest."

"But I think he should see her before she begins putting on weight again," said Genji. "He is sure to like her even better."

In the evening, when Murasaki had returned to her wing of the house and the crown princess's rooms were quiet, the lady spoke to her daughter of the box that had come from Akashi. "I should wait until everything is completely in order, I suppose, and all our hopes have been realized But life is uncertain and I may die, and I am not of such rank that I can be sure of a final interview. It seems best to tell you of these trivialities while I still have my wits about me. You will find that his vows are in a cramped and ugly hand, I fear, but do please glance over them. Keep them in a drawer beside you, and when the time seems right go over them again and see that all the promises are kept. Do not, please, speak of them to anyone who is not likely to understand. Now that your affairs seem in order, I too should think of leaving the world. I somehow feel that time is running out. Do not -- and this I most genuinely beg of you -- do not ever let anything come between you and the lady in the east wing. I have come to know what an extraordinarily gentle and thoughtful person she is and I pray that she will live a much longer life than l. It was clear from the outset that I would only do you harm by being with you, and so I let her have you. I worried, of course, because stepmothers are not famous for their kindness, but I finally came to see that I had nothing to worry about."

It had been for her a long speech. She had always been very formal even with her daughter. The girl was in tears. The old man's letter was indeed difficult. The five or six sheets of furrowed Michinoku paper were stiff and discolored with age, but they had been freshly scented. She turned half away. Her hair, now shining with tears, framed a lovely profile.

Genji came in from the Third Princess's rooms. There was no time to hide the letter, but the lady pulled up a curtain frame and half hid herself.

"And is he awake? I want to rush back for another look at him when I have been away even a few minutes."

The princess did not answer. Murasaki had taken the child, said her mother.

"You must not let her monopolize it. She is always carrying it around and so she is always having to change to dry clothes. She can come here if she wants to see it."

"You are being unkind, and I do not think you have thought things through very carefully. I would have no doubts at all about letting her take a little girl off with her, and we can be much bolder with little boys even when they are princes. Is it your wise view that the two of them should be kept apart?"

"I shall defer to your wiser view, though not before protesting your treatment of me. I have no doubt that I am a pompous old fool, but you need not make me so aware of that fact by leaving me out of things and talking behind my back. I have no doubt that you say the most dreadful things about me."

He pulled aside the curtain and found her leaning against a pillar, dignified and elegantly dressed. The box was beside her. She had not wished to attract his attention to it by pushing it out of sight.

"And what is this? Something of profound significance, no doubt. An endless poem from a lovelorn gentleman, all locked up in a strong box?"

"Again you are being unkind. You seem very young these days, and sometimes your humor is beyond the reach of the rest of us."

She was smiling, but it was clear that something had saddened her. He was so openly curious, his head cocked inquiringly to one side, that she thought an explanation necessary.

"My father has sent a list of prayers and vows from his cave in Akashi. He thought that I might perhaps ask you to look at them sometime. But not quite yet, I think, if you don't mind."

"I can only imagine how hard he has worked at his devotions and what enormous wisdom and grace he must have accumulated over the years. I sometimes hear of a priest who has made a most awesome name for himself, and find on looking into the matter a little more closely that he still smells rather strongly of the world. Erudition is not enough, and in the matter of sheer dedication and concentration your father is, I am sure, ahead of all the others, and besides his learning and wisdom he has a feeling for the gentler things. And through it all he is a very modest man who makes no great show of his virtues. I thought when I knew him that he did not live in the same world as the rest of us, and now he is throwing off the last traces of our world and finding true liberation. How I would love to go off and have a quiet talk with him!"

"I am told that he has left the seacoast and gone off into mountains so deep that no birds fly singing overhead."

"And this is his last will and testament? Have you had a letter from him? And your mother -- what does she think of it all?" His voice trembled. "The bond between husband and wife is often stronger than that between parent and child. As the years have gone by and I have come to know a little of the world, I have felt strangely near him. I can only try to imagine what that stronger bond must be."

The part about the dream, she thought, might interest him. "It is in an outlandish hand -- it might almost be Sanskrit. Perhaps certain passages might be worth glancing at. I thought I was saying goodbye to it all, but there are some things, it would seem, that I did not after all leave behind."

"It is a fine hand, still very young and strong." In tears, he lingered over the description of the dream. "He is a very learned and a very talented man, and all that has been lacking is a certain political sense, a flair for making his way ahead in the world. There was a minister in your family, an extremely earnest and intelligent man, I have always heard. People who speak of him in such high terms have always asked what misstep may have been responsible for bringing his line to an end -- though of course we have you, and even though you are a lady we cannot say that his line has come to a complete end. No doubt your father's piety and devotion are being rewarded."

The old man had been thought impossibly eccentric and wholly unrealistic in his ambitions. Genji had been in bad conscience about the d ole Akashi episode. The crown princess's birth had seemed to tell of a bond from a former life, but the future had seemed very uncertain all the same. He now saw how much that one fragile dream had meant to the old man. It had fed the apparently wild ambition to have Genji as a son-inlaw. Genji had suffered in exile, it now seemed, that the crown princess might be born. And what sort of vows might the old man have made? Respectfully, he looked through the contents of the box.

"I have papers that might go with them," he said to his daughter. "I must show them to you." After a time he continued: "Now you know the truth, or most of it, I should think. You are not to let what you have learned make any difference in your relations with the lady in the east wing. A little kindness or a word of affection from an outsider can sometimes mean more than all the natural affection between husband and wife or parent and child. And in her case it has been far more. She took responsibility for you when she saw that everything was already in perfectly capable hands, and her affection has not wavered. The wise ones of the world have always taken it upon themselves to see that we are aware of pretense. There may be stepmothers, they tell us, who seem kind and well-meaning, but this is the worst sort of pretense. But even when a stepmother does in fact have sinister intentions a child can sometimes overcome them by the simple device of not seeing them, of behaving with quite open and unfeigned affection. What a horrid person she has been, says the stepmother of herself, and so she resolves to do better. There are basic and ancient hostilities, of course, that nothing can overcome, but most disagreements are the result of no great wrongdoing on either side. All that is needed for reconciliation is an acceptance of that fact. The most tiresome thing is to raise a great stir over nothing, to fume and complain when the sensible thing would have been to look the other way. I cannot pretend that my observations have been very wide and diverse, but I would give it to you as my conclusion that there is a level of competence to which most of us can attain and which is quite high enough. We all have our strong points -- or in any event I have never myself seen anyone with none at all. Yet when you are looking for someone to fill your whole life there are not many who seem right. For me there has been the lady in the east wing, the perfect partner in everything. And it is unfortunately the case that even a lady of the most unassailable birth can sometimes seem a little wispy and undependable. "He left her to guess whom he might have in mind.

Speaking now in softer tones, he turned to the Akashi lady. "I know that your discernment and understanding leave nothing to be desired. The two of you must be the best of friends as you look after our princess here. "

"You need not even say it. I have been only too aware of her kindness, and I am always speaking of it. She could so easily have taken my presence as an affront and had nothing to do with me, but in fact her kindness has been almost embarrassing. It is she who has covered my inadequacies."

"No very special kindness on her part, I should say. She has wanted to have someone with the girl, and that is all. You have not chosen to stand on your rights as a mother and that has helped a great deal. I have nothing to complain or worry about. It is amazing the damage that obtuseness and ill temper can do, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that these lamentable qualities are alien to both of you.

He went back to the east wing, and the Akashi lady was left to meditate upon the interview. Yes, modesty and self-effacement had brought their rewards. As for Murasaki, she seemed to claim more and more of his attention, and her charms and attainments were such that one could not be surprised or wish it otherwise. His relations with the Third Princess seemed quite correct, and yet something was missing. He did not visit her as frequently as might have been expected -- and she was after all a princess. She and Murasaki were very closely related, though her standing was perhaps just a little the higher. How sad for her. But ill of this the Akashi lady kept to herself. She did not gossip and she did not complain. She knew that she had done very well. Things did not always go ideally well for princesses even, and she was certainly no princess. Her only sorrow was for her father, now off in the mountain wilds. As for the old nun, she put her faith in "the seed that falls upon good ground." She gave up thoughts of this world for thoughts of the next.

The Third Princess had not been beyond Yugiri's reach, and her marriage to Genji and her presence so close at hand had an unsettling effect on him. Performing this and that routine service for her, he was coming to see what sort of lady she was. She was very young and rather quiet, and that was all. Genji seemed determined to do what the world expected of him, but it was hard to believe that she really interested him very much. Nor did there seem to be women of substance among her attendants. Yugiri thought them a flock of pretty young things forever preening themselves and chatting and playing games. It was a happy enough household, but if it contained women of a serious, meditative bent the outsider did not see them. The most melancholy of women would have been painted over with the same cheerful brush. Genji might not be enormously pleased at the sight of all these little girls at their games the whole day through, but he was by nature neither an uncharitable man nor a reformer, and he did not interfere. He did, however, give some attention to training the princess herself, and she was beginning to seem a little less heedless and immature.

Not many women, thought Yugiri, were perfect. Only Murasaki had over the years seemed beyond criticism. She had quietly lived her own life and no scandal had touched her. She had treated no one maliciously or arrogantly, and had herself always been a model of graceful and courtly demeanor. He could not forget the one glimpse he had had of her. Kumoinokari, his own wife, was certainly pretty and pleasing enough, but she was in a way rather ordinary. She was without strong traits or remarkable accomplishments. Now that he had no more worries in that quarter he found his excitement waning and his interest moving back to Rokujo, where so many fine ladies, each outstanding in her way, were gathered together. The Third Princess's pedigree was certainly the finest, but it seemed equally certain that Genji gave her a lower rating as a person than some of the others and was but keeping up appearances. Yugiri was not exactly consumed with longing and curiosity, but he did hope that he might sometime have a glimpse of her too.

A frequenter of the Suzaku Palace, Kashiwagi had known all about the Third Princess and the Suzaku emperor's worries. He had offered himself as a candidate for her hand. His candidacy had not been dismissed, and then, suddenly and to his very great disappointment, she had gone to Genji. He still could not reconcile himself to what had happened. He seems to have taken some comfort in exchanging reports with women whom he had known in her maiden days. He of course heard what everyone else heard, that she was no great competitor for Genji's affection.

He was forever complaining to Kojiju, her nurse's daughter. "I am much beneath her, I know, but I would have made her happy. I know of course that she was meant for someone far grander."

Nothing in this world is permanent, and Genji might one day make up his mind to leave it. Kashiwagi kept after Kojiju.

Prince Hotaru and Kashiwagi came calling at Rokujo one pleasant day in the Third Month. Genji received them.

"Life is quiet these days, and rather dull, I fear. My affairs public and private go almost too smoothly. So how shall we amuse ourselves today? Yugiri is devoted to that small-bow of his, and never misses a chance to take it out, and that would be a possibility. Where might he be? He had a collection of eminent young archers with him. Was he so unwise as to let them go?" He was told that Yugiri and his friends, a large band of them, were at football in the northeast quarter. "Not a very genteel pastime, perhaps, but something to wake you up and keep you on the alert. Send for him, please."

The summons was delivered and Yugiri came bringing numbers of young gentlemen with him.

"Did you bring your ball? And who are all of you?"

Yugiri gave the names.

"Fine. Let us see what you can do."

The crown princess and her baby had gone back to the palace. Genji was in her rooms, now almost deserted. The garden was level and open here the brooks came together. It seemed both a practical and an elegant Tono Chujo's sons, Kashiwagi and the rest, some grown men and some still boys, rather dominated the gathering. The day was a fine, windless one. It was late afternoon. Kobai at first seemed to stand on his dignity, but he quite lost himself in the game as it gathered momentum.

"Just see the effect it has on civil office," said Genji. "I would expect you guardsmen to be jumping madly about and letting your commissions fall where they may. I was always among the spectators myself, and now I genuinely wish I had been more active. Though as I have said it may not be the most genteel pursuit in the world."

Taking their places under a fine cherry in full bloom, Yugiri and Kashiwagi were very handsome in the evening light. Genji's less than genteel sport -- such things do happen -- took on something of the elegance of the company and the place. Spring mists enfolded trees in various stages of bud and bloom and new leaf. The least subtle of games does have its skills and techniques, and each of the players was determined to show what he could do. Though Kashiwagi played only briefly, he was clearly the best of them all. He was handsome but retiring, intense and at the same time lively and expansive. Though the players were now under the cherry directly before the south stairs, they had no eye for the blossoms. Genji and Prince Hotaru were at a corner of the veranda.

Yes, there were many skills, and as one inning followed another a certain abandon was to be observed and caps of state were pushed rather far back on noble foreheads. Yugiri could permit himself a special measure of abandon, and his youthful spirits and vigor were infectious. He had on a soft white robe lined with red. His trousers were gently taken in at the ankles, but by no means untidy. He seemed very much in control of himself despite the abandon, and cherry petals fell about him like a flurry of snow. He broke off a twig from a dipping branch and went to sit on the stairs.

"How quick they are to fall," said Kashiwagi, coming up behind him. "We much teach the wind to blow wide and clear."

He glanced over toward the Third Princess's rooms. They seemed to be in the usual clutter. The multicolored sleeves pouring from under the blinds and through openings between them were like an assortment of swatches to be presented to the goddess of spring.
Only a few paces from him a woman had pushed her curtains carelessly aside and looked as if she might be in a mood to receive a gentleman's addresses. A Chinese cat, very small and pretty, came running out with a larger cat in pursuit. There was a noisy rustling of silk as several women pushed forward to catch it. On a long cord which had become badly tangled, it would not yet seem to have been fully tamed. As it sought to free itself the cord caught in a curtain, which was pulled back to reveal the women behind. No one, not even those nearest the veranda, seemed to notice. They were much too worried about the cat.

A lady in informal dress stood just inside the curtains beyond the second pillar to the west. Her robe seemed to be of red lined with lavender, and at the sleeves and throat the colors were as bright and varied as a book of paper samples. Her cloak was of white figured satin lined with red. Her hair fell as cleanly as sheaves of thread and fanned out towards the neatly trimmed edges some ten inches beyond her feet. In the rich billowing of her skirts the lady scarcely seemed present at all. The white profile framed by masses of black hair was pretty and elegant -- though unfortunately the room was dark and he could not see her as well in the evening light as he would have wished. The women had been too delighted with the game, young gentlemen heedless of how they scattered the blossoms, to worry about blinds and concealment. The lady turned to look at the cat, which was mewing piteously, and in her face and figure was an abundance of quiet, unpretending young charm.

Yugiri saw and strongly disapproved, but would only have made matters worse by stepping forward to lower the blind. He coughed warningly. The lady slipped out of sight. He too would have liked to see more, and he sighed when, the cat at length disengaged, the blind fell back into place. Kashiwagi's regrets were more intense. It could only have been the Third Princess, the lady who was separated from the rest of the company by her informal dress. He pretended that nothing had happened, but Yugiri knew that he had seen the princess, and was embarrassed for her. Seeking to calm himself, Kashiwagi called the cat and took it up in his arms. It was delicately perfumed. Mewing prettily, it brought the image of the Third Princess back to him (for he had been ready to fall in love).

"This is no place for our young lordships to be wasting their time," said Genji. "Suppose we go inside." He led the way to the east wing, where he continued his conversation with Prince Hotaru.

Still excited from the game, the younger men found places on the veranda, where they were brought simple refreshments, pears and oranges and camellia cakes, and wine and dried fish and the like to go with it.

Kashiwagi was lost in thought. From time to time he would look vacantly up at the cherries.

Yugiri thought he understood. His friend must agree, he was also thinking, that it was unseemly for so fine a lady to step forward into such an exposed position. Murasaki would never have been so careless. Yugiri could see, he feared, why Genji's esteem for the princess seemed to fall rather short of that of the world in general. This childlike insouciance was no doubt charming, but it might cause trouble.

Kashiwagi was not thinking about the princess's defects. He had seen her accidentally and very briefly, to be sure, but he had most certainly seen her. He was telling himself that there had to be a bond between them and that the steadfastness of his devotion was being rewarded.

"Tono Chujo and I were always in competition," said Genji, in a reminiscent mood, "and football was the one thing I never succeeded in besting him at. It may seem flippant to speak of a football heritage, but I really believe that there must be such a thing, unusual talent handed down in a family. You quite dazzled us, sir."

Kashiwagi smiled. "I doubt that the honor will mean very much to our descendants."

"Surely you are wrong. Everything that is genuinely outstanding deserves to be chronicled. This would be a most interesting and edifying item for a family chronicle."

Kashiwagi was wondering what sort of charms would be required to impress the wife of a man so youthful and handsome, to win her pity and sympathy. He was overwhelmed by sudden and hopeless feelings of inferiority.

He and Yugiri left in the same carriage.

"We were right to pay our visit," said Yugiri. "I fear the poor man is bored. We must find time for another before the blossoms have fallen. Do come again and bring your bow with you, and help us enjoy the last of the spring."

They agreed upon a day.

"I gather that your father spends most of his time in the east wing. His regard for the lady there seems really extraordinary." And Kashiwagi went on to say perhaps more than he should have. "What effect do you suppose it has on the Third Princess? She has always been her father's favorite. It must be a new experience for her."

"Nonsense. It is true that the lady in the east wing has a rather particular place in his life, but that is because he took her in when she was still a child. But he is very good to the princess."

"You needn't try to distort the facts. I know quite well enough what they are. People tell me that she has a sad time of it. Nothing in her background can have prepared her.

"The generous warbler, moving from tree to tree,
Neglects the cherry alone among them all."
And he added softly: "And the cherry, among them all, seems right for the bird of spring."

This seemed downright impertinent, though Yugiri did think he understood his friend's reasons.

"The cuckoo building its nest in mountain depths
Does not, be assured, neglect the cherry blossom.
"Surely, sir, you are not asking that he give her the whole of his attention?"

Wishing to hear no more, he changed the subject, and presently they went their separate ways.

Kashiwagi still lived alone in the east wing of his father's mansion. He had had his hopes, and though he remained a bachelor by his own choice he was sometimes bored and unhappy. He was good enough, he had still been able to tell himself, to have the lady he wanted if he only waited long enough. But now he was in anguish. When might he again see the Third Princess, even as briefly as on the evening of the football match? A lesser lady might have found an excuse for leaving the house, a taboo or something of the sort. But she was a princess, and he must contrive to send

word of his longing through thick walls and curtains.

He settled upon the usual note to Kojiju. "The winds the other day blew me in upon your premises, to increase your lady's hostility, no doubt. Since that evening I have been in deep despondency. I brood my days away for no good reason.

"The trees of sorrow seem denser from near at hand,

And my yearning grows for those blossoms in the twilight."

Not knowing what "blossoms in the twilight" he had reference to, Kojiju thought him a very moody young man indeed.

Choosing a time when the princess had few people with her, she delivered the note. "He seems a rather sticky sort," she smiled. "I do not know why I take him seriously."

"Aren't you funny," said the princess, glancing at the note, which Kojiju had opened for her.

Immediately recognizing the allusion and the incident upon which it was based, she flushed scarlet. And she thought of something else, how Genji was always reproving her for just such carelessness.

"You must not let Yugiri see you," he would say. "You are very young and you may not pay a great deal of attention to these things. But you really should."

She was terrified. Had Yugiri seen and told Genji? Would Genji scold her? She was indeed a child, that fear of Genji should come first.

Finding her lady even more unresponsive than usual, Kojiju did not press the matter. When she was alone she got off the usual sort of answer in a flowing, casual hand.

"Away you went, so very coolly. I was incensed. And what do you mean by suggesting that you see poorly? These innuendos are almost insulting.

"Do not let it be known, I pray of you,
That your eye has fallen on the mountain cherry.
"It will never do, never."

 

 

Chapter 35

New Herbs



Kojiju's answer was not unreasonable, and yet it seemed rather brusque. Was there to be nothing more? Might he not hope for some word from the princess herself? He seemed in danger of doing grave disservice to Genji, whom he so liked and admired.

On the last day of the Third Month there was a large gathering at the Rokujo mansion. Kashiwagi did not want to attend, but presently decided that he might feel a little less gloomy under the blossoms where the Third Princess lived. There was to have been an archery meet in the Second Month, but it had been canceled, and in the Third Month the court was in retreat. Everyone was always delighted to hear that something was happening at Rokujo. The two generals, Higekuro and Yugiri, were of course present, both of them being very close to the Rokujo house, and all their subordinates were to be present as well. It had been announced as a competition at kneeling archery, but events in standing archery were also included, so that several masters of the sport who were to be among the competitors might show their skills. The bowmen were assigned by lot to the fore and after sides. Evening came, and the last of the spring mists seemed somehow to resent it. A pleasant breeze made the guests even more reluctant to leave the shade of the blossoms. It may have been that a few of them had had too much to drink.

"Very fine prizes," said someone. "They show so nicely the tastes of the ladies who chose them. And who really wants to see a soldier battering a willow branch with a hundred arrows in a row? We much prefer a mannerly meet of the sort we are here being treated to."

The two generals, Higekuro and Yugiri, joined the other officers in the archery court. Kashiwagi seemed very thoughtful as he took up his bow. Yugiri noticed and was worried. He could not, he feared, tell himself that the matter did not concern him. He and Kashiwagi were close friends, alive to each other's moods as friends seldom are. One of them knew immediately when the smallest shadow had crossed the other's spirits.

Kashiwagi was afraid to look at Genji. He knew that he was thinking forbidden thoughts. He was always concerned to behave with complete correctness and much worried about appearances. What then was he to make of so monstrous a thing as this? He thought of the princess's cat and suddenly longed to have it for himself. He could not share his unhappiness with it, perhaps, but he might be less lonely The thought became an obsession. Perhaps he could steal it -- but that would not be easy

He visited his sister at court, hoping that she would help him forget his woes. She was an extremely prudent lady who allowed him no glimpse of her. It did seem odd that his own sister should be so careful to keep up the barriers when the Third Princess had let him see her; but his feelings did not permit him to charge her with loose conduct.

He next called on the crown prince, the Third Princess's brother. There must, he was sure, be a family resemblance. No one could have called the crown prince devastatingly handsome, but such eminence does bestow a certain air and bearing. The royal cat had had a large litter of kittens, which had been put out here and there. One of them, a very pretty little creature, was scampering about the crown prince's rooms. Kashiwagi was of course reminded of the Rokujo cat.

"The Third Princess has a really fine cat. You would have to go a very long way to find its rival. I only had the briefest glimpse, but it made a deep impression on me."

Very fond of cats, the crown prince asked for all the details. Kashiwagi perhaps made the Rokujo cat seem more desirable than it was.

"It is a Chinese cat, and Chinese cats are different. All cats have very much the same disposition, I suppose, but it does seem a little more affectionate than most. A perfectly charming little thing."

The crown prince made overtures through the Akashi princess and presently the cat was delivered. Everyone was agreed that it was a very superior cat. Guessing that the crown prince meant to keep it, Kashiwagi waited a few days and paid a visit. He had been a favorite of the Suzaku emperor's and now he was close to the crown prince, to whom he gave lessons on the koto and other instruments.

"Such numbers of cats as you do seem to have. Where is my own special favorite?"

The Chinese cat was apprehended and brought in. He took it in his arms.

"Yes, it is a handsome beast," said the crown prince, "but it does not seem terribly friendly. Maybe it is not used to us. Do you really think it so superior to our own cats?"

"Cats do not on the whole distinguish among people, though perhaps the more intelligent ones do have the beginnings of a rational faculty. But just look at them all, such swarms of cats and all of them such fine ones. Might I have the loan of it for a few days?"

He was afraid that he was being rather silly. But he had his cat. He kept it with him at night, and in the morning would see to its toilet and pet it and feed it. Once the initial shyness had passed it proved to be a most affectionate animal. He loved its way of sporting with the hem of his robe or entwining itself around a leg. Sometimes when he was sitting at the veranda lost in thought it would come up and speak to him.

"What an insistent little beast you are." He smiled and stroked its back. "You are here to remind me of someone I long for, and what is it you long for yourself? We must have been together in an earlier life, you and I."

He looked into its eyes and it returned the gaze and mewed more emphatically. Taking it in his arms, he resumed his sad thoughts.

"Now why should a cat all of a sudden dominate his life?" said one of the women. "He never paid much attention to cats before."

The crown prince asked to have the cat back, but in vain. It had become Kashiwagi's constant and principal companion.

Tamakazura still felt closer to Yugiri than to her brothers and sisters. She was a sensitive and affectionate lady and when he came calling she received him without formality. He particularly enjoyed her company because his sister, the crown princess, rather put him off. Higekuro was devoted to his new wife and no longer saw his old wife, Prince Hyobu's daughter. Since Tamakazura had no daughters, he would have liked to bring Makibashira into the house, but Prince Hyobu would not hear of it. Makibashira at least must not become a laughingstock. Prince Hyobu was a highly respected man, one of the emperor's nearest advisers, and no request of his was refused. A vigorous man with lively modern tastes, he stood so high in the general esteem that he was only less in demand than Genji and Tono Chujo. It was commonly thought that Higekuro would be equally important one day. People were of course much interested in his daughter, who had many suitors. The choice among them would be Prince Hyobu's to make. He was interested in Kashiwagi and thought it a pity that Kashiwagi should be less interested in Makibashira than in his cat. She was a bright, modern sort of girl. Because her mother was still very much at odds with the world, she turned more and more to Tamakazura, her stepmother.

Prince Hotaru was still single. The ladies he had so energetically courted had gone elsewhere. He had lost interest in romantic affairs and did not want to invite further ridicule. Yet bachelorhood was too much of a luxury. He let it be known that he was not uninterested in Makibashira.

"I think he would do nicely," said Prince Hyobu. "People generally say that the next-best thing after sending a daughter to court is finding a prince for her. I think it rather common and vulgar, the rush these days to marry daughters off to mediocrities who have chiefly their seriousness to recommend them." He accepted Prince Hotaru's proposal without further ado.

Prince Hotaru was somewhat disappointed. He had expected more of a challenge. Makibashira was not a lady to be spurned, however, and it was much too late to withdraw his proposal. He visited her and was received with great ceremony by Prince Hyobu's household.

"I have many daughters," said Prince Hyobu, "and they have caused me nothing but trouble. You might think that by now I would have had enough. But Makibashira at least I must do something for. Her mother is very odd and only gets odder. Her father has not been allowed to manage her affairs and seems to want no part of them. It is all very sad for her."

He supervised the decorations and went to altogether more trouble than most princes would have thought necessary.

Prince Hotaru had not ceased to grieve for his dead wife. He had hoped for a new wife who looked exactly like her. Makibashira was not unattractive, but she did not resemble the other lady. Perhaps it was because of disappointment that he so seldom visited her.

Prince Hyobu was surprised and unhappy. In her lucid moments, the girl's mother could see what was happening, and sigh over their sad fate, hers and her daughter's. Higekuro, who had been opposed to the match from the outset, was of course very displeased. It was as he had feared and half expected. Prince Hotaru had long been known for a certain looseness and inconstancy. Now that she had evidence so near at hand, Tamakazura looked back to her maiden days with a mixture of sadness and amusement, and wondered what sort of troubles Genji and Tono Chujo would now be facing if she had accepted Hotaru's suit. Not that she had had much intention of doing so. She had seemed to encourage him only because of his very considerable ardor, and it much shamed her to think that she might have seemed even a little eager. And now her stepdaughter was his wife. What sort of things would he be telling her? But she did what she could for the girl, whose brothers were in attendance on her as if nothing had gone wrong.

Prince Hotaru for his part had no intention of abandoning her, and he did not at all like what her sharp-tongued grandmother was saying.

"One marries a daughter to a prince in the expectation that he will give her his undivided attention. What else is there to make up for the fact that he does not amount to much?"

"This seems a bit extreme," said Prince Hotaru, missing his first wife more than ever. "I loved her dearly, and yet I permitted myself an occasional flirtation on the side, and I do not remember that I ever had to listen to this sort of thing."

He withdrew more and more to the seclusion of his own house, where he lived with memories.

A year passed, and two years. Makibashira was reconciled to her new life. It was the marriage she had made for herself, and she did not complain.

And more years went by, on the whole uneventfully. The reign was now in its eighteenth year.

The emperor had no sons. He had long wanted to abdicate and had not kept the wish a secret. "A man never knows how many years he has ahead of him. I would like to live my own life, see the people I want to see and do what I want to do."

After some days of a rather painful indisposition he suddenly abdicated. It was a great Pity, everyone said, that he should have taken the step while he was still in the prime of life; but the crown prince was now a grown man and affairs of state passed smoothly into his hands.

Tono Chujo submitted his resignation as chancellor and withdrew to the privacy of his own house. "Nothing in this world lasts forever," he said, "and when so wise an emperor retires no one need have any regrets at seeing an old graybeard turn in his badge and keys."

Higekuro became Minister of the Right, in effective charge of the government. His sister would now be the empress-mother if she had lived long enough. She had not been named empress and she had been overshadowed by certain of her rivals. The eldest son of the Akashi princess was named crown prince. The designation was cause for great rejoicing, though no one was much surprised. Yugiri was named a councillor of the first order. He and the new minister were the closest of colleagues and the best of friends.

Genji lamented in secret that the abdicated emperor, who now moved into the Reizei Palace, had no sons. Genji's worries had passed and his great sin had gone undetected, and he stood in the same relationship to the crown prince as he would have stood to a Reizei son. Yet he would have been happier if the succession had gone through the Reizei emperor. These regrets were of course private. He shared them with no one.

The Akashi princess had several children and was without rivals for the emperor's affection. There was a certain dissatisfaction abroad that yet another Genji lady seemed likely to be named empress.

Akikonomu was more grateful to Genji as the years went by, for she knew that without him she would have been nothing. It was now much easier for the Reizei emperor to see Genji, and he was far happier than when he had occupied the throne.

The new emperor was most solicitous of the Third Princess, his sister. Genji paid her due honor, but his love was reserved for Murasaki, in whom he could see no flaw. It was an ideally happy marriage, closer and fonder as the years went by.

Yet Murasaki had been asking most earnestly that he let her become a nun. "My life is a succession of trivialities. I long to be done with them and turn to things that really matter. I am old enough to know what life should be about. Do please let me have my way."

"I would not have thought you heartless enough to suggest such a thing. For years now I have longed to do just that, but I have held back because I have hated to think what the change would mean to you. Do try to imagine how things would be for you if I were to have my way."

The Akashi princess was fonder of Murasaki than of her real mother, but the latter did not complain. She was an undemanding woman and she knew that her future would be peaceful and secure in quiet service to her daughter. The old Akashi nun needed no encouragement to weep new tears of joy. Red from pleasant weeping, her eyes proclaimed that a long life could be a happy one.

The time had come, thought Genji, to thank the god of Sumiyoshi. The Akashi princess too had been contemplating a pilgrimage. Genji opened the box that had come those years before from Akashi. It was stuffed with very grand vows indeed. Towards the prosperity of the old monk's line the god was to be entertained every spring and autumn with music and dancing. Only someone with Genji's resources could have seen to fulfilling them all. They were written in a flowing hand which told of great talent and earnest study, and the style was so strong and bold that the gods native and foreign must certainly have taken notice. But how could a rustic hermit have been so imaginative? Genji was filled with admiration, even while thinking that the old man had somewhat overreached himself. Perhaps a saint from a higher world had been fated to descend for a time to this one. He could not find it in him to laugh at the old man.

The vows were not made public. The pilgrimage was announced as Genji's own. He had already fulfilled his vows from those unsettled days on the seacoast, but the glory of the years since had not caused him to forget divine blessings. This time he would take Murasaki with him. He was determined that the arrangements be as simple as possible and that no one be inconvenienced. There were limits, however, to the simplicity permitted one of his rank, and in the end it proved to be a very grand progress. All the high-ranking courtiers save only the ministers were in attendance. Guards officers of fine appearance and generally uniform height were selected for the dance troupe. Among those who did not qualify were some who thought themselves very badly used. The most skilled of the musicians for the special Kamo and Iwashimizu festivals were invited to join the orchestra. There were two famed performers from among the guards musicians as well, and there was a large troupe of Kagura dancers. The emperor, the crown prince, and the Reizei emperor all sent aides to be in special attendance on Genji. The horses of the grandees were caparisoned in infinite variety and all the grooms and footmen and pages and miscellaneous functionaries were in livery more splendid than anyone could remember.

The Akashi princess and Murasaki rode in the same carriage. The next carriage was assigned to the Akashi lady, and her mother was quietly shown to the place beside her. With them was the nurse of the Akashi days. The retinues were very grand, five carriages each for Murasaki and the Akashi princess and three for the Akashi lady.

"If your mother is to come with us," said Genji, "then it must be with full honors. We shall see to smoothing her wrinkles."

"Are you quite sure you should be showing yourself on such a public occasion?" the lady asked her mother. "Perhaps when the very last of our prayers has been answered."

But they could not be sure how long she would live, and she did so want to see everything. One might have said that she was the happiest of them all, the one most favored by fortune. For her the joy was complete.

It was late in the Tenth Month. The vines on the shrine fence were red and there were red leaves beneath the pine trees as well, so that the services of the wind were not needed to tell of the advent of autumn. The familiar eastern music seemed friendlier than the more subtle Chinese and Korean music. Against the sea winds and waves, flutes joined the breeze through the high pines of the famous grove with a grandeur that could only belong to Sumiyoshi. The quiet clapping that went with the koto was more moving than the solemn beat of the drums. The bamboo of the flutes had been stained to a deeper green, to blend with the green of the pines. The ingeniously fabricated flowers in all the caps seemed to make a single carpet with the flowers of the autumn fields.

"The One I Seek" came to an end and the young courtiers of the higher ranks all pulled their robes down over their shoulders as they descended into the courtyard, and suddenly a dark field seemed to burst into a bloom of pink and lavender. The crimson sleeves beneath, moistened very slightly by a passing shower, made it seem for a moment that the pine groves had become a grove of maples and that autumn leaves were showering down. Great reeds that had bleached to a pure white swayed over the dancing figures, and the waves of white seemed to linger on when the brief dance was over and they had returned to their places.

For Genji, the memory of his time of troubles was so vivid that it might have been yesterday. He wished that Tono Chujo had come with him. There was no one else with whom he could exchange memories. Going inside, he took out a bit of paper and quietly got off a note to the old nun in the second carriage.

"You and I remember -- and who else?
Only we can address these godly pines."
Remembering that day, the old lady was in tears. That day: Genji had said goodbye to the lady who was carrying his daughter, and they had thought that they would not see him again. And the old lady had lived for this day of splendor! She wished that her husband could be here to share it, but would not have wanted to suggest that anything was lacking.

"The aged fisherwife knows as not before
That Sumiyoshi is a place of joy."
It was a quick and spontaneous answer, for it would not do on such an occasion to seem sluggish. And this was the poem that formed in her heart:

"It is a day I never shall forget.
This god of Sumiyoshi brings me joy."
The music went on through the night. A third-quarter moon shone clear above and the sea lay calm below; and in a heavy frost the pine groves too were white. It was a weirdly, coldly beautiful scene. Though Murasaki was of course familiar enough with the music and dance of the several seasons, she rarely left the house and she had never before been so far from the city. Everything was new and exciting.

"So white these pines with frost in the dead of night.
Bedecked with sacred strands by the god himself?"
She thought of Takamura musing upon the possibility that the great white expanse of Mount Hira had been hung out with sacred mulberry strands. Was the frost a sign that the god had acknowledged their presence and accepted their offerings?

This was the princess's poem:

"Deep in the night the frost has added strands
To the sacred branches with which we make obeisance."
And Nakatsukasa's:

"So white the frost, one takes it for sacred strands
And sees in it a sign of the holy blessing."
There were countless others, but what purpose would be served by setting them all down? Each courtier thinks on such occasions that he has outdone all his rivals -- but is it so? One poem celebrating the thousand years of the pine is very much like another.

There were traces of dawn and the frost was heavier. The Kagura musicians had had such a good time that response was coming before challenge. They were perhaps even funnier than they thought they were. The fires in the shrine courtyard were burning low. "A thousand years" came the Kagura refrain, and "Ten thousand years," and the sacred branches waved to summon limitless prosperity for Genji's house. And so a night which they longed to stretch into ten thousand nights came to an end. It seemed a pity to all the young men that the waves must now fall back towards home. All along the line of carriages curtains fluttered in the breeze and the sleeves beneath were like a flowered tapestry spread against the evergreen pines. There were numberless colors for the stations and tastes of all the ladies. The footmen who set out refreshments on all the elegant stands were fascinated and dazzled. For the old nun there was ascetic fare on a tray of light aloeswood spread with olive drab. People were heard to whisper that she had been born under happy stars indeed.

The progress to Sumiyoshi had been laden with offerings, but the return trip could be leisurely and meandering. It would be very tiresome to recount all the details. Only the fact that the old Akashi monk was far away detracted from the pleasure. He had braved great difficulties and everyone admired him, but it is probable that he would have felt sadly out of place. His name had become synonymous with high ambitions, and his wife's with good fortune. It was she whom the Omi lady called upon for good luck in her gaming. "Akashi nun!" she would squeal as she shook her dice. "Akashi nun!"

The Suzaku emperor had given himself up most admirably to the religious vocation. He had dismissed public affairs and gossip from his life, and it was only when the emperor, his son, came visiting in the spring and autumn that memories of the old days returned. Yet he did still think of his third daughter. Genji had taken charge of her affairs, but the Suzaku emperor had asked his son to help with the more intimate details. The emperor had named her a Princess of the Second Rank and increased her emoluments accordingly, and so life was for her ever more cheerful.

Murasaki looked about her and saw how everyone seemed to be moving ahead, and asked herself whether she would always have a monopoly on Genji's affections. No, she would grow old and he would weary of her. She wanted to anticipate the inevitable by leaving the world. She kept these thoughts to herself, not wanting to nag or seem insistent. She did not resent the fact that Genji divided his time evenly between her and the Third Princess. The emperor himself worried about his sister and would have been upset by any suggestion that she was being neglected. Yet Murasaki could not help thinking that her worst fears were coming true. These thoughts too she kept to herself. She had been given charge of the emperor's daughter, his second child after the crown prince. The little princess was her great comfort on nights when Genji was away, and she was equally fond of the emperor's other children.

The lady of the orange blossoms looked on with gentle envy and was given a child of her own, one of Yugiri's sons, by the daughter of Koremitsu. He was a pretty little boy, advanced for his age and a favorite of Genji's. It had been Genji's chief lament that he had so few children, and now in the third generation his house was growing and spreading. With so many grandchildren to play with he had no excuse to be bored.

Genji and Higekuro were better friends now, and Higekuro came calling more frequently. Tamakazura had become a sober matron. No longer suspicious of Genji's intentions, she too came calling from time to time. She and Murasaki were very good friends.

The Third Princess was the one who refused to grow up. She was still a little child. Genji's own daughter was now with the emperor. He had a new daughter to worry about.

"I feel that I have very little time left," said the Suzaku emperor. "It is sad to think about dying, of course, but I am determined not to care. My only unsatisfied wish is to see her at least once more. If I do not I shall continue to have regrets. Perhaps I might ask that without making a great show of it she come and see me?"

Genji thought the request most reasonable and set about preparations. "We really should have sent you without waiting for him to ask. It seems very sad that he should have you so on his mind even now."

But they had to have a good reason -- a casual visit would not do. What would it be? He remembered that the Suzaku emperor would soon be entering his fiftieth year, and an offering of new herbs seemed appropriate. He gave orders for dark robes and other things a hermit might need and asked the advice of others on how to arrange something worthy of the occasion. The Suzaku emperor had always been fond of music and so Genji began selecting dancers and musicians. Two of Higekuro's sons and three of Yugiri's, including one by Koremitsu's daughter, had passed the age of seven and gone to court. There were young people too in Prince Hotaru's house and other eminent houses, princely and common, and there were young courtiers distinguished for good looks and graceful carriage. Everyone was happy to make an extra effort for so festive an event. All the masters of music and dance were kept busy.

The Suzaku emperor had given the Third Princess lessons on the seven-stringed Chinese koto. She was still very young when she left him, however, and he wondered what progress she might have made.

"How good if she could play for me. Perhaps in that regard at least she has grown up a little."

He quietly let these thoughts be known and the emperor heard of them. "Yes, I should think that with the koto at least she should have made progress. How I wish I might be there."

Genji too heard of them. "I have done what I can to teach her," he said. "She has improved a great deal, but I wonder whether her playing is really quite good enough yet to delight the royal ear. If she goes unprepared and has to play for him, she might have a very uncomfortable time of it."

Turning his attention now to music lessons, he kept back none of his secrets, none of the rare strains, complex medleys, and seasonal variations and tunings. She seemed uncertain at first but presently gathered confidence.

"There are always such crowds of people around in the daytime," he said. "You have your left hand poised over the koto and are wondering what to do with it, and along comes someone with a problem. The evening is the time. I will come in the evening when it is quiet and teach you everything I know."

He had given neither Murasaki nor the Akashi princess lessons on the seven-stringed koto. They were most anxious to hear what must certainly be unusual playing. The emperor was always reluctant to let the Akashi princess leave court, but he did finally give permission for a visit, which must, he said, be a brief one. She would soon have another child -- she had two sons and was five months pregnant -- and the danger of defiling any one of the many Shinto observances was her excuse for leaving. In the Twelfth Month there were repeated messages from the emperor urging her return. The nightly lessons in the Third Princess's rooms fascinated her and aroused a certain envy. Why, she asked Genji, had he not taken similar troubles with her?

Unlike most people, Genji loved the cold moonlit nights of winter. With deep feeling he played several songs that went well with the snowy moonlight. Adepts among his men joined him on lute and koto. In Murasaki's wing of the house preparations were afoot for the New Year. She made them her own personal concern.

"When it is warmer," she said more than once, "you really must let me hear the princess's koto."

The New Year came.

The emperor was determined that his father's jubilee year begin with the most solemn and dignified ceremony. A visit from the Third Princess would complicate matters, and so a date towards the middle of the Second Month was chosen. All the musicians and dancers assembled for rehearsals at Rokujo, which went on and on.

"The lady in the east wing has long been after me to let her hear your koto," said Genji to the Third Princess. "I think a feminine concert on strings is what we want. We have some of the finest players of our day right here in this house. They can hold their own, I am sure of it, with the professionals. My own formal training was neglected, but when I was a boy I was eager to learn what was to be learned. I had lessons from the famous masters and looked into the secret traditions of all the great houses. I came upon no one who exactly struck me dumb with admiration. It is even worse today. Young people dabble at music and pick up mannerisms, and what passes for music is very shallow stuff indeed. You are almost alone in your attention to this seven-stringed koto. I doubt that we could find your equal all through the court"

She smiled happily at the compliment. Though she was in her early twenties and very pretty, she was tiny and fragile and still very much a child. He wished that she might at least look a little more grown-up.

"Your royal father has not seen you in years," he would say. "You must show him what a fine young lady you have become."

Her women silently thanked him. That she had grown up at all was because of the trouble he had taken with her.

Late in the First Month the sky was clear and the breeze was warm, and the plums near the veranda were in full bloom. In delicate mists, the other flowering trees were coming into bud.

"From the first of the month we will be caught up in our final rehearsals," said Genji, inviting Murasaki to the Third Princess's rooms. "The confusion will be enormous, and we would not want it to seem that you are getting ready to go with us on the royal visit. Suppose we have our concert now, while it is still fairly quiet."

All her women wanted to come with her, but she selected only those, including some of rather advanced years, whose aptitude for music had been shaped by serious study. Four of her prettiest little girls were also with her, all of them in red robes, cloaks of white lined with red, jackets of figured lavender, and damask trousers. Their chemises were also red, fulled to a high sheen. They were as pretty and stylish as little girls can be. The apartments of the Akashi princess were more festive than usual, bright with new spring decorations. Her women quite outdid themselves. Her little girls too were in uniform dress, green robes, cloaks of pink lined with crimson, trousers of figured Chinese satin, and jackets of a yellow Chinese brocade. The Akashi lady had her little girls dressed in quiet but unexceptionable taste: two wore rose plum and two were in white robes lined with red, and all four had on celadon-green cloaks and purple jackets and chemises aglow with the marks of the fulling blocks.

The Third Princess, upon being informed that she was to be hostess to such a gathering, put her little girls into robes of a rich yellowish green, white cloaks lined with green, and jackets of magenta. Though there was nothing overdone about this finery, the effect was of remarkable richness and elegance.

The sliding doors were removed and the several groups separated from one another by curtains. A cushion had been set out for Genji himself at the very center of the assembly. Out near the veranda were two little boys charged with setting the pitch, Tamakazura's elder son on the _sho_ pipes and Yugiri's eldest on the flute. Genji's ladies were behind blinds with their much-prized instruments set out before them in fine indigo covers, a lute for the Akashi lady, a Japanese koto for Murasaki, a thirteenstringed Chinese koto for the Akashi princess. Worried lest the Third Princess seem inadequate, Genji himself tuned her seven-stringed koto for her.

"The thirteen-stringed koto holds its pitch on the whole well enough," he said, "but the bridges have a way of slipping in the middle of a concert. Ladies do not always get the strings as tight as they should. Maybe we should summon Yugiri. Our pipers are rather young, and they may not be quite firm enough about bringing things to order."

Yugiri's arrival put the ladies on their mettle. With the single exception of the Akashi lady they were all Genji's own treasured pupils. He hoped that they would not shame him before his son. He had no fears about the Akashi princess, whose koto had often enough joined others in His Majesty's own presence. It was the Japanese koto that was most likely to cause trouble. He felt for Murasaki, whose responsibility it would be. Though it is a rather simple instrument, everything about it is fluid and indefinite, and there are no clear guides. All the instruments of spring were here assembled. It would be a great pity if any of them struck a sour note.

Yugiri was in dashingly informal court dress, the singlets and most especially the sleeves very nicely perfumed. It was evening when he arrived, looking a little nervous. The plums were so heavy with blossom in the evening light that one might almost have thought that a winter snow had refused to melt. Their fragrance mixed on the breeze with the wonderfully delicate perfumes inside the house to such enchanting effect that the spring warbler might have been expected to respond immediately.

"I know I should let you catch your breath," said Genji, pushing a thirteen-stringed koto towards his son, "but would you be so kind as to try this out and see that it is in tune? There are no strangers here before whom you need feel shy."

Bowing deeply (his manners were always perfect), Yugiri tuned the instrument in the _ichikotsu_ mode and waited politely for further instructions.

"You must get things started for us," said Genji. "No false notes, if you please."

"I fear I do not have the qualifications to join you."

"I suppose not," smiled Genji. "But would you wish to have it said that a band of ladies drove you away?"

Yugiri played just enough to make quite sure the instrument was in tune and pushed it back under the blinds.

The little boys were very pretty in casual court dress. Their playing was of course immature, but it showed great promise.

The stringed instruments were all in tune and the concert began. Each of the ladies did beautifully, but the lute somehow stood out from the other instruments, sedately and venerably quiet and yet with great authority. Yugiri was listening especially for the japanese koto. The tone was softly alluring and the plectrum caught at the strings with a vivacity which seemed to him very novel. None of the professed masters could have done better. He would not have thought that the Japanese koto had such life in it. Clearly Murasaki had worked hard, and Genji was pleased and satisfied.

The thirteen-stringed Chinese koto, a gentle, feminine sort of instrument, takes its place hesitantly and deferentially among the other instruments. As for the seven-stringed koto, the Third Princess was not quite a complete master yet, but her playing had an assurance that did justice to her recent labors. Her koto took its place very comfortably among the other instruments. Yes, thought Yugiri, who beat time and sang the lyrics, she had acquired a most admirable touch. Sometimes Genji too would beat time with his fan and sing a brief passage. His voice had improved with the years, filled out and taken on a dignity it had not had before. Yugiri's voice was almost as good. I would be very hard put indeed to describe the pleasures of the night, which was somehow quieter as it filled with music.

It was the time of the month when the moon rises late. The flares at the eaves were just right, neither too dim nor too strong. Genji glanced at the Third Princess. She was smaller than the others, so tiny indeed that she seemed to be all clothes. Hers was not a striking sort of beauty, but it was marked by very great refinement and delicacy. One thought of a willow sending forth its first shoots toward the end of the Second Month, so delicate that the breeze from the warbler's wing seems enough to disarrange them. The hair flowing over a white robe lined with red also suggested the trailing strands of a willow. One knew that she was the most wellborn of ladies. Beside her the Akashi princess seemed gentle and delicate in a livelier, brighter way, and somehow deeper and subtler too, trained to greater diversity. One might have likened her to a wisteria in early morning, blooming from spring into summer with no other blossoms to rival it. She was heavy with child and seemed uncomfortable. She pushed her koto away and leaned forward on an armrest which, though the usual size, seemed too large for her. Genji would have liked to send for a smaller one. Her hair fell thick and full over rose plum. She had a most winning charm in the soft, wavering light from the eaves.

Over a robe of pink Murasaki wore a robe of a rich, deep hue, a sort of magenta, perhaps. Her hair fell in a wide, graceful cascade. She was of just the right height, so beautiful in every one of her features that they added up to more than perfection. A cherry in full bloom -- but not even that seemed an adequate simile.

One would have expected the Akashi lady to be quite overwhelmed by such company, but she was not. Careful, conservative taste was evident in her grooming and dress. One sensed quiet depths, and an ineffable elegance which was all her own. She had on a figured "willow" robe, white lined with green, and a cloak of a yellowish green, and as a mark of respect for the other ladies, a train of a most delicate and yielding gossamer. Everything about her emphasized her essential modesty and unassertiveness, but there was much that suggested depth and subtlety as well. Again as a mark of respect, she knelt turned somewhat away from the others with her lute before her and only her knees on the green Korean brocade with which the matting was fringed. She guided her plectrum with such graceful assurance through a quiet melody that it was almost more of a pleasure to the eye than to the ear. One thought of fruit and flowers on the same orange branch, "awaiting the Fifth Month."

Everything he heard and saw told Yugiri of a most decorous and Formal assembly. He would have liked to look inside the blinds, most especially at Murasaki, who would doubtless have taken on a calmer and more mature beauty since he had had that one glimpse of her. As for the Third Princess, only a slight shift of fate and she might have been his rather than his father's. The Suzaku emperor had more than once hinted at something of the sort to Yugiri himself and mentioned the possibility to others. Yugiri should have been a little bolder. Yet it was not as if he had lost his senses over the princess. Certain evidences of immaturity had had the effect not exactly of cheapening her in his eyes but certainly of cooling his ardor. He could have no possible designs on Murasaki. She had through the years been a remote and lofty symbol of all that was admirable. He only wished that he had some way of showing, some disinterested, gentlemanly way, how very high was his regard for her. He was a model of prudence and sobriety and would not have dreamed of doing anything unseemly.

It was late and rather chilly when the first rays of "the moon for which one lies in wait" came forth.

"The misty moon of spring is not the best, really," said Genji. "In the autumn the singing of the insects weaves a fabric with the music. The combination is rather wonderful."

"It is true," replied Yugiri, "that on an autumn night there is sometimes not a trace of a shadow over the moon and the sound of a koto or a flute can seem as high and clear as the night itself. But the sky can have a sort of put-on look about it, like an artificial setting for a concert, and the autumn flowers insist on being gazed at. It is all too pat, too perfect. But in the spring -- the moon comes through a haze and a quiet sound of flute joins it in a way that is not possible in the autumn. No, a flute is not really its purest on an autumn night. It has long been said that it is the spring night to which the lady is susceptible, and I am inclined to accept the statement. The spring night is the one that brings out the quiet harmonies."

"The ancients were unable to resolve the dispute, and I think it would be presumptuous of their inferior descendants to seek to do so. It is a fact that the major modes of spring are commonly given precedence over the minor modes of autumn, and so you may be right.

"His Majesty from time to time has the famous masters in to play for him, and the conclusion seems to be that the ones who deserve the name are fewer and fewer. Am I wrong in suspecting that a person has less to learn from them? Our ladies here may not be on the established list of masters, but I doubt that they would seem hopelessly out of place. Of course, it may be that I have been away from things for so long that I no longer have a very good ear. That would be a pity. Yet I do sometimes find myself marveling that a little practice in this house brings out such talents. How does what you have heard tonight compare with what is chosen for His Majesty to hear?"

"I am very badly informed," said Yugiri, "but I do have a thought or two in the matter. It may be a confession of ignorance of the great tradition to say that Kashiwagi on the Japanese koto and Prince Hotaru on the lute are to be ranked among the masters. I had thought them quite without rivals, but this evening I have been forced to change my mind. I am filled with astonishment at what I have heard. Might it be that I had been prepared for something more casual, more easygoing? You have asked me to be voice and percussion, and I have felt very inadequate indeed. Lord Tono Chujo is said to be the best of them all on the japanese koto, the one who has the widest and subtlest variety of touches to go with the seasons. It is true that one rarely hears anything like his koto, but I confess that tonight I have been treated to skills that seem to me every bit as remarkable."

"Oh, surely you exaggerate." Genji was smiling proudly. "But I do have a fine set of pupils, do I not? I cannot claim credit for the lute, but even there I think residence in this house has made a difference. I thought it most extraordinary off in the hinterlands and I think it has improved since it came to the city."

The women were exchanging amused glances that he should be claiming credit even for the Akashi lady.

"It is very difficult indeed to master any instrument," he continued. "The possibilities seem infinite and nothing seems complete and finished. But there are few these days who even try, and I suppose it should be cause for satisfaction when someone masters any one small aspect. The sevenstringed koto is the unmanageable one. We are told that in ancient times there were many who mastered the whole tradition of the instrument, and made heaven and earth their own, and softened the hearts of demons and gods. Taking into this one instrument all the tones and overtones of all the others, they found joy in the depths of sorrow and transformed the base and mean into the fine and proud, and gained wealth and universal fame. There was a time, before the tradition had been established in japan, when the most enormous trouble was required of anyone who sought to learn the art. He must spend years in strange lands and give up everything, and even then only a few came back with what they had gone out to seek. In the old chronicles there are stories of musicians who moved the moon and the stars and brought unseasonal snows and frosts and conjured up tempests and thunders. In our day there is scarcely anyone who has even mastered the whole of the written lore, and the full possibilities are enormous. So little these days seems to make even a beginning -- because the Good Law is in its decline, I suppose.

"It may be that people are intimidated. The seven-stringed koto was the instrument that moved demons and gods, and inadequate mastery had correspondingly unhappy results. What other instrument is to be at the center of things, setting the tone for all the others? Ours is a day of very sad decline. Only a madman, we say, would be so obsessed with an art as to abandon parents and children and go wandering off over Korea and China. But we need not make quite such extreme sacrifices. Keeping within reasonable bounds, why should we not try to make the b inning that seems at least possible? The difficulties in mastering a single mode are indescribable, and there are so many modes and so many complicated melodies. Back in the days when I was a rather enthusiastic student of music, I went through the scores that have been preserved in this country, and presently there was no one to teach me. Yet I know that I am infinitely less competent than the old masters; and it is sad to think that no one is prepared to learn from me even the little that I know, and so the decline must continue."

It was true, thought Yugiri, feeling very inadequate.

"If one or another of my princely grandchildren should live up to the promise he shows now and I myself still have a few years before me, then perhaps by the time he is grown I can pass on what I know. It is very little, I am afraid. I think that the Second Prince shows very considerable promise."

It pleased the Akashi lady to think that she had had a part in this glory.

As she lay down to rest, the Akashi princess pushed her koto towards Murasaki, who relinquished hers to Genji. They played an intimate sort of duet, the Saibara "Katsuragi," very light and happy. In better voice than ever, Genji sang the lyrics over a second time. The moon rose higher and the color and scent of the plum blossoms seemed to be higher and brighter too. The Akashi princess had a most engagingly girlish touch on the thirteen-stringed koto. The tremolo, bright and clear, had in it something of her mother's style. Murasaki's touch, strangely affecting, seemed quiet and solemn by comparison, and her cadenzas were superb. For the envoi there was a shift to a minor mode, somehow friendlier and more approachable. In "The Five Airs" the touch of the plectrum against the fifth and sixth strings of the seven-stringed koto is thought to present the supreme challenge, but the Third Princess had a fine sureness and lucidity. One looked in vain for signs of immaturity. The mode an appropriate one for all the strains of spring and autumn, she did not let her attention waver and she gave evidence of real understanding. Genji felt that he had won new honors as a teacher.

The little pipers had been charming, most solemnly attentive to their responsibilities.

"You must be sleepy," said Genji. "It seemed as if we had only begun and I wanted to hear more and more. It was silly of me to think of picking the best when everything was so good, and so the night went by. You must forgive me."

He urged a sip of wine on the little _sho_ piper and rewarded him with a singlet, one of his own favorites. A lady had something for the little flutist, a pair of trousers and a lady's robe cut from an unassuming fabric. The Third Princess offered a cup to Yugiri and presented him with a set of her own robes.

"Now this seems very strange and unfair," said Genji. "If there are to be such grand rewards, then surely the teacher should come first. You are all very rude and thoughtless."

A flute, a very fine Korean one, was pushed towards him from beneath the Third Princess's curtains. He smiled as he played a few notes. The guests were beginning to leave, but Yugiri took up his son's flute and played a strain marvelous in its clean strength. They were all his very own pupils, thought Genji, to whom he had taught his very own secrets, and they were all accomplished musicians. He knew of course that he had had superior material to work with.

The moon was high and bright as Yugiri set off with his sons. The extraordinary sound of Murasaki's koto was still with him. Kumoinokari, his wife, had had lessons from their late grandmother, but had been taken away before she had learned a great deal. She quite refused to let him hear her play. She was a sober, reliable sort of lady whose family duties took all her time. To Yugiri she seemed somewhat backward in the accomplishments. She was her most interesting when, as did sometimes happen, she allowed herself a fit of temper or jealousy.

Genji returned to the east wing. Murasaki stayed behind to talk with the Third Princess and it was daylight when she too returned. They slept late.

"Our princess has developed into a rather good musician, I think. How did she seem to you?"

"I must confess that I had very serious doubts when I caught the first notes. But now she is very good indeed, so good that I can scarcely believe it is the same person. Of course I needn't be surprised, seeing how much of your time it has taken."

"It has indeed. I am a serious teacher and I have led her every step of the way. The seven-stringed koto is such a bother that I would not try to teach it to just anyone, but her father and brother seemed to be saying that I owed her at least that much. I was feeling a little undutiful at the time, and I thought I should do something to seem worthy of the trust.

" Back in the days when you were still a child I was busy with other things and I am afraid I neglected your lessons. Nor have I done much better in recent years. I have frittered my time away and gone on neglecting you. You did me great honor last night. It was beautiful. I loved the effect it had on Yugiri. "

Murasaki was now busy being grandmother to the royal children. She did nothing that might have left her open to charges of bad judgment. Hers

was a perfection, indeed, that was somehow ominous. It aroused forebodings. The evidence is that such people are not meant to have long lives. Genji had known many women and he knew what a rarity she was. She was thirty-seven this year..

He was thinking over the years they had been together. "You must be especially careful this year. You must overlook none of the prayers and services. I am very busy and sometimes careless, and I must rely on you to keep track of things. If there is something that calls for special arrangements I can give the orders. It is a pity that your uncle, the bishop, is no longer living. He was the one who really knew about these things.

"I have always been rather spoiled and there can be few precedents for the honors I enjoy. The other side of the story is that I have had more than my share of sorrow. The people who have been fond of me have left me behind one after another, and there have been events in more recent years that I think almost anyone would call very sad. As for nagging little worries, it almost seems as if I were a collector of them. I sometimes wonder if it might be by way of compensation that I have lived a longer life than I would have expected to. You, on the other hand -- I think that except for our years apart you have been spared real worries. There are the troubles that go with the glory of being an empress or one of His Majesty's other ladies. They are always being hurt by the proud people they must be with and they are engaged in a competition that makes a terrible demand on their nerves. You have lived the life of a cloistered maiden, and there is none more comfortable and secure. It is as if you had never left your parents. Have you been aware, my dear, that you have been luckier than most? I know that it has not been easy for you to have the princess move in on us all of a sudden. We sometimes do not notice the things that are nearest to us, and you may not have noticed that her presence has made me fonder of you. But you are quick to see these things, and perhaps I do you an injustice."

"You are right, of course. I do not much matter, and it must seem to most people that I have been more fortunate than I deserve. And that my unhappiness should sometimes have seemed almost too much for me-perhaps that is the prayer that has sustained me." She seemed to be debating whether to go on. He thought her splendid. "I doubt that I have much longer to live. Indeed, I have my doubts about getting through this year if I pretend that no changes are needed. It would make me very happy if you would let me do what I have so long wanted to do."

"Quite out of the question. Do you think I could go on without you? Not very much has happened these last years, I suppose, but knowing that you are here has been the most important thing. You must see to the end how very much I have loved you."

It was the usual thing, all over again.

A very little more and she would be in tears, he could see. He changed the subject.

"I have not known enormous numbers of women, but I have concluded that they all have their good points, and that the genuinely calm and equable ones are very rare indeed.

"There was Yugiri's mother. I was a mere boy when we were married and she was one of the eminences in my life, someone I could not think of dismissing. But things never went well. To the end she seemed very remote. It was sad for her, but I cannot convince myself that the fault was entirely mine. She was an earnest lady with no faults that one would have wished to single out, but it might be said that she was the cold intellectual, the sort you might turn to for advice and find yourself uncomfortable with.

"There was the Rokujo lady, Akikonomu's mother. I remember her most of all for her extraordinary subtlety and cultivation, but she was a difficult lady too, indeed almost impossible to be with. Even when her anger seemed justified it lasted too long, and her jealousy was more than a man could be asked to endure. The tensions went on with no relief, and the reservations on both sides made easy companionship quite impossible. I stood too much on my dignity, I suppose. I thought that if I gave in she would gloat and exult. And so it ended. I could see how the gossip hurt her and how she condemned herself for conduct which she thought unworthy of her position, and I could see that difficult though she might be I was at fault myself. It is because I have so regretted what finally happened that I have gone to such trouble for her daughter. I do not claim all the credit, of course. It is obvious that she was meant all along for important things. But I made enemies for myself because of what I did for her, and I like to think that her mother, wherever she is, has forgiven me. I have on the impulse of the moment done many things I have come to regret. It was true long ago and it is true now." By fits and starts, he spoke of his several ladies.

"There is the Akashi lady. I looked down upon her and thought her no more than a plaything. But she has depths. She may seem docile and uncomplicated, but there is a firm core underneath it all. She is not easily slighted."

"I was not introduced to the other ladies and can say nothing about them," replied Murasaki. "I cannot pretend to know very much about the Akashi lady either, but I have had a glimpse of her from time to time, and would agree with you that she has very great pride and dignity. I often wonder if she does not think me a bit of a simpleton. As for your daughter, I should imagine that she forgives me my faults."

It was affection for the Akashi princess, thought Genji, that had made such good friends of Murasaki and a lady she had once so resented. Yes, she was splendid indeed.

"You may have your little blank spots," he said, "but on the whole you manage things as the people and the circumstances demand. I have as I have said known numbers of ladies and not one of them has been quite like you. Not" -- he smiled-"that you always keep your feelings to yourself."

In the evening he went off to the main hall. "I must commend the princess for having carried out her instructions so faithfully."

Immersed in her music, she was as youthful as ever. It did not seem to occur to her that anyone might be less than happy with her presence.

"Let me have a few days off," said Genji, "and you take a few off too. You have quite satisfied your teacher. You worked hard and the results were worthy of the effort. I have no doubts now about your qualifications." He pushed the koto aside and lay down.

As always when he was away, Murasaki had her women read stones to her. In the old stories that were supposed to tell what went on in the world, there were men with amorous ways and women who had affairs with them, but it seemed to be the rule that in the end the man settled down with one woman. Why should Murasaki herself live in such uncertainty? No doubt, as Genji had said, she had been unusually fortunate. But were the ache and the scarcely endurable sense of deprivation to be with her to the end? She had much to think about and went to bed very late, and towards daylight she was seized with violent chest pains. Her women were immediately at her side. Should they call Genji? Quite out of the question, she replied. Presently it was daylight. She was running a high fever and still in very great pain. No one had gone for Genji. Then a message came from the Akashi princess and she was informed of Murasaki's illness, and in great trepidation sent word to Genji. He immediately returned to Murasaki's wing of the house, to find her still in great pain.

"And what would seem to be the matter?" He felt her forehead. It was flaming hot.

He was in tenor, remembering that only the day before he had warned her of the dangerous year ahead. Breakfast was brought but he sent it back. He was at her side all that day, seeing to her needs. She was unable to sit up and refused even the smallest morsel of fruit.

The days went by. All manner of prayers and services were commissioned. Priests were summoned to perform esoteric rites. Though the pain was constant, it would at times be of a vague and generalized sort, and then, almost unbearable, the chest pains would return. An endless list of abstinences was drawn up by the soothsayers, but it did no good. Beside her all the while, Genji was in anguish, looking for the smallest hopeful sign, the barely perceptible change that can brighten the prospects in even the most serious illness. She occupied the whole of his attention. Preparations for the visit to the Suzaku emperor, who sent frequent and courteous inquiries, had been put aside.

The Second Month was over and there was no improvement. Thinking that a change of air might help, Genji moved her to his Nijo mansion. Anxious crowds gathered there and the confusion was enormous. The Reizei emperor was much troubled and Yugiri even more so. There were others who were in very great disquiet. Were Murasaki to die, then Genji would almost certainly follow through with his wish to retire from the world. Yugiri saw to the usual sort of prayers and rites, of course, and extraordinary ones as well.

"Do you remember what I asked for?" Murasaki would say when she was feeling a little more herself. "May I not have it even now?"

"I have longed for many years to do exactly that," Genji would reply, thinking that to see her even briefly in nun's habit would be as painful as to know that the final time had come. "I have been held back by the thought of what it would mean to you if I were to insist on having my way. Can you now think of deserting me?"

But it did indeed seem that the end might be near. There were repeated crises, each of which could have been the last. Genji no longer saw the Third Princess. Music had lost all interest and koto and flute were put away. Most of the Rokujo household moved to Nijo. At Rokujo, where only women remained, it was as if the fires had gone out. One saw how much of the old life had depended on a single lady.

The Akashi princess was at Genji's side.

"But whatever I have might take advantage of your condition," said Murasaki, weak though she was. "Please go back immediately."

The princess's little children were with them, the prettiest children imaginable. Murasaki looked at them and wept. "I doubt that I shall be here to see you grow up. I suppose you will forget all about me?"

The princess too was weeping.

"You must not even think of it," said Genji. "Everything will be all right if only we manage to think so. When we take the broad, easy view we are happy. It may be the destiny of the meaner sort to rise to the top, but the fretful and demanding ones do not stay there very long. It is the calm ones who survive. I could give you any number of instances."

He described her virtues to all the native and foreign gods and told them how very little she had to atone for. The venerable sages entrusted with the grander services and the priests in immediate attendance as well, including the ones on night duty, were sorry that they seemed to be accomplishing so little. They turned to their endeavors with new vigor and intensity. For five and six days there would be some improvement and then she would be worse again, and so time passed. How would it all end? The malign force that had taken possession of her refused to come forth. She was wasting away from one could not have said precisely what ailment, and there was no relief from the worry and sorrow.

I have been neglecting Kashiwagi. Now a councillor of the middle rank, he enjoyed the special confidence of the emperor and was one of the more promising young officials of the day. But fame and honor had done nothing to satisfy the old longing. He took for his bride the Second Princess, daughter of the Suzaku emperor by a low-ranking concubine. It must be admitted that he thought her less than the very best he could have found. She was an agreeable lady whose endowments were far above the ordinary, but she was not capable of driving the Third Princess from his thoughts. He did not, to be sure, treat her like one of the old women who are cast out on mountainsides to die, but he was not as attentive as he might have been.

The Kojiju to whom he went with the secret passion he was unable to quell was a daughter of Jiju, the Third Princess's nurse. Jiju's elder sister was Kashiwagi's own nurse, and so he had long known a great deal about the princess. He had known when she was still a child that she was very pretty and that she was her father's favorite. It was from these early beginnings that his love had grown.

Guessing that the Rokujo mansion would be almost deserted, he called Kojiju and warmly pleaded his case. "My feelings could destroy me, I fear. You are my tie with her and so I have asked you about her and hoped that you might let her know something of my uncontrollable longing. You have been my hope and you have done nothing. Someone was saying to her royal father that Genji had many ladies to occupy his attention and that one of them seemed to have monopolized it, and the Third Princess was spending lonely nights and days of boredom. It would seem that her father might have been having second thoughts. If his daughters had to many commoners, he said, it would be nice if they were commoners who had a little time for them. Someone told me that he might even think the Second Princess the more fortunate of the two. She is the one who has long years of comfort and security ahead of her. I cannot tell you how it all upsets me." He sighed. "They are daughters of the same royal father, but the one is the one and the other is the other."

"I think, sir, that you might be a little more aware of your place in the world. You have one princess and you want another? Your greed seems boundless."

He smiled. "Yes, I suppose so. But her father gave me some encouragement and so did her brother. Though it may be, as you say, that I am

are of my place in the world as I should be, I have let myself think of her. Both of them found occasion to say that they did not consider me so very objectionable. You are the one who is at fault -- you should have worked just a little harder."

"It was impossible. I have been told that there is such a thing as fate. It may have been fate which made Genji ask for her so earnestly and ceremoniously. Do you really think His Majesty's affection for you such that, had you made similar overtures, they would have prevailed over His Lordship's? It is true that you have a little more dignity and prestige now than you had then."

He did not propose to answer this somewhat intemperate outburst. "Let us leave the past out of the matter. The present offers a rare opportunity. There are very few people around her and you can, if you will, contrive to admit me to her presence and let me tell her just a little of what has been on my mind. As for the possibility of my doing anything improper -- look at me, if you will, please. Do I seem capable of anything of the sort?"

"This is preposterous, utterly preposterous. The very thought of it terrifies me. Why did I even come?"

"Not entirely preposterous, I think. Marriage is an uncertain arrangement. Are you saying that these things never under any circumstances happen to His Majesty's own ladies? I should think that the chances might be more considerable with someone like the princess. On the surface everything may seem to be going beautifully, but I should imagine that she has her share of private dissatisfactions. She was her father's favorite and now she is losing out to ladies of no very high standing. I know everything. It is an uncertain world we live in and no one can legislate to have things exactly as he wants them."

"You are not telling me, are you, that she is losing out to others and so she must make fine new arrangements for herself? The arrangements she has already made for herself are rather fine, I should think, and of a rather special nature. Her royal father would seem to have thought that with His Lordship to look after her as if she were his daughter she would have no worries. I should imagine that they have both of them accepted the relationship for what it is. Do you think it is quite your place to suggest changes?"

He must not let her go away angry. "You may be sure that I am aware of my own inadequacy and would not dream of exposing myself to the critical eye of a lady who is used to the incomparable Genji. But it would not be such a dreadful thing, I should think, to approach her curtains and speak with her very briefly? It is not considered such a great sin, I believe, for a person to speak the whole truth to the powers above."

He seemed prepared to swear by all the powers, and she was young and somewhat heedless, and when a man spoke as if he were prepared to throw his life away she could not resist forever.

"I will see what I can do if I find what seems the right moment. On nights when His Lordship does not come the princess has swarms of women in her room, and always several of her favorites right beside her, and I cannot imagine what sort of moment it will be."

Frowning, she left him.

He was after her constantly. The moment finally came, it seemed, and she got off a note to him. He set out in careful disguise, delighted but in great trepidation. It did not occur to him that a visit might only add to his torments. He wanted to see a little more of her whose sleeves he had glimpsed that spring evening. If he were to tell her what was in his heart, she might pity him, she might even answer him briefly.

It was about the middle of the Fourth Month, the eve of the lustration for the Kamo festival. Twelve women from the Third Princess's household were to be with the high priestess, and girls and young women of no very high rank who were going to watch the procession were busy at their needles and otherwise getting ready. No one had much time for the princess. Azechi, one of her most trusted intimates, had been summoned by the Minamoto captain with whom she was keeping company and had gone back to her room. Only Kojiju was with the princess. Sensing that the time was right, she led him to a seat in an east corner of the princess's boudoir. And was that not a little extreme?

The princess had gone serenely off to bed. She sensed that a man was in her room and thought that it would be Genji. But he seemed rather too polite -- and then suddenly he put his arms around her and took her from her bed. She was terrified. Had some evil power seized her? She forced herself to look up and saw that it was a stranger. And here he was babbling complete nonsense. She called for her women, but no one came. She was trembling and bathed in perspiration. Though he could not help feeling sorry for her, he thought this agitation rather charming.

"I know that I am nothing, but I would not have expected quite such unfriendliness. I once had ambitions that were perhaps too grand for me. I could have kept them buried in my heart, I suppose, eventually to die there, but I spoke to someone of a small part of them and they came to your father's attention. I took courage from the fact that he did not seem to consider them entirely beneath his notice, and I told myself that the regret would be worse than anything if a love unique for its depth and intensity should come to nothing, and my low rank and only that must be held responsible. It was a very deep love indeed, and the sense of regret, the injury, the fear, the yearning, have only grown stronger as time has gone by. I know that I am being reckless and I am very much ashamed of myself that I cannot control my feelings and must reveal myself to you as someone who does not know his proper place. But I vow to you that I shall do nothing more. You will have no worse crimes to charge me with."

She finally guessed who he was, and was appalled. She was speechless.

"I know how you must feel; but it is not as if this sort of thing had never happened before. Your coldness is what has no precedent. It could drive me to extremes. Tell me that you pity me and that will be enough. I will leave you."

He had expected a proud lady whom it would not be easy to talk to. He would tell her a little of his unhappiness, he had thought, and say nothing he might later regret. But he found her very different. She was pretty and gentle and unresisting, and far more graceful and elegant, in a winsome way, than most ladies he had known. His passion was suddenly more than he could control. Was there no hiding place to which they might run off together?

He presently dozed off (it cannot be said that he fell asleep) and dreamed of the cat of which he had been so fond. It came up to him mewing prettily. He seemed to be dreaming that he had brought it back to the princess. As he awoke he was asking himself why he should have done that. And what might the dream have meant?

The princess was still in a state of shock. She could not believe that it had all happened.

"You must tell yourself that there were ties between us which we could not escape. I am in as much of a daze as you can possibly be."

He told her of the surprising event that spring evening, of the cat and the cord and the raised blind. So it had actually happened! Sinister forces seemed to preside over her affairs. And how could she face Genji? She wept like a little child and he looked on with respectful pity. Brushing away her tears, he let them mingle with his own.

There were traces of dawn in the sky. He felt that he had nowhere to go and that it might have been better had he not come at all. "What am I to do? You seem to dislike me most extravagantly, and I find it hard to think of anything more to say. And I have not even heard your voice."

He was only making things worse. Her thoughts in a turmoil, she was quite unable to speak.

"This muteness is almost frightening. Could anything be more awful? I can see no reason for going on. Let me die. Life has seemed to have some have lived, and even now it is not easy to think that I am at the end of it. Grant me some small favor, some gesture, anything at all, and I will not mind dying."

He took her in his arms and carried her out. She was terrified. What could he possibly mean to do with her? He spread a screen in a corner room and opened the door beyond. The south door of the gallery, through which he had come the evening before, was still open. It was very dark. Wanting to see her face, even dimly, he pushed open a shutter.

"This cruelty is driving me mad. If you wish to still the madness, then say that you pity me.

She did want to say something. She wanted to say that his conduct was outrageous. But she was trembling like a frightened child. It was growing lighter.

" I would like to tell you of a rather startling dream I had, but I suppose you would not listen. You seem to dislike me very much indeed. But I think it might perhaps mean something to you."

The dawn sky seemed sadder than the saddest autumn sky.

"I arise and go forth in the dark before the dawn.

I know not where, nor whence came the dew on my sleeve."

He showed her a moist sleeve.

He finally seemed to be leaving. So great was her relief that she managed an answer:

"Would I might fade away in the sky of dawn,
And all of it might vanish as a dream."
She spoke in a tiny, wavering voice and she was like a beautiful child. He hurried out as if he had only half heard, and felt as if he were leaving his soul behind.

He went quietly off to his father's house, preferring it to his own and the company of the Second Princess. He lay down but was unable to sleep. He did not know what if anything the dream had meant. He suddenly longed for the cat -- and he was frightened. It was a terrible thing he had done. How could he face the world? He remained in seclusion and his secret wanderings seemed to be at an end. It was a terrible thing for the Third Princess, of course, and for himself as well. Supposing he had se duced the emperor's own lady and the deed had come to light -- could the punishment be worse? Even if he were to avoid specific punishment he did not know how he could face a reproachful Genji.

There are wellborn ladies of strongly amorous tendencies whose dignity and formal bearing are a surface that falls away when the right man comes with the right overtures. With the Third Princess it was a matter of uncertainty and a want of firm principles. She was a timid girl and she felt as vulnerable as if one of her women had already broadcast her secret to the world. She could not face the sun. She wanted to brood in darkness.

She said that she was unwell. The report was passed on to Genji, who came hurrying over. He had thought that he already had worries enough. There was nothing emphatically wrong with her, it would seem, but she refused to look at him. Fearing that she was out of sorts because of his long absence, he told her about Murasaki's illness.

"It may be the end. At this time of all times I would not want her to think me unfeeling. She has been with me since she was a child and I cannot abandon her now. I am afraid I have not had time these last months for anyone else. It will not go on forever, and I know that you will presently understand."

She was ashamed and sorry. When she was alone she wept a great deal.

For Kashiwagi matters were worse. The conviction grew that it would have been better not to see her. Night and day he could only lament his impossible love. A group of young friends, in a hurry to be off to the Kamo festival, urged him to go with them, but he pleaded illness and spent the day by himself. Though correct in his behavior toward the Second Princess, he was not really fond of her. He passed the tedious hours in his own rooms. A little girl came in with a sprig of _aoi_, the heartvine of the Kamo festival.

"In secret, without leave, she brings this heartvine.
A most lamentable thing, a blasphemous thing."
He could think only of the Third Princess. He heard the festive roar in the distance as if it were no part of his life and passed a troubled day in a tedium of his own making.

The Second Princess was used to these low spirits. She did not know what might be responsible for them, but she felt unhappy and inadequate. She had almost no one with her, most of the women having gone off to the festival. In her gloom she played a sad, gentle strain on a koto. Yes, she was very beautiful, very delicate and refined; but had the choice been his he would have taken her sister. He had not, of course, been fated to make the choice.

"Laurel branches twain, so near and like.
Why was it that I took the fallen leaf?"
It was a poem he jotted down to while away the time -- and not very complimentary to the Second Princess.

Though Genji was in a fever of impatience to be back at Nijo, he so seldom visited Rokujo that it would be bad manners to leave immediately.

A messenger came. "Our lady has expired."

He rushed off. The road was dark before his eyes, and ever darker. At Nijo the crowds overflowed into the streets. There was weeping within. The worst did indeed seem to have happened. He pushed his way desperately through.

"She had seemed better these last few days," said one of the women, "and now this."

The confusion was enormous. The women were wailing and asking her to take them with her. The altars had been dismantled and the priests were leaving, only the ones nearest the family remaining behind. For Genji it was like the end of the world.

He set about quieting the women. "Some evil power has made it seem that she is dead. Nothing more. Certainly this commotion does not seem called for."

He made vows more solemn and detailed than before and summoned ascetics known to have worked wonders.

"Even if her time has come and she must leave us," they said, "let her stay just a little longer. There was the vow of the blessed Acala. Let her stay even that much longer."

So intense and fevered were their efforts that clouds of black smoke seemed to coil over their heads.

Genji longed to look into her eyes once more. It had been too sudden, he had not even been allowed to say goodbye. There seemed a possibility -- one can only imagine the dread which it inspired -- that he too was on the verge of death.

Perhaps the powers above took note. The malign spirit suddenly yielded after so many tenacious weeks and passed from Murasaki to the little girl who was serving as medium, and who now commenced to thresh and writhe and moan. To Genji's joy and tenor Murasaki was breathing once more.

The medium was now weeping and flinging her hair madly about. "Go away, all of you. I want a word with Lord Genji and it must be with him alone. All these prayers and chants all these months have been an unrelieved torment. I have wanted you to suffer as I have suffered. But then I saw that I had brought you to the point of death and I pitied you, and so I have come out into the open. I am no longer able to seem indifferent, though I am the wretch you see. It is precisely because the old feelings have not died that I have come to this. I had resolved to let myself be known to no one."

He had seen it before. The old terror and anguish came back. He took the little medium by the hand lest she do something violent.

"Is it really you? I have heard that foxes and other evil creatures sometimes go mad and seek to defame the dead. Tell me who you are, quite plainly. Or give me a sign, something that will be meaningless to others but unmistakable to me. Then I will try to believe you."

Weeping copiously and speaking in a loud wail, the medium seemed at the same time to cringe with embarrassment.

"I am horribly changed, and you pretend not to know me. You are the same. Oh dreadful, dreadful."

Even in these wild rantings there was a suggestion of the old aloofness. It added to the horror. He wanted to hear no more.

But there was more. "From up in the skies I saw what you did for my daughter and was pleased. But it seems to be a fact that the ways of the living are not the ways of the dead and that the feeling of mother for child is weakened. I have gone on thinking you the cruelest of men. I heard you tell your dear lady what a difficult and unpleasant person you once found me, and the resentment was worse than when you insulted me to my face and finally abandoned me. I am dead, and I hoped that you had forgiven me and would defend me against those who spoke ill of me and say that it was none of it true. The hope was what twisted a twisted creature more cruelly and brought this horror. I do not hate her; but the powers have shielded you and only let me hear your voice in the distance. Now this has happened. Pray for me. Pray that my sins be forgiven. These services, these holy texts, they are an unremitting torment, they are smoke and flames, and in the roar and crackle I cannot hear the holy word. Tell my child of my torments. Tell her that she is never to fall into rivalries with other ladies, never to be a victim of jealousy. Her whole attention must go to atoning for the sins of her time at Ise, far from the Good Law. I am sorry for everything."

It was not a dialogue which he wished to pursue. He had the little medium taken away and Murasaki quietly moved to another room.

The crowds swarming through the house seemed themselves to bode ill. All the high courtiers had been off watching the return procession from the Kamo Shrine and it was on their own way home that they heard the news.

"What a really awful thing," said someone, and there was no doubting the sincerity of the words. "A light that should for every reason have gone on shining has been put out, and we are left in a world of drizzling rain."

But someone else whispered: "It does not do to be too beautiful and virtuous. You do not live long. 'Nothing in this world would be their rival,' the poet said. He was talking about cherry blossoms, of course, but it is so with her too. When such a lady lives to know all the pleasures and successes, her fellows must suffer. Maybe now the Third Princess will enjoy some of the attention that should have been hers all along. She has not had an easy time of it, poor thing."

Not wanting another such day, Kashiwagi had ridden off with several of his brothers to watch the return procession. The news of course came as a shock. They turned towards Nijo.

"Nothing is meant in this world to last forever," he whispered to himself. He went in as if inquiring after her health, for it had after all been only a rumor. The wailing and lamenting proclaimed that it must be true.

Prince Hyobu had arrived and gone inside and was too stunned to receive him. A weeping Yugiri came out.

"How is she? I heard these awful reports and was unable to believe them, though I had of course known of her illness."

"Yes, she has been very ill for a very long time. This morning at dawn she stopped breathing. But it seems to have been a possession. I am told that although she has revived and everyone is enormously relieved the crisis has not yet passed. We are still very worried."

His eyes were red and swollen. It was his own unhappy love, perhaps, that made Kashiwagi look curiously at his friend, wondering why he should grieve so for a stepmother of whom he had not seen a great deal.

"She was dangerously ill," Genji sent out to the crowds. "This morning quite suddenly it appeared that she had breathed her last. The shock, I fear, was such that we were all quite deranged and given over to loud and unbecoming grief. I have not myself been as calm and in control of things as I ought to have been. I will thank you properly at another time for having been so good as to call."

It would not have been possible for Kashiwagi to visit Rokujo except in such a crisis. He was in acute discomfort even so -- evidence, no doubt, of a very bad conscience.

Genji was more worried than before. He commissioned numberless rites of very great dignity and grandeur. The Rokujo lady had done terrible things while she lived, and what she had now become was utterly horrible. He even felt uncomfortable about his relations with her daughter, the Reizei empress. The conclusion was inescapable: women were creatures of sin. He wanted to be done with them. He could not doubt that it was in fact the Rokujo lady who had addressed him. His remarks about her had been in an intimate conversation with Murasaki overheard by no one. Disaster still seemed imminent. He must do what he could to forestall it. Murasaki had so earnestly pleaded to become a nun. He thought that tentative vows might give her strength and so he permitted a token tonsure and ordered that the five injunctions be administered. There were noble and moving phrases in the sermon describing the admirable power of the injunctions. Weeping and hovering over Murasaki quite without regard for appearances, Genji too invoked the holy name. There are crises that can unsettle the most superior of men. He wanted only to save her, to have her still beside him, whatever the difficulties and sacrifices. The sleepless nights had left him dazed and emaciated.

Murasaki was better, but still in pain through the Fourth Month. It was now the rainy Fifth Month, when the skies are their most capricious. Genji commissioned a reading of the Lotus Sutra in daily installments and other solemn services as well towards freeing the Rokujo lady of her sins. At Murasaki's bedside there were continuous readings by priests of good voice. From time to time the Rokujo lady would make dolorous utterances through the medium, but she refused all requests that she go away.

Murasaki was troubled with a shortness of breath and seemed even weaker as the warm weather came on. Genji was in such a state of distraction that Murasaki, ill though she was, sought to comfort him. She would have no regrets if she were to die, but she did not want it to seem that she did not care. She forced herself to take broth and a little food and from the Sixth Month she was able to sit up. Genji was delighted but still very worried. He stayed with her at Nijo.

The Third Princess had been unwell since that shocking visitation. There were no specific complaints or striking symptoms. She felt vaguely indisposed and that was all. She had eaten very little for some weeks and was pale and thin. Unable to contain himself, Kashiwagi would sometimes come for visits as fleeting as dreams. She did not welcome them. She was so much in awe of Genji that to rank the younger man beside him seemed almost blasphemous. Kashiwagi was an amiable and personable young man, and people who were no more than friends were quite right to think him superior; but she had known the incomparable Genji since she was a child and Kashiwagi scarcely seemed worth a glance. She thought herself very badly treated indeed that he should be the one to make her unhappy. Her nurse and a few others knew the nature of her indisposition and grumbled that Genji's visits were so extremely infrequent. He did finally come to inquire after her.

It was very warm. Murasaki had had her hair washed and otherwise sought renewal. Since she was in bed with her hair spread about her, it was not quick to dry. It was smooth and without a suggestion of a tangle to the farthest ends. Her skin was lovely, so white that it almost seemed iridescent, as if a light were shining through. She was very beautiful and as fragile as the shell of a locust.

The Nijo mansion had been neglected and was somewhat run-down, and compared to the Rokujo mansion it seemed very cramped and narrow. Taking advantage of a few days when she was somewhat more herself, Genji sent gardeners to clear the brook and restore the flower beds, and the suddenly renewed expanse before her made Murasaki marvel that she should be witness to such things. The lake was very cool, a carpet of lotuses. The dew on the green of the pads was like a scattering of jewels.

"Just look, will you," said Genji. "As if it had a monopoly on coolness. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you have improved so." She was sitting up and her pleasure in the scene was quite open. There were tears in his eyes. "I was almost afraid at times that I too might be dying."

She was near tears herself.

"It is a life in which we cannot be sure
Of lasting as long as the dew upon the lotus."
And he replied:

"To be as close as the drops of dew on the lotus
Must be our promise in this world and the next."
Though he felt no great eagerness to visit Rokujo, it had been some time since he had learned of the Third Princess's indisposition. Her brother and father would probably have heard of it too. They would think his inability to leave Murasaki rather odd and his failure to take advantage of a break in the rains even odder.

The princess looked away and did not answer his questions. Interpret ing her silence as resentment at his long absence, he set about reasoning with her.

He called some of her older women and made detailed inquiries about her health.

"She is in an interesting condition, as they say."

"Really, now! And at this late date! I couldn't be more surprised."

It was his general want of success in fathering children that made the news so surprising. Ladies he had been with for a very long while had remained childless. He thought her sweet and pathetic and did not pursue the matter. Since it had taken him so long to collect himself for the visit, he could not go back to Nijo immediately. He stayed with her for several days. Murasaki was always on his mind, however, and he wrote her letter after letter.

"He certainly has thought of a great deal to say in a very short time," grumbled a woman who did not know that her lady was the more culpable party. "It does not seem like a marriage with the firmest sort of foundations."

Kojiju was frantic with worry.

Hearing that Genji was at Rokujo, Kashiwagi was a victim of a jeal ousy that might have seemed out of place. He wrote a long letter to the Third Princess describing his sorrows. Kojiju took advantage of a moment when Genji was in another part of the house to show her the letter.

"Take it away. It makes me feel worse." She lay down and refused to look at it.

"But do just glance for a minute at the beginning here." Kojiju unfolded the letter. "It is very sad."

Someone was coming. She pulled the princess's curtains closed and went off.

It was Genji. In utter confusion, the princess had time only to push it under the edge of a quilt.

He would be going back to Rokujo that evening, said Genji. "You do not seem so very ill. The lady in the other house is very ill indeed and I would not want her to think I have deserted her. You are not to pay any attention to what they might be saying about me. You will presently see the truth."

So cheerful and even frolicsome at other times, she was subdued and refused to look at him. It must be that she thought he did not love her. He lay down beside her and as they talked it was evening. He was awakened from a nap by a clamor of evening cicadas.

"It will soon be dark," he said, getting up to change clothes.

"Can you not stay at least until you have the moon to guide you?"

She seemed so very young. He thought her charming. At least until then -- it was a very small request.

"The voice of the evening cicada says you must leave.
'Be moist with evening dews,' you say to my sleeves?"
Something of the cheerful innocence of old seemed to come back. He sighed and knelt down beside her.

"How do you think it sounds in yonder village,
The cicada that summons me there and summons me here?"
He was indeed pulled in two directions. Finally deciding that it would be cruel to leave, he stayed the night. Murasaki continued to be very much on his mind. He went to bed after a light supper.

He was up early, thinking to be on his way while it was still cool.

"I left my fan somewhere. This one is not much good." He searched through her sitting room, where he had had his nap the day before.

He saw a corner of pale-green tissue paper at the edge of a slightly disarranged quilt. Casually he took it up. It was a note in a man's hand. Delicately perfumed, it somehow had the look of a rather significant docu ment. There were two sheets of paper covered with very small writing. The hand was without question Kashiwagi's.

The woman who opened the mirror for him paid little attention. It would of course be a letter he had every right to see. But Kojiju noted with horror that it was the same color as Kashiwagi's of the day before. She quite forgot about breakfast. It could not be. Nothing so awful could have been permitted to happen. Her lady absolutely _must_ have hidden it.

The princess was still sleeping soundly. What a child she was, thought Genji, not without a certain contempt. Supposing someone else had found the letter. That was the thing: the heedlessness that had troubled him all along.

He had left and the other women were some distance away. "And what did you do with the young gentleman's letter?" asked Kojiju. "His Lordship was reading a letter that was very much the same color."

The princess collapsed in helpless weeping.

Kojiju was sorry for her, of course, but shocked and angry too. "Really, my lady -- where _did_ you put it? There were others around and I went off because I did not want him to think we were conspiring. That was how _I_ felt. And you had time before he came in. Surely you hid it?"

"He came in on me while I was reading it. I didn't have time. I slipped it under something and forgot about it."

Speechless, Kojiju went to look for the letter. It was of course nowhere to be found.

"How perfectly, impossibly awful. The young gentleman was terrified of His Lordship, terrified that the smallest word might reach him. And now this has happened, and in no time at all. You are such a child, my lady. You let him see you, and he could not forget you however many years went by, and came begging to me. But that we should lose control of things so completely -- it just did not seem possible. Nothing could be worse for either of you."

She did not mince words. The princess was too good-natured and still too much of a child to argue back. Her tears flowed on.

She quite lost her appetite. Her women thought Genji cruel and unfeeling. "She is so extremely unwell, and he ignores her. He gives all his attention to a lady who has quite recovered."

Genji was still puzzled. He read the letter over and over again. He tested the hypothesis that one of her women had deliberately set about imitating Kashiwagi's hand. But it would not do. The idiosyncrasies were all too clearly Kashiwagi's. He had to admire the style, the fluency and clear detail with which Kashiwagi had described the fortuitous consummation of all his hopes, and all his sufferings since. But Genji had felt contemptuous of the princess and he must feel contemptuous of her young friend too. A man simply did not set these matters down so clearly in writing. Kashiwagi was a man of discernment and some eminence, and he had written a letter that could easily embarrass a lady. Genji himself had in his younger years never forgotten that letters have a way of going astray. His own letters had always been laconic and evasive even when he had longed to make them otherwise. Caution had not always been easy.

And how was he to behave towards the princess? He understood rather better the reasons for her condition. He had come upon the truth himself, without the aid of informers. Was there to be no change in his manner? He would have preferred that there be none but feared that things could not be the same again. Even in affairs which he had not from the outset taken seriously, the smallest evidence that the lady might be interested in someone else had always been enough to kill his own interest; and here he had more, a good deal more. What an impertinent trifler the young man was! It was not unknown for a young man to seduce even one of His Majesty's own ladies, but this seemed different. A young man and lady might in the course of their duties in the royal service find themselves favorably disposed towards each other and do what they ought not to have done. Such things did happen. Royal ladies were, after all, human. Some of them were not perhaps as sober and careful as they might be and they made mistakes. The man would remain in the court service and unless there was a proper scandal the mistake might go undetected. But this-Genji snapped his fingers in irritation. He had paid more attention to the princess than the lady he really loved, the truly priceless treasure, and she had responded by choosing a man like Kashiwagi!

He thought that there could be no precedent for it. Life had its frustrations for His Majesty's ladies when they obediently did their duty. There might come words of endearment from an honest man and there might be times when silence seemed impossible, and in a lady's answers would be the start of a love affair. One did not condone her behavior but one could understand it. But Genji thought himself neither fatuous nor conceited in wondering how the Third Princess could possibly have divided her affections between him and a man like Kashiwagi.

Well, it was all very distasteful. But he would say nothing. He wondered if his own father had long ago known what was happening and said nothing. He could remember his own tenor very well, and the memory told him that he was hardly the one to reprove others who strayed from the narrow path.

Despite his determined silence, Murasaki knew that something was wrong. She herself had quite recovered, and she feared that he was feeling guilty about the Third Princess.

"I really am very much better. They tell me that Her Highness is not well. You should have stayed with her a little longer."

"Her Highness -- it is true that she is indisposed, but I cannot see that there is a great deal wrong with her. Messenger after messenger has come from court. I gather that there was one just today from her father. Her brother worries about her because her father worries about her, and I must worry about both of them."

"I would worry less about them than about the princess herself if I thought she was unhappy. She may not say very much, but I hate to think of all those women giving her ideas."

Genji smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "You are the important one and you have no troublesome relatives, and you think of all these things. I think about her important brother and you think about her women. I fear I am not a very sensitive man." But of her suggestion that he return to Rokujo he said only: "There will be time when you are well enough to go with me."

"I would like to stay here just a little while longer. Do please go ahead and make her happy. I won't be long."

And so the days went by. The princess was of course in no position to charge him with neglect. She lived in dread lest her father get some word of what had happened.

Letter after passionate letter came from Kashiwagi. Finally, pushed too far, Kojiju told him everything. He was horrified. When had it happened? It had been as if the skies were watching him, so fearful had he been that something in the air might arouse Genji's suspicions. And now Genji had irrefutable evidence. It was a time of still, warm weather even at night and in the morning, but he felt as if a cold wind were cutting through him. Genji had singled him out for special favors and made him a friend and adviser, and for all this Kashiwagi had been most grateful. How could he now face Genji -- who must think him an intolerable upstart and interloper! Yet if he were to avoid Rokujo completely people would notice and think it odd, and Genji would of course have stronger evidence than before. Sick with worry, Kashiwagi stopped going to court. It was not likely that he would face specific punishment, but he feared that he had ruined his life. Things could not be worse. He hated himself for what he had let happen.

Yes, one had to admit that the princess was a scatterbrained little person. The cat incident should not have occurred. Yugiri had made his feelings in the matter quite clear, and Kashiwagi was beginning to share them. It may be that he was now trying to see the worst in the princess and so to shake off his longing. Gentle elegance was no doubt desirable, but it could go too far and become a kind of ignorance of the everyday world. And the princess had not surrounded herself with the right women. The results were too apparent, disaster for the princess and disaster for Kashiwagi himself. Yet he could not help feeling sorry for her.

She was very pretty, and she was not well. Genji pitied her too. He might tell himself that he was dismissing her from his thoughts, but the facts were rather different. To be dissatisfied with her did not mean to commence disliking her. He would be so sorry for her when he saw her that he could hardly speak. He commissioned prayers and services for her safe delivery. His outward attentions were as they had always been, and indeed he seemed more solicitous than ever. Yet he was very much aware of the distance between them and had to work hard to keep people from noticing. He continued to reprove her in silence and she to suffer agonies of guilt; and that the silence did nothing to relieve the agonies was perhaps another mark of her immaturity, which had been the cause of it all. Innocence can be a virtue, but when it suggests a want of prudence and caution it does not inspire confidence. He began to wonder about other women, about his own daughter, for instance. She was almost too gentle and good-natured, and a man who was drawn to her would no doubt lose his head as completely as Kashiwagi had. Aware of and feeling a certain easy contempt for evidence of irresolution, a man sometimes sees possibilities in a lady who should be far above him.

He thought of Tamakazura. She had grown up in straitened circumstances with no one really capable of defending her interests. She was quick and shrewd, however, and an adroit manipulator. Genji had made the world think he was her father and had caused her problems which a real father would not have. She had turned them smoothly away, and when Higekuro had found an accomplice in one of her serving women and forced his way into her presence she had made it clear to everyone that she had had no say in the matter, and then made it equally clear that her acceptance of his suit was for her a new departure; and so she had emerged unscathed. Genji saw more than ever what a virtuoso performance it had been. No doubt something in earlier lives had made it inevitable that she and Higekuro come together and live together, but it would have done her no good to have people look back on the beginnings of the affair and say that she had led him on. She had managed very well indeed.

Genji thought too of Oborozukiyo. It had come to seem that she had been more accessible than she should have been. He was very sorry to learn that she had finally become a nun. He got off a long letter describing his pain and regret.

"I should not care that now you are a nun?
My sleeves were wet at Suma -- because of you!
"I know that life is uncertain, and I am sorry that I have let you anticipate me and at the same time hurt that you have cast me aside. I take comfort in the hope that you will give me precedence in your prayers."

It was he who had kept her from becoming a nun long before. She mused upon the cruel and powerful bond between them. Weeping at the thought that this might be his last letter, the end of a long and difficult correspondence, she took great pains with her answer. The hand and the gradations of the ink were splendid.

"I had thought that I alone knew the uncertainty of it all. You say that I have anticipated you, but

"How comes it that the fisherman of Akashi
Has let the boat make off to sea without him?
"As for my prayers, they must be for everyone."
It was on deep green-gray paper attached to a branch of anise, not remarkably original or imaginative and yet obviously done with very great care. And the hand was as good as ever.

Since there could be no doubt that this was the end of the affair, he showed the letter to Murasaki.

"Her point is well taken," he said. "I should not have let her get ahead of me. I have known many sad things and lived through them all. The detached sort of friend with whom you can talk about the ordinary things that interest you and you think might interest her too -- I have had only Princess Asagao and this lady, and now they both are nuns. I understand that the princess has quite lost herself in her devotions and has no time for anything else. I have known many ladies, personally and by repute, and I think I have never known anyone else with quite that combination of earnestness and gentle charm.

"It is not easy to rear a daughter. You cannot know what conditions she has brought with her from earlier lives and so cannot be sure of always having your way. She requires endless care and attention as she grows up. I am glad now that I was spared great numbers of them. In my young and irresponsible days I used to lament that I had so few and to think that a man could not have too many. Endless care and attention -- they are what I must ask of you in the case of your little princess. Her mother is young and inexperienced and busy with other things, and I am sure there is a great deal that she is just not up to. I would be much upset if anyone were to find fault with my royal granddaughter. I hope she will have everything she needs to make her way smoothly through life. Ladies of lower rank can find husbands to look after them, but it is not always so with a princess."

"I certainly mean to do what I can for as long as I can. But, "she added wistfully, "I am not sure that it will be very much." She envied these other ladies, free to lose themselves in religion.

"Nun's dress must feel rather new to her and she may not have caught the knack quite yet. Might I ask you to have something done for her? Surplices and that sort of thing -- how do you go about making them? Do what you can, in any event, and I will ask the lady in the northeast quarter at Rokujo to see what she can do. Nothing too elaborate, I should think. Something tasteful and womanly all the same."

Murasaki now turned her attention to green-drab robes, and needlewomen were summoned from the palace and put to quiet but carefully supervised work on the cushions and quilts and curtains a nun should have.

The visit to the Suzaku emperor had been postponed until autumn. Since the anniversary of Princess Omiya's death came in the Eighth Month, Yugiri had no time for musicians and rehearsals. In the Ninth Month came the anniversary of the death of Kokiden, the Suzaku em peror's mother. So the Tenth Month had been fixed upon. The Third Princess was not well, however, and another postponement was necessary.

The Second Princess, Kashiwagi's wife, did that month visit her father. Tono Chujo, now the retired chancellor, saw to it that the arrangements outdid all precedents. Kashiwagi was now almost an invalid, but he forced himself to go along.

The Third Princess too had been in seclusion, alone with her troubles. It was perhaps in part because of them that she was having a difficult pregnancy. Genji could not help worrying about her, so tiny and fragile. He began almost to fear the worst. It had been for him a year of prayers and religious services.

Reports of the Third Princess had reached her father's mountain retreat. He longed to see her. Someone told him that Genji was living at Nijo and rarely visited her. What could it mean? He was deeply troubled and knew again how uncertain married life can be. Reports that Genji had quite refused to leave Murasaki's side all through her illness had upset the Suzaku emperor, and now he learned that Murasaki had recovered and Genji still saw little of the Third Princess. Had something happened, not by the princess's own choice but through the machinations of women in her household? During his years at court ugly rumors had sometimes disturbed the decorous life of the women's quarters. Perhaps his daughter was the victim of something of the sort? He had dismissed worldly trivia from his life, but he was still a father.

He wrote to the Third Princess in long and troubled detail. "I have neglected you because I have had no reason to write, and I hate to think how much time has gone by. I have heard that you are not well. You are in my thoughts even when they should be on my prayers. And how in fact are you? You must be patient, whatever happens and however lonely you may be. It is unseemly to show displeasure when the facts of a matter are less than clear."

"How sad," said Genji, who chanced to be with her.

The Suzaku emperor could not possibly have learned the horrid secret. He must have Genji's negligence in mind.

"And how do you mean to answer?" asked Genji after a time. "I am very sorry indeed to have such melancholy tidings. I may have certain causes for dissatisfaction but I think I may congratulate myself on having said nothing about them. Where can his information have come from?"

The princess looked away in embarrassment. Though she had lost weight because of her worries, she was more delicately beautiful than ever.

"He worries about leaving you behind when you are so very young and innocent. I fear that I worry too. I hope that you are being careful. I say so because I am very sorry indeed that things may not seem to be going as he would have wished and because I want at least you to understand. You are not as self-reliant as you might be and you are easily influenced, and so you may think that I have not behaved well. And of course -- of this I have no doubt -- I am much too old to be very interesting. Neither of these facts makes me happy, but neither of them should keep you from putting up with me for as long as your father lives. And perhaps you can try not to be too contemptuous of the old man who was, after all, your father's choice.

"Women are commonly thought to be weak and undependable, but women have preceded me down the road I have long wanted to go. However slow and indecisive I may be, there is not much that need hold me back. But I was moved and pleased that I should have been your father's choice when he resolved to leave the world. If now I should seem to be following his precedent I am sure I will stand charged with failing to respect his wishes.

"No one among the other ladies who have been important to me need stand in my way. I do not of course know with certainty how things will be for my daughter, but she is having children one after another, and if I see to her needs for as long as I can, I need have no fear about what will happen to her afterwards. My other ladies are all at an age when they need arouse no very sharp regrets if after their several conveniences they too leave the world. I find myself without worries in that regard.

"It does not seem likely that your father will live a great deal longer. He has always been a sickly man and he has recently been in poor spirits as well, and I hope you will be careful that no unpleasant rumors come to him at this late date to disturb his retirement. We shall not worry too much about this world, for it is not worth worrying about. But it would be a terrible sin to stand in the way of his salvation."

Though he had spoken with careful indirection, tears were streaming from her eyes and she was in acute discomfort. Presently Genji too was in tears. And he was beginning to feel a little ashamed of himself.

"Senile meanderings. I am unhappy when I have them from other people and here I am making you listen to them. You must think me a noisy, tiresome old fool."

He pushed an inkstone towards her and himself ground the ink and chose the paper on which she was to reply to her father. Her hand was trembling so violently that she could not write. He doubted that she had had such difficulty in replying to the long and detailed letter he had discovered. Though no longer very sorry for her, he told her what to say.

"And your visit? We are almost at the end of the month and your sister has already paid what I am told was a very elaborate visit. I should imagine that in your present condition you will invite unfortunate comparisons. I have memorial services coming up next month and the end of the year is always busy and confused. He may be upset when he sees you, but we cannot put it off forever. Do please try to look a little more cheerful and a little less tired."

She was in spite of everything very pretty.

Genji had always sent for Kashiwagi when something interesting or important came up, but in recent months there had been no summonses. Though Genji feared that people would think his silence odd, he squirmed at the thought of appearing before the man who had cuckolded him and doubted that he would be able to conceal his distaste. He was by no means unhappy that Kashiwagi stayed away. The rest of the court thought only that Kashiwagi was not well and that there had been no good parties at Rokujo recently. Yugiri alone suspected that something was amiss. He suspected that Kashiwagi, a susceptible youth, had not been able to suppress the excitement aroused by the view that spring evening to which Yugiri had also been treated. He did not of course know that anything so extremely scandalous had occurred.

The Twelfth Month came and the visit was scheduled for the middle of the month. The Rokujo mansion echoed with music. Eager to see the rehearsals, Murasaki returned from Nijo. The Akashi princess, who had had another son, was also at Rokujo. Passing whole days with his grandchildren, delightful little creatures all of them, Genji had ample reason to think that a long life can be happy. Tamakazura too came for the rehearsals. Since Yugiri had been conducting preliminary rehearsals in the northeast quarter, the lady of the orange blossoms did not feel left out of things.

The affair would not be complete without Kashiwagi, and his absence would seem very strange indeed. He at first declined Genji's invitation on grounds of poor health. Nerves, thought Genji, hearing that there were no very clear symptoms and sending off a warmer and more intimate invitation.

"You are refusing?" said Tono Chujo. "But he will think it unfriendly of you, and you do not seem so very unwell. You must go, even if it takes a little out of you."

Reluctantly, when these urgings had been added to several invitations from Rokujo, Kashiwagi set out.

The most important guests had not yet arrived. He was as always admitted to Genji's drawing room. He looked every bit as ill as reports had him. He had always been a solemn, melancholy youth, overshadowed by his lively brothers. Today he was quieter than usual. Most people would have said that he was in every way qualified to be a royal son-in-law, but to Genji (and he felt rather the same about the princess) he was a callow young person who did not know how to behave.

Though Genji turned on him what seemed a strong eye, the words were gentle enough. "It has been a very long time. I have had nothing to ask your advice about and we have had sick people on our hands. Indeed, I have had little time for anything else. Our princess here has all along thought of doing something in honor of her father, but we have had delay after delay and now the year is almost over. Though not at all what we would really like to do, we hope to put together a minor sort of banquet in keeping with his new position. No, that is too grand a word for it -- but we do have our little princes to show off, and so we have had them at dance practice. In that, at least, we should not disappoint him. I have thought and thought and been able to think of no one but you to take charge of the rehearsals. And so I shall not scold you for having neglected me so."

There was nothing in Genji's manner to suggest innuendos and hidden meanings. Kashiwagi was acutely uncomfortable all the same, and afraid that his embarrassment might show.

"I was much troubled," he finally managed to say, "at the news that first one of your ladies and then another was ill, but since spring I have had such trouble with my legs that I have hardly been able to walk. It has been worse all the time and I have been living like a hermit and not even going to court. Now we have the Suzaku emperor's jubilee. Father says, quite rightly, that the event should be of more concern to us than anyone else. He has resigned his offices and should not be indulging in ceremonies and celebrations, he says, but in spite of my own insignificance we must give some evidence that my gratitude is as deep as his own. And so I forced myself to go with the rest of them.

"His Majesty has withdrawn more and more from the vulgar world and we were sure that he would not welcome an elaborate display. The simple, intimate sort of visit you have in mind seems to me exactly the right thing."

Genji thought it well mannered of him not to dwell on the details of the Second Princess's visit, which he knew had been more than elaborate.

"You can see how little we mean to do. I had feared that people might think us wanting in respect and esteem, and to have the approval of the one who understands these things best is very reassuring. Yugiri seems to be doing modestly well with his work, but he would seem by nature to be little inclined toward the more elegant things. As for the Suzaku emperor, there is not a single one of them at which he is not an expert, but music has always been his chief love and there is little that he does not know about it. He has as you say left the vulgar world behind and it would seem that he has given up music too, but I think that precisely because of the quiet and serenity in which it will be received we must give most careful attention to what we offer. Do please add your efforts to Yugiri's and see that the lads are well prepared and in a proper frame of mind as well. I do not doubt that the professionals know what they are doing, but somehow the last touch seems missing."

He could not have been more courteous and friendly, and Kashiwagi was of course grateful; but he was in acute discomfort all the same. He said little and wanted only to escape. It was far from the easy and pleasant converse of other years, and he did presently slip away.

In the northeast quarter he had suggestions to make about the costumes and the like which Yugiri had chosen. Though in many ways they already exhausted the possibilities, he showed that he deserved Genji's high praise by adding new touches.

It was only a rehearsal, but Genji did not want his ladies to be disappointed. On the day of the visit itself the dancers were to wear red robes and lavender singlets. Today they wore green singlets and pink robes lined with red. Seats for thirty musicians, all dressed in white, had been put out on the gallery which led to the angling pavilion, to the southeast of the main buildings. The dancers emerged from beyond the hillock to the strains of "The Misty Hermitage." There were a few flakes of snow but spring had "come next door." The plums smiled with their first blossoms. Genji watched through blinds with only Prince Hyobu and Higekuro beside him. The lesser courtiers were on the veranda. Since it was an informal affair there was only a light supper.

Higekuro's fourth son, Yugiri's third son, and two of Prince Hotaru's sons danced "Myriad Years." They were very pretty and even now they carried themselves like little aristocrats. Graceful and beautifully fitted out, they were (was a part of it in the eye of the observer?) elegance incarnate. Yugiri's second son, by the daughter of Koremitsu, and a grandson of Prince Hyobu, son of the guards officer called the Minamoto councillor, danced "The Royal Deer." Higekuro's third son did a masked dance about a handsome Chinese general and Yugiri's oldest son the Korean dragon dance. And then the several dancers, all of them close relatives, did "Peace" and "Joy of Spring" and numbers of other dances. As evening came on, Genji had the blinds raised, and as the festivities reached a climax his little grandchildren showed most remarkable grace and skill in several plain, unmasked dances. Their innate talents had been honed to the last delicate edge by their masters. Genji was glad that he did not have to say which was the most charming. His aging friends were all weeping copiously and Prince Hyobu's nose had been polished to a fine, high red.

"An old man does find it harder and harder to hold back drunken tears," said Genji. He looked at Kashiwagi. "And just see our young guardsman here, smiling a superior smile to make us feel uncomfortable. Well, he has only to wait a little longer. The current of the years runs only in one direction, and old age lies downstream."

Pretending to be drunker than he was, Genji had singled out the soberest of his guests. Kashiwagi was genuinely ill and quite indifferent to the festivities. Though Genji's manner was jocular each of his words seemed to Kashiwagi a sharper blow than the one before. His head was aching. Genji saw that he was only pretending to drink and made him empty the wine cup under his own careful supervision each time it came around. Kashiwagi was the handsomest of them even in his hour of distress.
So ill that he left early, he was feeling much worse when he reached home. He could not understand himself. He had in spite of everything remained fairly sober -- and he sometimes drank himself senseless. Had his frayed nerves caused his blood to rise? But he was not such a weakling. It had all been a lamentable and most unbecoming performance in any case.

The aftereffects were not of a sort to disappear in a day. He was seriously ill. His parents, in great alarm, insisted that he come home. The Second Princess was very reluctant to let him go. Through the dull days she had told herself that their relations must surely improve, and though it could not have been said that they were a devoted couple she could not bear to say goodbye. She feared that she would not see him again. He was very sorry, and thought himself guilty of very great disrespect to leave a royal princess in forlorn solitude.

Her mother, one of the Suzaku emperor's lesser ladies, was more vocally grieved. "Parent should not come between husband and wife, I do not care what sort of crisis it might be. I cannot even think of having you away for such a long time. Until you have recovered, they say -- but suppose you have a try at recovering here." She addressed him through only a curtain.

"There is much in what you say. I am not an important man and I received august permission to marry far beyond my station. I had hoped to show my gratitude by living a long life and reaching a position at least a little more worthy of the honor. And now this has happened, and perhaps I will in the end not be able to show even the smallest part of my true feelings. I fear that I am not long for this world. The thought suddenly makes the way into the next world seem very dark and difficult."

They were both in tears. He was persuaded that he really could not leave.

But his mother, desperately worried, sent for him again. "Why do you refuse to let me even see your face? When I am feeling a little unhappy or indisposed it is you among them all that I want to see first. This is too much."

And of course this position too was thoroughly tenable.

"Maybe it is because I am the oldest that I have always been her favorite. Even now I am her special pet. She says that she is not herself when I am away for even a little while. And now I am ill, it may be critically, and I fear it would be a very grave offense to stay away. Come to me quietly, please, if you hear that the worst is at hand. I know that we will meet again. I am a stupid, indecisive sort, and no doubt you have found me most unsatisfactory. I had not expected to die quite so soon. I had thought that we had many years ahead of us."

He was in tears as he left the house. The princess, now alone, was speechless with grief and unrequited affection.

In Tono Chujo's house there was a great stir to receive him. The illness was not sudden and it had not seemed serious. He had gradually lost his appetite and now he was eating almost nothing. It was as if some mysterious force were pulling him in. That so erudite and discriminating a young man should have fallen into such a decline was cause for lamenting all through the court. Virtually the whole court came around to inquire

after him and there were repeated messages from the emperor and the retired emperors, whose concern compounded the worries of his parents. Genji too was surprised and upset and sent many earnest messages to Tono Chujo. Yugiri, perhaps Kashiwagi's closest friend, was constantly at his side.

The visit to the Suzaku emperor was set for the twenty-fifth. With such a worthy young man so seriously ill and the whole eminent clan in a turmoil, the timing seemed far from happy. The visit had already been postponed too long and too often, however, and to cancel it at this late date seemed out of the question. Genji felt very sorry indeed for the Third Princess.

As is the custom on such occasions, sutras were read in fifty temples. At the temple in which the Suzaku emperor was living, the sutra to Great Vairocana.

 

 

Chapter 36

The Oak Tree


The New Year came and Kashiwagi's condition had not improved. He knew how troubled his parents were and he knew that suicide was no solution, for he would be guilty of the grievous sin of having left them behind. He had no wish to live on. Since his very early years he had had high standards and ambitions and had striven in private matters and public to outdo his rivals by even a little. His wishes had once or twice been thwarted, however, and he had so lost confidence in himself that the world had come to seem unrelieved gloom. A longing to prepare for the next world had succeeded his ambitions, but the opposition of his pare kept him from following the mendicant way through the mountains an over the moors. He had delayed, and time had gone by. Then had come events, and for them he had only himself to blame, which had made it impossible for him to show his face in public. He did not blame the gods. His own deeds were working themselves out. A man does not have the thousand years of the pine, and he wanted to go now, while there were still those who might mourn for him a little, and perhaps even a sigh from her would be the reward for his burning passion. To die now and perhaps win the forgiveness of the man who must feel so aggrieved would be far preferable to living on and bringing sorrow and dishonor upon the lady and upon himself. In his last moments everything must disappear. Perhaps, because he had no other sins to atone for, a part of the affection with which Genji had once honored him might return.

The same thoughts, over and over, ran uselessly through his mind. And why, he asked himself in growing despair, had he so deprived himself of alternatives? His pillow threatened to float away on the river of his woes.

He took advantage of a slight turn for the better, when his parents and the others had withdrawn from his bedside, to get off a letter to the Third Princess.

"You may have heard that I am near death. It is natural that you should not care very much, and yet I am sad." His hand was so uncertain that he gave up any thought of saying all that he would have wished to say.

"My thoughts of you: will they stay when I am gone
Like smoke that lingers over the funeral pyre?
"One word of pity will quiet the turmoil and light the dark road I am taking by my own choice."

Unchastened, he wrote to Kojiju of his sufferings, at considerable length. He longed, he said, to see her lady one last time. She had from childhood been close to his house, in which she had near relatives. Although she had strongly disapproved of his designs upon a royal princess who should have been far beyond his reach, she was extremely sorry for him in what might be his last illness.

"Do answer him, please, my lady," she said, in tears. "You must, just this once. It may be your last chance."

"I am sorry for him, in a general sort of way. I am sorry for myself too. Any one of us could be dead tomorrow. But what happened was too awful. I cannot bear to think of it. I could not possibly write to him."

She was not by nature a very careful sort of lady, but the great man to whom she was married had terrorized her with hints, always guarded, that he was displeased with her.

Kojiju insisted and pushed an inkstone towards her, and finally, very hesitantly, she set down an answer which Kojiju delivered under cover of evening.

Tono Chujo had sent to Mount Katsuragi for an ascetic famous as a worker of cures, and the spells and incantations in which he immersed himself might almost have seemed overdone. Other holy men were recommended and Tono Chujo's sons would go off to seek in mountain recesses men scarcely known in the city. Mendicants quite devoid of grace came crowding into the house. The symptoms did not point to any specific illness, but Kashiwagi would sometimes weep in great, racking sobs. The soothsayers were agreed that a jealous woman had taken possession of him. They might possibly be right, thought Tono Chujo. But whoever she was she refused to withdraw, and so it was that the search for healers reached into these obscure corners. The ascetic from Katsuragi, an impos ing man with cold, forbidding eyes, intoned mystic spells in a somewhat threatening voice.

"I cannot stand a moment more of it," said Kashiwagi. "I must have sinned grievously. These voices terrify me and seem to bring death even nearer."

Slipping from bed, he instructed the women to tell his father that he was asleep and went to talk with Kojiju. Tono Chujo and the ascetic were conferring in subdued tones. Tono Chujo was robust and youthful for his years and in ordinary times much given to laughter. He told the holy man how it had all begun and how a respite always seemed to be followed by a relapse.

"Do please make her go away, whoever she might be," he said entreatingly.

A hollow shell of his old self, Kashiwagi was meanwhile addressing Kojiju in a faltering voice sometimes interrupted by a suggestion of a laugh.

"Listen to them. They seem to have no notion that I might be ill because I misbehaved. If, as these wise men say, some angry lady has taken possession of me, then I would expect her presence to make me hate myself a little less. I can say that others have done much the same thing, made mistakes in their longing for ladies beyond their reach, and ruined their prospects. I can tell myself all this, but the torment goes on. I cannot face the world knowing that he knows. His radiance dazzles and blinds me. I would not have thought the misdeed so appalling, but since the evening when he set upon me I have so lost control of myself that it has been as if my soul were wandering loose. If it is still around the house somewhere, please lay a trap for it."

She told him of the Third Princess, lost in sad thoughts and afraid of prying eyes. He could almost see the forlorn little figure. Did unhappy spirits indeed go wandering forth disembodied?

"I shall say no more of your lady. It has all passed as if it had never happened at all. Yet I would be very sorry indeed if it were to stand in the way of her salvation. I have only one wish left, to know that the consequences of the sad affair have been disposed of safely. I have my own interpretation of the dream I had that night and have had very great trouble keeping it to myself."

Kojiju was frightened at the inhuman tenacity which these thoughts suggested. Yet she had to feel sorry for him. She was weeping bitterly.

He sent for a lamp and read the princess's note. Though fragile and uncertain, the hand was interesting. "Your letter made me very sad, but I cannot see you. I can only think of you. You speak of the smoke that lingers on, and yet

"I wish to go with you, that we may see
Whose smoldering thoughts last longer, yours or mine."
That was all, but he was grateful for it.

"The smoke -- it will follow me from this world. What a useless, insubstantial affair it was!"

Weeping uncontrollably, he set about a reply. There were many pauses and the words were fragmentary and disconnected and the hand like the tracks of a strange bird.

"As smoke I shall rise uncertainly to the heavens,
And yet remain where my thoughts will yet remain.
"Look well, I pray you, into the evening sky. Be happy, let no one reprove you; and, though it will do no good, have an occasional thought for me."

Suddenly worse again, he made his way tearfully back to his room. "Enough. Go while it is still early, please, and tell her of my last moments. I would not want anyone who already thinks it odd to think it even odder. What have I brought from other lives, I wonder, to make me so unhappy?"

Usually he kept her long after their business was finished, but today he dismissed her briefly. She was very sorry for him and did not want to go.

His nurse, who was her aunt, told Kojiju of his illness, weeping all the while.

Tono Chujo was in great alarm. "He had seemed better these last few days. Why the sudden change?"

"I cannot see why you are surprised," replied his son. "I am dying. That is all."

That evening the Third Princess was taken with severe pains.

Guessing that they were birth pangs, her women sent for Genji in great excitement. He came immediately. How vast and unconditional his joy would be, he thought, were it not for his doubts about the child. But no one must be allowed to suspect their existence. He summoned ascetics and put them to continuous spells and incantations, and he summoned all the monks who had made names for themselves as healers. The Rokujo mansion echoed with mystic rites. The princess was in great pain through the night and at sunrise was delivered of a child. It was a boy. Most unfortunate, thought Genji. It would not be easy to guard the secret if the resemblance to the father was strong. There were devices for keeping girls in disguise and of course girls did not have to appear in public as did boys. But there was the other side of the matter: given these nagging doubts from the outset, a boy did not require the attention which must go into rearing a girl.

But how very strange it all was! Retribution had no doubt come for the deed which had terrified him then and which he was sure would go on terrifying him to the end. Since it had come, all unexpectedly, in this world, perhaps the punishment would be lighter in the next.

Unaware of these thoughts, the women quite lost themselves in ministering to the child. Because it was born of such a mother in Genji's late years, it must surely have the whole of his affection.

The ceremonies on the third night were of the utmost dignity and the gifts ranged out on trays and stands showed that everyone thought it an occasion demanding the best. On the fifth night the arrangements were Akikonomu's. There were robes for the princess and, after their several ranks, gifts for her women too, all of which would have done honor to a state occasion. Ceremonial repast was laid out for fifty persons and there was feasting all through the house. The staff of the Reizei Palace, including Akikonomu's personal chamberlain, was in attendance. On the seventh day the gifts and provisions came from the emperor himself and the ceremony was no less imposing than if it had taken place at court. Tono Chujo should have been among the guests of honor, but his other worries made it impossible for him to go beyond general congratulations. All the princes of the blood and court grandees were present. Genji was determined that there be no flaw in the observances, but he was not happy. He did not go out of his way to make his noble guests feel welcome, and there was no music.

The princess was tiny and delicate and still very frightened. She quite refused the medicines that were pressed upon her. In the worst of the crisis she had hoped that she might quietly die and so make her escape. Genji behaved with the strictest correctness and was determined to give no grounds for suspicion. Yet he somehow thought the babe repellent and was held by certain of the women to be rather chilly.

"He doesn't seem to like it at all." One of the old women interrupted her cooings. "And such a pretty little thing too. You're almost afraid for it. And so late in his life, when he has had so few."

The princess caught snatches of their conversation and seemed to see a future of growing coldness and aloofness. She knew that she too was to blame and she began to think of becoming a nun. Although Genji paid an occasional daytime visit, he never stayed the night.

"I feel the uncertainty of it all more than ever," he said, pulling her curtains back. "I sometimes wonder how much time I have left. I have been occupied with my prayers and I have thought that you would not want to see people and so I have stayed away. And how are you? A little more yourself again? You have been through a great deal."

"I almost feel that I might not live" She raised her head from her pillow. "But I know that it would be a very grave sin to die now. I rather think I might like to become a nun. I might begin to feel better, and even if I were to die I might be forgiven." She seemed graver and more serious than before, and more mature.

"Quite out of the question -- it would only invite trouble. What can have put the idea into your head? I could understand if you really were going to die, but of course you are not."

But he was thinking that if she felt constrained to say such things, then the generous and humane course might be to let her become a nun. To require that she go on living as his wife would be cruel, and for him too things could not be the same again. He might hurt her and word of what he had done might get abroad and presently reach her royal father. Perhaps she was right: the present crisis could be her excuse. But then he thought of the long life ahead of her, as long as the hair which she was asking to have cut -- and he thought that he could not bear to see her in a nun's drab robes.

"No, you must be brave," he said, urging medicine upon her. "There is nothing wrong with you. The lady in the east wing has recovered from a far worse illness. We really did think she was dead. The world is neither as cruel nor as uncertain as we sometimes think it."

There was a rather wonderful calm in the figure before him, pale and thin and quite drained of strength. Her offense had been a grave one, but he thought that he had to forgive her.

Her father, the Suzaku emperor, heard that it had been an easy birth and longed to see her. His meditations were disturbed by reports that she was not making a good recovery.

She ate nothing and was weaker and more despondent. She wept as she thought of her father, whom she longed to see more intensely than at any time since she had left his house. She feared that she might not see him again. She spoke of her fears to Genji, who had an appropriate emissary pass them on to the Suzaku emperor. In an agony of sorrow and apprehension and fully aware of the impropriety, he stole from his mountain retreat under cover of darkness and came to her side.

Genji was surprised and awed by the visit.

"I had been determined not to have another glance at the vulgar world," said the emperor, "but we all know how difficult it is for a father to throw off thoughts of his child. So I have let my mind wander from my prayers. If the natural order of things is to be reversed and she is to leave me, I have said to myself, then I must see her again. Otherwise the regret would be always with me. I have come in spite of what I know they all will say."

There was quiet elegance in his clerical dress. Not wanting to attract attention, he had avoided the livelier colors permitted a priest. A model of clean simplicity, thought Genji, who had long wanted to don the same garb. Tears came easily, and he was weeping again.

"I do not think it is anything serious," he said, "but for the last month and more she has been weak and has eaten very little." He had a place set out for the emperor before the princess's curtains. "I only wish we were better prepared for such an august visit."

Her women dressed her and helped her to sit up.

"I feel like one of the priests you have on night duty," said the emperor, pulling her curtains slightly aside. "I am embarrassed that my prayers seem to be having so little effect. I thought you might want to see me, and so here I am, plain and undecorated."

She was weeping. "I do not think I shall live. May I ask you, while you are here, to administer vows?"

"A most admirable request, if you really mean it. But the fact that you are ill does not mean that you will die. Sometimes when a lady with years ahead of her takes vows she invites trouble, and the blame that is certain to go with it. We must not be hasty." He turned to Genji. "But she really does seem to mean it. If this is indeed her last hour, we would certainly not want to deny her the support and comfort of religion, however briefly."

"She has been saying the same thing for some days now, but I have suspected that an outside force has made her say it. And so I have refused to listen."

"I would agree if the force seemed to be pulling in the wrong direction. But the pain and regret of refusing a last wish -- I wonder."

He had had unlimited confidence in Genji, thought the emperor, and indications that Genji had no deep love for the princess had been a con stant worry. Even now things did not seem to be going ideally well. He had been unable to discuss the matter with Genji. But now -- might not a quiet separation be arranged, since there were no signs of a bitterness likely to become a scandal? Genji had no thought of withdrawing his support, it seemed clear, and so, taking his apparent willingness as the mark of his fidelity and himself showing no sign of resentment, might the emperor not even now make plans for disposing of his property, and appoint for her residence the fine Sanjo mansion which he had inherited from his father? He would know before he died that she had settled comfortably into the new life. However cold Genji might be he surely would not abandon her.

These thoughts must be tested.

"Suppose, then, while I am here, I administer the preliminary injunctions and give her the beginnings of a bond with the Blessed One."

Regret and sorrow drove away the last of Genji's resentment. He went inside the princess's curtains. "Must you think of leaving me when I have so little time before me? Do please try to bear with me a little longer. You must take your medicine and have something to eat. What you propose is very admirable, no doubt, but do you think you are up to the rigors it demands? Wait until you are well again and we will give it a little thought."

But she shook her head. He was making things worse.

Though she said nothing, he could imagine that he had hurt her deeply, and he was very sorry. He remonstrated with her all through the night and presently it was dawn.

"I do not want to be seen by daylight," said the Suzaku emperor. He summoned the most eminent of her priests and had them cut her hair. And so they were ravaged, the thick, smooth tresses now at their very best. Genji was weeping bitterly. She was the emperor's favorite, and she had been brought to this. His sleeves were wet with tears.

"It is done," he said. "Be happy and work hard at your prayers."

The sun would be coming up. The princess still seemed very weak and was not up to proper farewells.

"It is like a dream," said Genji. "The memory of an earlier visit comes back and I am extremely sorry not to have received you properly. I shall call soon and offer apologies."

He provided the emperor with an escort for the return journey.

"Fearing that I might go at any time," said the emperor, "and that awful things might happen to her, I felt that I had to make provision for her. Though I knew that I was going against your deeper wishes in asking you to take responsibility, I have been at peace since you so generously agreed to do so. If she lives, it will not become her new vocation to remain in such a lively establishment. Yet I suspect that she would be lonely in a mountain retreat like my own. Do please go on seeing to her needs as seems appropriate."

"It shames me that you should find it necessary at this late date to speak of the matter. I fear that I am too shaken to reply." And indeed he did seem to be controlling himself only with difficulty.

In the course of the morning services the malignant spirit emerged, laughing raucously. "Well, here I am. You see what I have done. I was not at all happy, let me tell you, to see how happy you were with the lady you thought you had taken from me. So I stayed around the house for a while to see what I could do. I have done it and I will go."

So she still had not left them! Genji was horrified, and regretted that they had let the princess take her vows. Though she now seemed a little more her old self she was very weak and not yet out of danger. Her women sighed and braced themselves for further efforts. Genji ordered that there be no slackening of the holy endeavors, and in general saw that nothing was left undone.

News of the birth seemed to push Kashiwagi nearer death. He was very sad for his wife, the Second Princess. It would be in bad taste for her to come visiting, however, and he feared that, whatever precautions were taken, she might suffer the embarrassment of being seen by his parents, who were always with him. He said that he would like to visit her, but they would not hear of it. He asked them, and others, to be good to her.

His mother-in-law had from the start been unenthusiastic about the match. Tono Chujo had pressed the suit most energetically, however, and, sensing ardor and sincerity, she had at length given her consent. After careful consideration the Suzaku emperor had agreed. Back in the days when he had been so worried about the Third Princess he had said that the Second Princess seemed nicely taken care of. Kashiwagi feared that he had sadly betrayed the trust.

"I hate to think of leaving her," he said to his mother. "But life does not go as we wish it. Her resentment at the promises I have failed to keep must be very strong. Do please be good to her."

"You say such frightening things. How long do you think I would survive if you were to leave me?"

She was weeping so piteously that he could say no more, and so he tried discussing the matter of the Second Princess with his brother Kobai. Kashiwagi was a quiet, well-mannered youth, more father than brother to his youngest brothers, who were plunged into the deepest sorrow by these despairing remarks. The house rang with lamentations, which were echoed all through the court. The emperor ordered an immediate promotion to councillor of the first order.

"Perhaps," he said, "he will now find strength to visit us."

The promotion did not have that happy effect, however. He could only offer thanks from his sickbed. This evidence of the royal esteem only added to Tono Chujo's sorrow and regret.

A worried Yugiri came calling, the first of them all to offer congratulations. The gate to Kashiwagi's wing of the house was jammed with car riages and there were crowds of well-wishers in his antechambers. Having scarcely left his bed since New Year, he feared that he would look sadly rumpled in the presence of such finery. Yet he hated to think that he might not see them again.

Yugiri at least he must see. "Do come in," he said, sending the priests away. "I know you will excuse my appearance."

The two of them had always been the closest of friends, and Yugiri's sorrow was as if he were a brother. What a happy day this would have been in other years! But of course these wishful thoughts accomplished nothing.

"Why should it have happened?" he said, lifting a curtain. "I had hoped that this happy news might make you feel a little better."

"I am very sorry indeed that I do not. I do not seem to be the man for such an honor." Kashiwagi had put on a formal cap. He tried to raise his head but the effort was too much for him. He was wearing several pleasantly soft robes and lay with a quilt pulled over him. The room was in simple good taste and incenses and other details gave it a deep, quiet elegance. Kashiwagi was in fact rather carefully dressed, and great attention had obviously gone into all the appointments. One expects an invalid to look unkempt and even repulsive, but somehow in his case emaciation seemed to give a new fineness and delicacy. Yugiri suffered with him as he struggled to sit up.

"But what a pleasant surprise," said Yugiri (though brushing away a tear). "I would have expected to find you much thinner after such an illness. I actually think you are better-looking than ever. I had assumed, somehow, that we would always be together and that we would go together, and now this awful thing has happened. And I do not even know why. We have been so close, you and I -- it upsets me more than I can say to know nothing about the most important matter."

"I could not tell you if I wanted to. There are no marked symptoms. I have wasted away in this short time and scarcely know what is happening. I fear that I may no longer be in complete control of myself. I have lingered on, perhaps because of all the prayers of which I am so unworthy, and in my heart I have only wanted to be done with it all.

" Yet for many reasons I find it hard to go. I have only begun to do something for my mother and father, and now I must cause them pain. I am also being remiss in my duties to His Majesty. And as I look back over my life I feel sadder than I can tell you to think how little I have accomplished, what a short distance I have come. But there is something besides all this that has disturbed me very much. I have kept it to myself and doubt that I should say anything now that the end is in sight. But I must. I cannot keep it to myself, and how am I to speak of it if not to you? I do have all these brothers, but for many reasons it would do no good even to hint of what is on my mind.

"There was a matter which put me at cross purposes with your esteemed father and for which I have long been making secret apology. I did not myself approve of what I had done and I fell into a depression that made me avoid people, and finally into the illness in which you now see me. It was all too clear on the night of the rehearsal at Rokujo that he had not forgiven me. I did not see how it would be possible to go on living with his anger. I rather lost control of myself and began having nervous disturbances, and so I have become what you see.

"I am sure that I never meant very much to him, but I for my part have been very dependent on him since I was very young. Now a fear of the slanders he may have heard is my strongest bond with this world and may be the greatest obstacle on my journey into the next. Please remember what I have said and if you find an opportunity pass on my apologies to him. If after I am gone he is able to forgive whatever I have done, the credit must be yours."

He was speaking with greater difficulty. Yugiri could think of details that seemed to fit into the story, but could not be sure exactly what the story had been.

"You are morbidly sensitive. I can think of no indication of displeasure on his part, and indeed he has been very worried about you and has said how he grieves for you. But why have you kept these things to yourself? I should surely have been the one to convey apologies in both directions, and now I suppose it is too late." How he wished that they could go back a few years or months!

"I had long thought that when I was feeling a little better I must speak to you and ask your opinion. But of course it is senseless to go on thinking complacently about a life that could end today or tomorrow. Please tell no one of what I have said. I have spoken to you because I have hoped that you might find an opportunity to speak to him, very discreetly, of course. And if you would occasionally look in on the Second Princess. Do what you can, please, to keep her father from worrying about her."

He wanted to say more, it would seem, but he was in ever greater pain. At last he motioned that he wanted Yugiri to leave him. The priests and his parents and numerous others returned to his bedside. Weeping, Yugiri made his way out through the confusion.

Kashiwagi's sisters, one of them married to Yugiri and another to the emperor, were of course deeply concerned. He had a sort of fraternal expansiveness that reached out to embrace everyone. For Tamakazura he was the only one in the family who really seemed like a brother. She too commissioned services.

They were not the medicine he needed. He went away like the foam upon the waters.

The Second Princess did not after all see him again. He had not been deeply in love with her, not, indeed, even greatly attached to her. Yet his behavior had been correct in every detail. He had been a gentle, considerate husband, making no demands upon her and giving no immediate cause for anger. Thinking sadly over their years together, she thought it strange that a man doomed to such a short life should have shown so little inclination to enjoy it. For her mother, the very worst had happened, though she had in a way expected it. Her daughter had married a commoner, and now everyone would find her plight very amusing.

Kashiwagi's parents were shattered. The cruelest thing is to have the natural order upset. But of course it had happened, and complaining did no good. The Third Princess, now a nun, had thought him impossibly presumptuous and had not joined in the prayers, but even she was sorry. Kashiwagi had predicted the birth of the child. Perhaps their strange, sad union had been joined in another life. It was a depressing chain of thoughts, and she was soon in tears.

The Third Month came, the skies were pleasant and mild, and the little boy reached his fiftieth day. He had a fair, delicate skin and was already showing signs of precociousness. He was even trying to talk.

Genji came visiting. "And have you quite recovered? Whatever you say, it is a sad thing you have done. The occasion would be so much happier if you had not done it." He seemed near tears. "It was not kind of you."

He now came to see her every day and could not do enough for her.

"What are you so worried about?" he said, seeing that her women did not seem to know how fiftieth-day ceremonies should be managed in a nun's household. "If it were a girl the fact that the mother is a nun might seem to invite bad luck and throw a pall over things. But with a boy it makes no difference."

He had a little place set out towards the south veranda of the main hall and there offered the ceremonial rice cakes. The nurse and various other attendants were in festive dress and the array of baskets and boxes inside the blinds and out covered the whole range of colors -- for the managers of the affair were uninhibited by a knowledge of the sad truth. They were delighted with everything, and Genji smarted and squirmed.

Newly risen from her sickbed, the princess found her heavy hair very troublesome and was having it brushed. Genji pulled her curtains aside and sat down. She turned shyly away, more fragile than ever. Because there had been such regrets for her lovely hair only a very little had been cut away, and only from the front could one see that it had been cut at all. Over several grayish singlets she wore a robe of russet. The profile which she showed him was charming, in a tiny, childlike way, and not at all that of a nun.

"Very sad, really," said Genji. "A nun's habit is depressing, there is no denying the fact. I had thought I might find some comfort in looking after you as always, and it will be a very long time before my tears have dried. I had thought that it might help to tax myself with whatever unwitting reasons I may have given you for dismissing me. Yes, it is very sad. How I wish it were possible to go back.

"If you move away I shall have to conclude that you really do reject me, with all your heart, and I do not see how I shall be able to face you again. Do please have a thought for me."

"They tell me that nuns tend to be rather withdrawn from ordinary feelings, and I seem to have been short on them from the start. What am I to say?"

"You are not fair to yourself. We have had ample evidence of your feelings." He turned to the little boy.

The nurse and the other attendants were all handsome, wellborn women whom Genji himself had chosen. He now summoned them for a conference.

"What a pity that I should have so few years left for him."

He played with the child, fair-skinned and round as a ball, and bub bling with good spirits. He had only very dim memories of Yugiri as a boy, but thought he could detect no resemblance. His royal grandchildren of course had their father's blood in their veins and even now carried themselves with regal dignity, but no one would have described them as outstandingly handsome. This boy was beautiful, there was no other word for it. He was always laughing, and a very special light would come into his eyes which fascinated Genji. Was it Genji's imagination that he looked like his father? Already there was a sort of tranquil poise that quite put one to shame, and the glow of the skin was unique.

The princess did not seem very much alive to these remarkable good looks, and of course almost no one else knew the truth. Genji was left alone to shed a tear for Kashiwagi, who had not lived to see his own son. How very unpredictable life is! But he brushed the tear away, for he did not want it to cloud a happy occasion.

"I think upon it in quiet," he said softly, "and there is ample cause for lamentin."

His own years fell short by ten of the poet's fifty-eight, but he feared that he did not have many ahead of him. "Do not be like your father" : this, perhaps, was the admonition in his heart. He wondered which of the women might be in the princess's confidence. He could not be sure, but they were no doubt laughing at him, whoever they were. Well, he could bear the ridicule, and a discussion of his responsibilities and hers in the sad affair would be more distressing for her than for him. He would say nothing and reveal nothing.

The little boy was charming, especially the smiling, happy eyes and mouth. Would not everyone notice the resemblance to the father? Genji thought of Kashiwagi, unable to show this secret little keepsake to his grieving parents, who had longed for at least a grandchild to remember him by. He thought how strange it was that a young man so composed and proud and ambitious should have destroyed himself. His resentment quite left him, and he was in tears.

"And how does he look to you?" Genji had taken advantage of a moment when there were no women with the princess. "It is very sad to think that in rejecting me you have rejected him too."

She flushed.

"Yes, very sad," he continued softly.

"Should someone come asking when the seed was dropped,
What shall it answer, the pine among the rocks?
"
She lay with her head buried in a pillow. He saw that he was hurting her, and fell silent. But he would have liked to know what she thought of her own child. He did not expect mature discernment of her, but he would have liked to think that she was not completely indifferent. It was very sad indeed.

Yugiri was sadder than the dead man's brothers. He could not forget that last interview and the mysterious matters which Kashiwagi had been unable to keep to himself. What had he been trying to say? Yugiri had not sought to press for more. The end had been in sight, and it would have been too unfeeling. Though not seriously ill, it woulseem, the princess had simply and effortlessly taken her vows. Why, and why had Genji permitted them? On the very point of death Murasaki had pleaded that he let her become a nun, and he had quite refused to listen. So Yugiri went on sifting through such details as he had. More than once he had seen Kashiwagi's feelings go out of control. Kashiwagi had been calmer and more careful and deliberate than most young men, so quietly in possession of himself, indeed, that his reserve had made people uncomfortable. But he had had his weak side too. Might an excess of gentleness have been at the root of the trouble? Yugiri found it hard to understand any excess that could make a man destroy himself. Kashiwagi had not done well by the princess, but for Yugiri the wrong was of a more general nature. Perhaps there were conditions which Kashiwagi had brought with him from former lives -- but Yugiri found such a loss of control difficult to accept even so. He kept his thoughts to himself, saying nothing even to his wife, Kashiwagi's sister. He wanted very much to see what effect those oblique hints might have on Genji, but found no occasion.

Tono Chujo and his wife seemed barely conscious of the passing days. All the details of the weekly memorial services, clerical robes and the like, were left to their sons. Kobai, the oldest, gave particular attention to images and scriptures. When they sought to arouse their father for the services, his reply was as if he too might be dying.

"Do not come to me. I am as you see me, lost to this world. I would be an obstacle on his way through the next."

For the Second Princess there was the added sorrow of not having been able to say goodbye. Sadly, day after day, she sat looking over the wide grounds of her mother's Ichijo house, now almost deserted. The men of whom Kashiwagi had been fondest did continue to stop by from time to time. His favorite grooms and falconers seemed lost without him. Even now they were wandering disconsolately over the grounds. The sight of them, and indeed every small occurrence, summoned back the unextinguishable sadness. Kashiwagi's belongings gathered dust. The lute and the japanese koto upon which he had so often played were silent and their strings were broken. The very air of the place spoke of sorrow and neglect. The princess gazed sadly out at the garden, where the trees wore the green haze of spring. The blossoms had none of them forgotten their proper season.

Late one morning, as dull as all the others, there was a vigorous shouting of outrunners and a procession came up to the gate.

"We had forgotten," said one of the women. "It almost seemed for a moment that His Lordship had come back."

The princess's mother had thought that it would be one or more of Kashiwagi's brothers, who were frequent callers, but the caller was in fact more stately and dignified than they. It was Yugiri. He was offered a seat near the south veranda of the main hall. The princess's mother herself came forward to receive him -- it would have been impolite to send one of the women.

"I may assure you," said Yugiri, "that I have been sadder than if he were my brother. But there are restraints upon an outsider and I was able to offer only the most perfunctory condolences. He said certain things at

the end that have kept your daughter very much on my mind. It is not a world in which any of us can feel secure, but until the day when it becomes clear which of us is to go first, I mean to exert myself in your behalf and hers in every way I can think of. Too much has been going on at court to let me follow my own inclinations and simply withdraw from things, and it would not have been very satisfying to look in on you and be on my way again. And so the days have gone by. I have heard that Tono Chujo is quite insane with grief. My own grief has only been less than his, and it has been deepened by the thought of the regret with which my friend must have left your daughter behind."

His words were punctuated from time to time by a suggestion of tears. The old lady thought him very courtly and dignified and at the same time very approachable.

There were tears in her voice too, and when she had finished speaking she was weeping openly. "Yes, the sad thing is that it should all be so uncertain and fleeting. I am old and I have tried to tell myself that worse things have happened. But when I see her lost in grief, almost out of her mind, I cannot think what to do. It almost comes to seem that I am the really unlucky one, destined to see the end of two brief lives.

"You were close to him and you may have heard how little inclined I was to accept his proposal. But I did not want to go against his father's wishes, and the emperor too seemed to have decided that he would make her a good husband. So I told myself that I must be the one who did not understand. And now comes this nightmare, and I must reprove myself for not having been truer to my very vague feelings. They did not of course lead me to expect anything so awful.

"I had thought, in my old-fashioned way, that unless there were really compelling reasons it was better that a princess not marry. And for her, poor girl, a marriage that should never have been has come to nothing. It would be better, I sometimes think, and people would not judge her harshly, if she were to let the smoke from her funeral follow his. Yet the possibility is not easy to accept, and I go on looking after her. It has been a source of very great comfort in all the gloom to have reports of your concern and sympathy. I do most sincerely thank you. I would not have called him an ideal husband, but it moves me deeply to learn that because you were so close to him you were chosen to hear his dying words, and that there were a few for her mixed in among them."

She was weeping so piteously that Yugiri too was in tears. "It may have been because he was strangely old for his years that he came at the end to seem so extremely despondent. I had been foolish enough to fear that too much enlightenment might destroy his humanity and to caution him against letting it take the joy out of him. I fear that I must have given him cause to think me superficial. But it is your daughter I am saddest for, though you may think it impertinent of me to say so." His manner was warm and open. "Her grief and the waste seem worse than anything."

This first visit was a short one.

He was five or six years younger than Kashiwagi, but a youthful receptivity had made Kashiwagi a good companion. Yugiri had almost seemed the maturer of the two and certainly he was the more masculine, though his extraordinary good looks were also very youthful. He gave the young women who saw him off something happy to think about after all the sorrow.

There were cherry blossoms in the forward parts of the garden. "This year alone" -- but the allusion did not seem a very apt one. "If we wish to see them," he said softly, and added a poem of his own, not, however, as if he had a specific audience in mind.

"Although a branch of this cherry tree has withered,
It bursts into new bloom as its season comes."
The old lady was prompt with her answer, which was sent out to him as he was about to leave:

"The willow shoots this spring, not knowing where
The petals may have fallen, are wet with dew."
She had not perhaps been the deepest and subtlest of the Suzaku emperor's ladies, but her talents had been much admired, and quite properly so, he thought.

He went next to Tono Chujo's mansion, where numerous sons were gathered. After putting himself in order Tono Chujo received him in the main drawing room. Sorrow had not destroyed his good looks, though his face was thin and he wore a bushy beard, which had been allowed to grow all during his son's illness. He seemed to have been more affected by his son's death than even by his mother's. The sight of him came near reducing Yugiri to tears, but he thought weeping the last thing the occasion called for. Tono Chujo was less successful at controlling his tears, for Yugiri and the dead youth had been such very close friends. The talk was of the stubborn, lingering sadness, and as it moved on to other matters Yugiri told of his interview with the Second Princess's mother. This time the minister's tears were like a sudden spring shower. Yugiri took out a piece of notepaper on which he had jotted down the old lady's poem.

"I'm afraid I can't make it out," said Tono Chujo, trying to see through his tears. The face once so virile and proud had been softened by grief. Though the poem was not a particularly distinguished one the image about the dew on the willow shoots seemed very apt and brought on a new flood of tears.

"The autumn your mother died I thought that sorrow could not be crueler. But she was a woman, and one does not see very much of women. They tend to have few friends and to stay out of sight. My sorrow was an entirely private matter. My son was not a remarkably successful man, but he did attract the emperor's gracious notice and as he grew older he rose in rank and influence, and more and more people looked to him for support. After their various circumstances they were all upset by his death. Not of course that my grief has to do with prestige and influence. It is rather that I remember him before all this happened, and see what a dreadful loss it is. I wonder if I will ever be the same again."

Looking up into an evening sky which had misted over a dull gray, he seemed to notice for the first time that the tips of the cherry branches were bare. He jotted down a poem on the same piece of notepaper, beside that of the princess's mother.

"Drenched by the fall from these trees, I mourn for a child
Who should in the natural order have mourned for me."
Yugiri answered:

"I doubt that he who left us wished it so,
That you should wear the misty robes of evening."
And Kashiwagi's brother Kobai:

"Bitter, bitter -- whom can he have meant
To wear the misty robes ere the advent of spring?"
The memorial services were very grand. Kumoinokari, Yugiri's wife, helped with them, of course, and Yugiri made them his own special concern.

He frequently visited the Ichijo mansion of the Second Princess. There was something indefinably pleasant about the Fourth Month sky and the trees were a lovely expanse of new green; but the house of sorrows was quiet and lonely, and for the ladies who lived there each new day was a new trial.

It was in upon this sadness that he came visiting. Young grasses had sprung up all through the garden, and in the shade of a rock or a tree, where the sand covering was thin, wormwood and other weeds had taken over as if asserting an old claim. The flowers that had been tended with such care were now rank and overgrown. He thought how clumps of grass now tidy and proper in the spring would in the autumn be a dense moor humming with insects, and he was in tears as he parted the dewy tangles and came up to the veranda. Rough blinds of mourning were hung all along the front of the house. Through them he could see gray curtains newly changed for the season. He had glimpses too of skirts that told of the presence of little page girls, very pretty and at the same time incongruously drab. A place was set out for him on the veranda, but the women protested that he should be treated with more ceremony. Vaguely unwell, the princess's mother had been resting. He looked out into the garden as he talked with her women, and the indifference of the trees brought new pangs of sorrow. Their branches intertwined, an oak and a maple seemed younger than the rest.

"How reassuring. What bonds from other lives do you suppose have brought them together?" Quietly, he came nearer the blinds.

"By grace of the tree god let the branch so close

To the branch that withered be close to the branch that lives.

"I think it very unkind of you to keep me outdoors." He leaned forward and put a hand on the sill.

The women were in whispered conversation about the gentler Yugiri they were being introduced to. Among them was one Shosho, through whom came the princess's answer.

"There may not be a god protecting the oak.
Think not, even so, its branches of easy access.
"There is a kind of informality that can suggest a certain shallowness.

He smiled. It was a point well taken. Sensing that her mother had come forward, he brought himself to attention.

"My days have been uninterrupted gloom, and that may be why I have not been feeling well." She did indeed seem to be unwell. "I have been unable to think what to do next. You are very kind to come calling so often."

"Your grief is quite understandable, but you should not let it get the better of you. Everything is determined in other lives, everything has its time and goes."

The princess seemed to be a more considerable person than he had been led to expect. She had had wretched luck, belittled in the first instance for having married beneath her and now for having been left a widow. He thought he might find her interesting, and questioned the mother with some eagerness. He did not expect great beauty, but one could be fond of any lady who was not repulsively ugly. Beauty could sometimes make a man forget himself, and the more important thing was an equable disposition.

"You must learn to tell yourself that I am as near as he once was." His manner fell short of the insinuating, perhaps, but his earnestness did carry overtones all the same.

He was very imposing and dignified in casual court dress.

"His Lordship had a gentle sort of charm," one of the women would seem to have whispered to another. "There was no one quite like him, really, for quiet charm and elegance. But just see this gentleman, so vigorous and manly, all aglow with good looks. You want to squeal with delight the minute you set eyes on him. There was no one like the other gentleman and there can't be many like this one either. If we need someone to look after us, well, we couldn't do much better."

"The grass first greens on the general's grave," he said to himself, very softly.

There was no one, in a world of sad happenings near and remote, who did not regret Kashiwagi's passing. Besides the more obvious virtues, he had been possessed of a most extraordinary gentleness and sensitivity, and even rather improbable courtiers and women, even very old women, remembered him with affection and sorrow. The emperor felt the loss very keenly, especially when there were concerts. "If only Kashiwagi were here." The remark became standard on such occasions. Genji felt sadder as time went by. For him the little boy was a memento he could share with no one else. In the autumn the boy began crawling about on hands and knees.

 

 

Chapter 37

The Flute


Many still mourned Kashiwagi, who had vanished before his time. Genji tended to feel very deeply the deaths even of people who had been nothing to him, and he had been fond of Kashiwagi and had made him a constant companion. It is true that he had good reason to be angry, but the fond memories were stronger than the resentment. He commissioned a sutra reading on the anniversary of the death. And he was consumed with pity for the little boy, whose agent he secretly thought himself as he made a special offering of a hundred pieces of gold. Tono Chujo was very grateful, though of course he did not know Genji's real reasons.
Yugiri too made lavish offerings and commissioned his own memorial services. He was especially attentive to the Second Princess, more so, indeed, than her brothers-in-law. How generous he was, said Kashiwagi's parents, far more generous than they had any right to expect. But these evidences of the esteem in which the world had held their dead son only added to the bitterness of the regret.

The Suzaku emperor now worried about his second daughter, whose plight was no doubt the object of much malicious laughter. And his third daughter had become a nun, and cut herself off from the pleasures of ordinary life. The disappointment was in both cases very cruel. He had resolved, however, to concern himself no more with the affairs of this vulgar world, and he held his peace. He would think, in the course of his devotions, that the Third Princess would be at hers. Since she had taken her vows he had found numerous small occasions for writing to her. Thinking the mountain harvests rather wonderful, the bamboo shoots that thrust their way up through the undergrowth of a thicket near his retreat, the taro root from deeper in the mountains, he sent them off to the Third Princess with an affectionate letter at the end of which he said:

"My people make their way with great difficulty through the misty spring hills, and here, the merest token, is what I asked them to gather for you.

"Away from the world, you follow after me,
And may we soon arrive at the same destination.
"It is not easy to leave the world behind."

Genji came upon her in tears. He wondered why she should have these bowls ranged before her, and then saw the letter and gifts. He was much moved. The Suzaku emperor had written most feelingly of his longing and his inability, when life was so uncertain, to see her as he would wish. "May we soon arrive at the same destination." He would not have called it a notable statement, but the priestly succinctness was very effective all the same. Evidences of Genji's indifference had no doubt added to the emperor's worries.

Shyly the Third Princess set about composing her answer. She gave the messenger a figured blue-gray robe. Genji took up a scrap of paper half hidden under her curtains and found something written on it in a childlike, uncertain hand.

"Longing for a place not of this world,
May I not join you in your mountain dwelling?"
"He worries so about you," said Genji. "It is not kind of you to say these things."

She turned away from him. The still-rich hair at her forehead and the girlish beauty of her profile seemed very sad. Because the sadness was urging him towards something he might regret and be taken to task for, he pulled a curtain between them, trying very hard all the same not to seem distant or chilly.

The little boy, who had been with his nurse, emerged from her curtains. Very pretty indeed, he tugged purposefully at Genji's sleeve. He was wearing a robe of white gossamer and a red chemise of a finely figured Chinese weave. All tangled up in his skirts, he seemed bent on divesting himself of these cumbersome garments and had stripped himself naked to the waist. Though of course it is the sort of thing all little children do, he was so pretty in his dishabille that Genji was reminded of a doll carved from a newly stripped willow. The shaven head had the blue-black tinge of the dewflower, and the lips were red and full. Already there was a sort of quelling repose about the eyes. Genji was strongly reminded of Kashiwagi, but not even Kashiwagi had had such remarkable good looks. How was one to explain them? There was scarcely any resemblance at all to the Third Princess. Genji thought of his own face as he saw it in the mirror, and was not sure that a comparison of the two was ridiculous. Able to walk a few steps, the boy tottered up to a bowl of bamboo shoots. He bit at one and, having rejected it, scattered them in all directions.

"What vile manners! Do something, someone. Get them away from him. These women are not kind, sir, and they will already be calling you a little glutton. Will that please you?" He took the child in his arms. "Don't you notice something rather different about his eyes? I have not seen great numbers of children, but I would have thought that at his age they are children and no more, one very much like another. But he is such an individual that he worries me. We have a little princess in residence, and he may be her ruination and his Own. Will I live, I wonder, to watch them grow up?'If we wish to see them we have but to stay alive.'" He was gazing earnestly at the little boy.

"Please, my lord. That is as good as inviting bad luck," said one of the women.

Just cutting his teeth, the boy had found a good teething object. He dribbled furiously as he bit at a bamboo shoot.

"I see that his desires take him in a different direction," Genji said, laughing.

"We cannot forget unpleasant associations.
We do not discard the young bamboo even so."
He parted child and bamboo, but the boy only laughed and went on about Iris business.

He was more beautiful by the day, so beautiful that people were a little afraid for him. Genji was beginning to think that it might in fact be possible to "forget unpleasant associations." It had been predestined, no doubt, that such a child be born, and there had been no escaping them. But so often in his life thoughts about predestination had failed to make actual events more acceptable. Of all the ladies in his life the Third Princess had had the most to recommend her. The bitterness surged forward once more and the transgression seemed very hard to excuse.

Yugiri still thought a great deal about Kashiwagi's last words. He wanted to see how they might affect Genji. But of course he had very little to go on, and it would not be easy to think of the right questions. He could only wait and hope that he might one day have the whole truth, and a chance to tell Genji of Kashiwagi's dying thoughts.

On a sad autumn evening he visited the Second Princess. She had apparently been having a quiet evening with her music. He was shown to a south room where instruments and music still lay scattered about. The rustling of silk and the rich perfume as a lady who had been out near the south veranda withdrew to the inner rooms had a sort of mysterious elegance that he found very exciting. It was the princess's mother who as usual came out to receive him. For a time they exchanged reminiscences. Yugiri's own house was noisy and crowded and he was used to troops of unruly children. The Ichijo house was by contrast quiet and even lonely. Though the garden had been neglected, an air of courtly refinement still hung over house and garden alike. The flower beds caught the evening light in a profusion of bloom and the humming of autumn insects was as he had imagined it in an earlier season. He reached for a Japanese koto. Tuned now to a minor key, it seemed to have been much favored and still held the scent of the most recent player. This was no place, he thought, for the impetuous sort of young man. Unworthy impulses could too easily have their way, and the gossips something to amuse themselves with. Very competently, he played a strain on the koto he had so often heard Kashiwagi play.

"What a delight it was to hear him," he said to the princess's mother. "Dare I imagine that an echo of his playing might still be in the instrument, and that Her Highness might be persuaded to bring it out for us?"

"But the strings are broken, and she seems to have forgotten all that she ever knew. I am told that when His Majesty had his daughters at their instruments he did not think her the least talented of them. But so much time has gone by since she last had much heart for music, and I am afraid that it would only be cause to remember."

"Yes, one quite understands. 'Were it a world which puts an end to sorrow.'" Looking out over the garden, he pushed the koto towards the old lady.

"No, please. Let me hear more, so that I may decide whether an echo of his playing does indeed still remain in the instrument. Let it take away the unhappy sounds of more recent days."

"But it is the sound of the middle string that is important. I cannot hope to have it from my own hand."

He pushed the koto under the princess's blinds, but she did not seem inclined to take it. He did not press her.

The moon had come out in a cloudless sky. And what sad, envious thoughts would the calls of the wild geese, each wing to wing with its mate, be summoning up? The breeze was chilly. In the autumn sadness she played a few notes, very faintly and tentatively, on a Chinese koto. He was deeply moved, but wished that he had heard more or nothing at all. Taking up a lute, he softly played the Chinese lotus song with all its intimate overtones.

"I would certainly not wish to seem forward, but I had hoped that you might have something to say in the matter."

But it was a melody that brought inhibitions, and she kept her sad thoughts to herself.

"There is a shyness which is more affecting
Than any sound of word or sound of koto."
Her response was to play the last few measures of the Chinese song. She added a poem:

"I feel the sadness, in the autumn night.
How can I speak of it if not through the koto?"
He was resentful that he had heard so little. The solemn tone of the Japanese koto, the melody which the one now gone had so earnestly taught her, were as they had always been, and yet there was something chilling, almost menacing in them.

"Well, I have plucked away on this instrument and that and kept my feelings no secret. My old friend is perhaps reproving me for having enjoyed so much of the autumn night with you. I shall come again, though you may be sure that I shall do nothing to upset you. Will you leave our koto as it is until then? People do have a way of thinking thoughts about a koto and about a lady." And so he left hints, not too extremely broad, behind him.

"I doubt," said the old lady, "that anyone could reprove us for enjoying ourselves this evening. You have made the evening seem short with honest talk of the old days. I am sure that if you were to let me hear more of your playing it would add years to my life."

She gave him a flute as he left.

"It is said to have a rich past. I would hate to have it lost among these tangles of wormwood. You must play on it as you leave and drown out the calls of your runners. That would give me great pleasure."

"Far too valuable an addition to my retinue."

It did indeed have a rich past. It had been Kashiwagi's favorite. Yugiri had heard him say more than once that it had possibilities he had never done justice to, and that he wanted it to have an owner more worthy of it. Near tears once more, he blew a few notes in the _banjiki_ mode, but did not finish the melody he had begun.

"My inept pluckings on the koto may perhaps be excused as a kind of memorial, but this flute leaves me feeling quite helpless, wholly inadequate."

The old lady sent out a poem:

"The voices of insects are unchanged this autumn,
Rank though the grasses be round my dewy lodging."
He sent back:

"The melody is as it always was.
The voices that mourn are inexhaustible."
Though it was very late, he left with great reluctance.

His house was firmly barred and shuttered, and everyone seemed to be asleep. Kumoinokari's women had suggested that his kindness to the Second Princess was more than kindness, and she was not pleased to have him coming home so late at night. It is possible that she was only pretending to be asleep.

"My mountain girl and I," he sang, in a low but very good voice.

"This place is locked up like a fort. A dark hole of a place. Some people do not seem to appreciate moonlight."

He had the shutters raised and himself rolled up the blinds. He went out to the veranda.

"Such a moon, and there are people sound asleep? Come on out. Be a little more friendly."

But she was unhappy and pretended not to hear. Little children were sprawled here and there, sound asleep, and there were clusters of women, also asleep. It was a thickly populated scene, in sharp contrast to the mansion from which he had just come. He blew a soft strain on his new flute. And what would the princess be thinking in the wake of their interview? Would she indeed, as he had requested, leave the koto and the other instruments in the same tuning? Her mother was said to be very good on the Japanese koto. He lay down. In public Kashiwagi had shown his wife all the honors due a princess, but they had seemed strangely hollow. Yugiri wanted very much to see her, and at the same time feared that he would be disappointed. One was often disappointed when the advance reports were so interesting. His thoughts turned to his own marriage. All through the years he had given not the smallest cause for jealousy. He had given his wife ample cause, perhaps, to be somewhat overbearing.

He dozed off and dreamed that Kashiwagi was beside him, dressed as on their last meeting. He had taken up the flute. How unsettling, Yugiri said to himself, still dreaming, that his friend should still be after the flute.

"If it matters not which wind sounds the bamboo flute,
Then let its note be forever with my children.
"I did not mean it for you."

Yugiri was about to ask for an explanation when he was awakened by the screaming of a child. It was screaming very lustily, and vomiting. The nurse was with it, and Kumoinokari, sending for a light and pushing her hair roughly behind her ears, had taken it in her arms. A buxom lady, she was offering a well-shaped breast. She had no milk, but hoped that the breast would have a soothing effect. The child was fair-skinned and very pretty.

"What seems to be the trouble?" asked Yugiri, coming inside.

The noise and confusion had quite driven away the sadness of the dream. One of the women was scattering rice to exorcise malign spirits.

"We have a sick child on our hands and here you are prancing and dashing about like a young boy. You open the shutters to enjoy your precious moonlight and let in a devil or two."

He smiled. She was still very young and pretty. "They have found an unexpected guide. I suppose if it had not been for me they would have lost their way? A mother of many children acquires great wisdom."

"Go away, if you will, please." He was so handsome that she could think of nothing more severe to say. "You should not be watching."

She did indeed seem to find the light too strong. Her shyness was not at all unattractive.

The child kept them awake the whole night.

Yugiri went on thinking about the dream. The flute was threatening to raise difficulties. Kashiwagi was still attached to it, and so perhaps it should have stayed at Ichijo. It should not, in any case, have been passed on to Yugiri by a woman. But what had Kashiwagi meant, and what would he be thinking now? Because of the regret and the longing he must wander in stubborn darkness, worrying about trifles. One did well to avoid such entanglements.

He had services read on Mount Otagi and at a temple favored by Kashiwagi. But what to do about the flute? It had a rich history, the old lady had said. Offered immediately to a temple it might do a little toward the repose of Kashiwagi's soul. Yet he hesitated.

He visited Rokujo.

Genji, he was told, was with his daughter.

Murasaki had been given charge of the Third Prince, now three, the prettiest of Genji's royal grandchildren. He came running up.

"If you're going over there, General, take my royal highness with you."

Yugiri smiled at this immodest language. "If you wish to go. But am I to walk past a lady's curtains without a by-your-leave? That would be very rude." He took the little prince in his arms.

"No one will see. Look, I'll cover your face. Let's go, let's go."

He was charming as he covered Yugiri's face with his sleeves. The two of them went off to the Akashi princess's apartments. The Second Prince was there, as was Genji's little son. Genji was fondly watching them at play. Yugiri deposited the Third Prince in a corner, where the Second Prince discovered him.

"Carry me too, General," he commanded.

"He's my general," objected the Third Prince, refusing to dismiss him.

"Don't you have any manners, the two of you?" said Genji. "He is supposed to guard your father, and you are appropriating him for yourselves. And you, young sir," he said to the Third Prince, "are just a little too pushy. You are always trying to get the best of your brother."

"And the other one," said Yugiri, "is very much the big brother, always willing to give way if it seems the right thing. Such a fine young gentleman that I'm already a little afraid of him."

Genji smiled. They were both of them very fine lads indeed. "But come. This is no place for an important official to be wasting his time."

He started off towards the east wing, trailing children behind him. His own little boy ought not to be so familiar with the princes -- but the usual awareness of such things told him that any sort of discrimination would hurt the Third Princess. She had a bad conscience and was easily hurt. He too was a very pretty boy, and Genji had grown fond of him.

Yugiri had seen very little of the boy. Picking up a fallen cherry branch he motioned towards the blinds. The boy came running out. He had on but a single robe, of a deep purple. The fair skin glowed, and there was in the round little figure something, an extraordinary refinement, that rather outdid the princes. Perhaps, thought Yugiri, he had chanced to catch an unusual angle; but it did seem to him that there was remarkable strength in the eyes, and the arch of the eyebrows reminded him very much of Kashiwagi. And that sudden glow when he laughed -- perhaps, thought Yugiri, he had caught a very rare moment -- but Genji must surely have noticed. He really must do a bit of probing.

The princes were princes, already proud and courtly, but they had the faces of pretty children, no more. I he other boy, he thought, looking from one child to another, had a most uncommon face and manner. How very sad. Tono Chujo, half lost to the world, kept asking why no one came demanding to be recognized as Kashiwagi's son, why there were no keepsakes. If Yugiri's suspicions were well founded, then to keep the secret from the bereaved grandfather would be a sin. But Yugiri could not be sure. He still had no real solution to the puzzle, nothing to go on. He was delighted with the child, who seemed unusually gentle and affectionate.

They talked quietly on and it was evening. Genji listened smiling to Yugiri's account of his visit to Ichijo the evening before.

"So she played the lotus song. That is the sort of thing a lady with the old graces would do. Yet one might say that she allowed an ordinary conversation to take an unnecessarily suggestive turn. You behaved quite properly when you told her that you wished to carry out the wishes of a dead friend and be of assistance to her. The important thing is that you continue to behave properly. Both of you will find the clean, friendly sort of relationship the more rewarding."

Yes, thought Yugiri, his father had always been ready with good advice. And how would Genji himself have behaved in the same circumstances?

"How can you even suggest that there has been anything improper? I am being kind to her because her marriage lasted such a tragically short time, and what suspicions would it give rise to if my kindness were to be equally short-lived? Suggestive, you say. I might have been tempted to use the word if she had offered the lotus song on her own initiative. But the time was exactly right, and the gentle fragment I heard seemed exactly right too. She is not very young any more, and I think I am a rather steady sort, and so I suppose she felt comfortable with me. Everything tells me that she is a gentle, amiable sort of lady."

The moment seemed ripe. Coming a little closer, he described his dream. Genji listened in silence and was not quick to answer. It did of course mean something to him.

"Yes, there are reasons why I should have the flute. It belonged to the Yozei emperor and was much prized by the late Prince Shikibu. Remarking upon Kashiwagi's skills, the prince gave it to him one day when we had gathered to admire the _hagi_. I should imagine that the princess's mother did not quite know what she was doing when she gave it to you."

He understood Kashiwagi's reference to his own descendants. He suspected that Yugiri was too astute not to have understood also.

The expression on Genji's face made it difficult for Yugiri to proceed, but having come this far, he wanted to tell everything. Hesitantly, as if he had just this moment thought of something else, he said: "I went to see him just before he died. He gave me a number of instructions, and said more than once that he had reasons for wanting very much to apologize to you. I have fretted a great deal over the remark, and even now I cannot imagine what he may have had in mind."

He spoke very slowly and hesitantly. Genji was convinced that he did indeed know the truth. Yet there seemed no point in making a clean breast of things long past.

After seeming to turn the matter over in his mind for a time, he replied: "I must on some occasion have aroused his resentment by seeming to reveal sentiments which in fact were not mine. I cannot think when it might have been. I shall give some quiet thought to that dream of yours, and of course I shall let you know if I come upon anything that seems significant. I have heard women say that it is unlucky to talk about dreams at night."

It had not been a very satisfying answer. One is told that Yugiri was left feeling rather uncomfortable.

 

Chapter 38

The Bell Cricket
 

In the summer, when the lotuses were at their best, the Third Princess dedicated holy images for her chapel. All the chapel fittings to which Genji had given such careful attention were put to use. There were soft, rich banners of an unusual Chinese brocade which were Murasaki's work, and the covers for the votive stands were of a similarly rich material, tie-dyed in subtle and striking colors. The curtains were raised on all four sides of the princess's bedchamber, at the rear of which hung a Lotus Mandala. Proud blossoms of harmonious colors had been set out in silver vases, while a "hundred pace" Chinese incense spread through the chapel and beyond. The main image, an Amitabha, and the two attendants were graceful and delicately wrought, and all of sandalwood. The fonts, also small and delicate, held lotuses of white, blue, and purple. Lotus-leaf pellets compounded with a small amount of honey had been crushed to bits, to give off a fragrance that blended with the other to most wondrous effect.

 

The princess had had scrolls of the holy writ copied for each of the Six Worlds. Genji himself had copied a sutra for her own personal use, and asked in the dedication that, having thus plighted their troth, they be permitted to go hand in hand down the way to the Pure Land. He had also made a copy of the Amitabha Sutra. Fearing that Chinese paper might begin to crumble after frequent use, he had ordered a fine, unmarked paper from the royal provisioner. He had been hard at work since spring and the results quite justified his labors. A glimpse of an unrolled corner was enough to tell the most casual observer that it was a masterpiece. The gilt lines were very good, but the sheen of the black ink and the contrast with the paper were quite marvelous. I shall not attempt to describe the spindle, the cover, and the box, save to say that they were all of superb workmanship. On a new aloeswood stand with flared legs, it occupied a central place beside the holy trinity.
 

The chapel thus appointed, the officiants took their places and the procession assembled. Genji looked in upon the west antechamber, where the princess was in temporary residence. It seemed rather small, now crowded with some fifty or sixty elaborately dressed women, and rather warm as well. Indeed some of the little girls had been pushed out to the north veranda.

The censers were being tended so assiduously that the room was dark with their smoke. "An incense is sometimes more effective," said Genji, thinking that these giddy novices needed advice, "when one can scarcely tell where it is coming from. This is like a smoldering Fuji. And when we gather for these ceremonies we like to get quietly to the heart of the matter, and would prefer to be without distractions. Too emphatic a rustling of silk, for instance, gives an unsettling awareness of being in a crowd."

Tiny and pretty and overwhelmed by the crowd, the princess was leaning against an armrest.

"The boy is likely to be troublesome," he added. "Suppose you have someone put him out of sight."

Blinds hung along the north side of the room in place of the sliding doors, and it was there that the women were gathered. Asking for quiet, he gave the princess necessary instructions, politely and very gently. The sight of her bedchamber now made over into a chapel moved him to tears.

"And so here we are, rushing into monkish ceremonies side by side. Who would have expected it? Let us pray that we will share blossomstrewn lodgings in the next world."

Borrowing her inkstone, he wrote a poem on her cloves-dyed fan:

"Separate drops of dew on the leaf of the lotus,
We vow that we will be one, on the lotus to come."

She answered:

"Together, you say, in the lotus dwelling to come.
But may you not have certain reservations?"

"And so my proposal is rejected, and I am castigated for it?" He was smiling, but it was a sad, meditative smile.
 

There were as usual large numbers of princes in the congregation. The other Rokujo ladies had sought to outdo one another in the novelty and richness of their offerings, which quite overflowed the princess's rooms. Murasaki had seen to the most essential provisions, robes for the seven officiants and the like. They were all of brocade, and people with an eye for such things could see that every detail, the most inconspicuous seam of a surplice, for instance, was of unusually fine workmanship. I feel compelled to touch upon very small details myself.

The sermon, by a most estimable cleric, described the significance of the occasion. It was entirely laudable, and food for profound thought, he said, that so young and lovely a lady should renounce the world and seek to find in the Lotus Sutra her future for all the lives to come. A gifted and eloquent man, he quite outdid himself today and had the whole congregation in tears.

Genji had wanted the dedication of the chapel and its images to be quiet and unpretentious, but the princess's brother and father had word of the preparations and sent representatives, and the proceedings suddenly became rather elaborate. Ceremonies which Genji sought to keep simple had a way of becoming elaborate from the outset, and the brilliance of these added offerings made one wonder what monastery would be large enough to accommodate them.
 

Genji's feelings for the princess had deepened since she had taken her vows. He was endlessly solicitous. Her father had indicated a hope that she might one day move to the Sanjo mansion, which he was giving her, and suggested that appearances might best be served if she were to go now.

"I would prefer otherwise," said Genji. "I would much prefer to have her here with me, so that I can look after her and ask her this and tell her that -- I would feel sadly deprived if she were to leave me. No one lives forever and I do not expect to live much longer. Please do not deny me the pleasure while I am here."

He spared no expense in remodeling the Sanjo mansion, where he made arrangemements for storing the finest produce of her fields and pastures. He had new storehouses built and saw that all her treasures, gifts from her father and the rest, were put under heavy guard. He himself would be responsible for the general support of her large and complex household.
 

In the autumn he had the garden to the west of the main hall at Rokujo done over to look like a moor. The altar and all the votive dishes were in gentle, ladylike taste. The princess readily agreed that the older of her women, her nurse among them, follow her in taking vows. Among the younger ones she chose only those whose resolve seemed firm enough to last out their lives. All of the others, caught up in a certain contagion, were demanding that they be admitted to the company.

Genji did not at all approve of this flight to religion. "If any of you, I don't care how few, are not ready for it, you are certain to cause mischief, and the world will say that you have been rash and hasty."

Only ten or so of them finally took vows.

Genji had autumn insects released in the garden moor, and on evenings when the breeze was cooler he would come visiting. The insect songs his pretext, he would make the princess unhappy by telling her once again of his regrets. He seemed to have forgotten her vows, and in general his behavior was not easily condoned. It was proper enough when there were others present, but he managed to make it very clear to her that he knew of her misdeeds. It was chiefly because she found his attentions so distasteful that she had become a nun. She had hoped that she might now find peace -- and here he was with endless regrets. She longed to withdraw to a retreat of her very own, but she was not one to say so.
 

On the evening of the full moon, not yet risen, she sat near the veranda of her chapel meditatively invoking the holy name. Two or three young nuns were arranging flowers before the holy images. The sounds of the nunnery, so far from the ordinary world, the clinking of the sacred vessels and the murmur of holy water, were enough to induce tears.

Genji paid one of his frequent visits. "What a clamor of insects you do have!" He joined her, very softly and solemnly, in the invocation to Amitabha.

None was brighter and clearer among the insects than the bell cricket, swinging into its song.

"They all have their good points, but Her Majesty seems to prefer the pine cricket. She sent some of her men a great distance to bring them in from the moors, but when she had them in her garden only a very few of them sang as sweetly for her as they had sung in the wilds. One would expect them to be as durable as pines, but in fact they seem to have short lives. They sing very happily off in forests and mountains where no one hears them, and that seems unsociable of them. These bell crickets of yours are so bright and cheerful."

"The autumn is a time of deprivation,
I have thought -- and yet have loved this cricket."

She spoke very softly and with a quiet, gentle elegance.

"What can you mean,'deprivation'?

"Although it has chosen to leave its grassy dwelling,
It cannot, this lovely insect, complain of neglect."

He called for a koto and treated her to a rare concert. She quite forgot her beads. The moon having come forth in all its radiance, he sat gazing up at it, lost in thoughts of his own. What a changeable, uncertain world it is, he was thinking. His koto seemed to plead in sadder tones than usual.

Prince Hotaru, his brother, came calling, having guessed that on such an evening there would be music. Yugiri was with him, and they were well and nobly attended. The sound of the koto led them immediately to the princess's rooms.

"Please do not call it a concert; but in my boredom I thought I might have a try at the koto I have so long neglected. Here I am playing for myself. It was good of you to hear and to come."

He invited the prince inside.

One after another the high courtiers came calling. There was to have been a moon-viewing fete at the palace, but it had been canceled, to their very great disappointment. Then had come word that people were gathering at Rokujo.

There were judgments upon the relative merits of the insect songs.

"One is always moved by the full moon," said Genji, as instrument after instrument joined the concert," but somehow the moon this evening takes me to other worlds. Now that Kashiwagi is no longer with us I find that everything reminds me of him. Something of the joy, the luster, has gone out of these occasions. When we were talking of the moods of nature, the flowers and the birds, he was the one who had interesting and sensitive things to say."

The sound of his own koto had brought him to tears. He knew that the princess, inside her blinds, would have heard his remarks about Kashiwagi.

The emperor too missed Kashiwagi on nights when there was music.

Genji suggested that the whole night be given over to admiring the bell cricket. He had just finished his second cup of wine, however, when a message came from the Reizei emperor. Disappointed at the sudden cancellation of the palace fete, Kobai and Shikibu no Tayu had appeared at the Reizei Palace, bringing with them some of the more talented poets of the day. They had heard that Yugiri and the others were at Rokujo.

"It does not forget, the moon of the autumn night,
A corner remote from that realm above the clouds.

"Do please come, if you have no other commitments."

Even though he in fact had few commitments these days and the Reizei emperor was living in quiet retirement, Genji seldom went visiting. It was sad that the emperor should have found it necessary to send for him. Despite the suddenness of the invitation he immediately began making ready.

"In your cloud realm the moonlight is as always,
And here we see that autumn means neglect."

It was not a remarkable poem, but it was honest, speaking of past intimacy and recent neglect. The messenger was offered wine and richly rewarded.
 

The procession, led by numerous outrunners and including Yugiri and his friends Saemon no Kami and Tosaisho, formed in order of rank, and so Genji gave up his quiet evening at home. Long trains gave a touch of formality to casual court dress. It was late and the moon was high, and the young men played this and that air on their flutes as the spirit moved them. It was an unobtrusively elegant progress. Bothersome ceremony always went with a formal meeting, and Genji wished this one to take them back to days when he had been less encumbered. The Reizei emperor was delighted. His resemblance to Genji was more striking as the years went by. The emperor had chosen to abdicate when he still had his best years ahead of him, and had found much in the life of retirement that pleased him.

The poetry, in Chinese and Japanese, was uniformly interesting and evocative, but I have fallen into an unfortunate habit of passing on but a random sampling of what I have heard, and shall say no more. The Chinese poems were read as dawn came over the sky, and soon afterwards the visitors departed.
 

Genji called on Akikonomu before returning to Rokujo.

"Now that you are not so busy," he said, "I often think how good it

would be to pass the time of day with you and talk of the things one does not forget. But I am neither in nor out of the world, a very tiresome position. My meditations on the uselessness of it all are unsettled by an awareness of how many people younger than I are moving ahead down the true path; and so I want more and more to find myself a retreat away from everything. I have asked you to look after the one I would be leaving behind. I am sure that I can count on you."

"I almost think that you are more inaccessible than when all those public affairs stood between us." She managed, as always, to seem both youthful and wise. "The thought that I would no longer have your kind advice and attention has been my chief reason for not following the example of so many others in renouncing the world. I have been very dependent on you and it is a painful thought."

"I awaited with the greatest pleasure the visits which protocol allowed you to make, and know that I should not expect to see much of you now. It is an uncertain and unreliable world, and yet one is attached to it, and unless there are very compelling reasons cannot easily give it up. Even when the right time seems to have come and everything seems in order, the ties still remain. It must be with you as with everyone else, and if you join the competition for salvation which we see all around us you may be sure that your detractors will put the wrong light upon your conduct. I do hope that you can be persuaded to give up all thought of it."

She feared that he did not, after all, understand. And in what smokes of hell would her poor mother be wandering? Genji had told no one that the vengeful spirit of the Rokujo lady had paid yet another visit. People will talk, however, and reports had presently reached Akikonomu, to make the whole world seem harsh and inhospitable. She wanted to hear her mother's exact words, or at least a part of them, but she could not bring herself to ask.

"I have been told, though I have no very precise information, that my mother died carrying a heavy burden of sin. Everything I know convinces me that it is true, but I fear I have been feeling too sorry for myself to do very much for her. I have been feeling very guilty and apologetic. I have become more and more convinced that I must find a holy man and ask him to be my guide in doing what should be done toward dispelling the smokes and fires."

Genji was deeply moved. He quite understood her feelings. "Most of us face those same fires, and yet a life as brief as the time of the morning dew continues to make its demands on us. We are told that among the disciples of the Blessed One there was a man who found immediate help in this world for a mother suffering in another, but it is an achievement which few of us can hope to imitate. Regrets would remain for the jeweled tresses which you propose to cut. No, what you must do is strengthen yourself in the faith and pray that the flames are extinguished. I have had the same wishes, and still the days have gone purposelessly by, and the quiet for which I long seems very far away. In the quiet I could add prayers for her to prayers for myself, and these delays seem very foolish." So they talked of a world which, for all its trials and uncertainties, is not easy to leave.
 

What had begun as a casual visit had attracted the notice of the whole court, and courtiers of the highest ranks were with Genji when he left in the morning. He had no worries for the Akashi princess, so responsive to all his hopes and efforts, or for Yugiri, who had attained to remarkable eminence for his age. He thought rather more about the Reizei emperor than about either of them. It was because he had wanted to be master of his own time and to see more of Genji that the Reizei emperor had been so eager to abdicate.

Akikonomu found it harder than ever to visit Rokujo. She was now beside her husband like any ordinary housewife. There were concerts and other pleasures, and life was in many ways more interesting than before, the serenity disturbed only by fears for her mother. She turned more and more to her prayers, but had little hope that the Reizei emperor would let her become a nun. Prayers for her mother made her more aware than ever of the evanescence of things.

 

 

Chapter 39

Evening Mist


Making full use of his name for probity and keeping to himself the fact that he thought the Second Princess very interesting, Yugiri let it seem to the world that he was only being faithful to an old friendship. He paid many a solemn visit, and came to feel more and more as the weeks and months went by that the situation was a little ridiculous. The princess s mother thought him the kindest of gentlemen. He provided the only relief from the loneliness and monotony of her life. He had given no hint of romantic intentions, and it would not do to proclaim himself a suitor. He must go on being kind, and the time would come, perhaps, when the princess would invite overtures. He took careful note, whenever an occasion presented itself, of her manners and tastes.
He was still awaiting his chance when her mother, falling into the clutches of an evil and very stubborn possession, moved to her villa at Ono. A saintly priest who had long guided her devotions and who had won renown as a healer had gone into seclusion on Mount Hiei and vowed never to return to the city. He would, however, come down to the foot of the mountain, and it was for that reason that she had moved to Ono. Yugiri provided the carriage and escort for the move. Kashiwagi's brothers were too busy with their own affairs to pay much attention. Kobai, the oldest of them, had taken an interest in the princess, but the bewilderment with which she had greeted evidence that it might be more than brotherly had made him feel unwelcome. Yugiri had been cleverer, it would seem, keeping his intentions to himself. When there were religious services he would see to the vestments and offerings and all the other details. The old lady was too ill to thank him.

The women insisted that, given his stern devotion to the proprieties, he would not be pleased with a note from a secretary. The princess herself must answer. And so she did presently get off an answer. The hand was good, and the single line of poetry was quietly graceful. The rest of the letter was gentle and amiable and convinced him more than ever that he must see her. He wrote frequently thereafter. But Kumoinokari was suspicious and raising difficulties, and it was by no means easy for him to visit Ono.

The Eighth Month was almost over. At Ono the autumn hills would be at their best.

"That priest of hers, what is his name," he said nonchalantly, "has come down from the mountains. There is something I absolutely must talk to him about, and it is a rare opportunity. He comes so seldom. And her mother has not been at all well, and I have been neglecting her."

He had with him five or six favored guardsmen, all in travel dress. Though the road led only through the nearer hills, the autumn colors were good, especially at Matsugasaki, in gently rolling country.

The Ono villa had an air of refinement and good taste that would have distinguished the proudest mansion in the city. The least conspicuous of the wattled fences was done with a flair which showed that a temporary dwelling need not be crude or common. A detached room at the east front of what seemed to be the main building had been fitted out as a chapel. The mother's room faced north and the princess had rooms to the west.

These evil spirits are greedy and promiscuous, the mother had said, begging the princess to stay behind in the city. But the princess had insisted upon coming. How could she bear to be so far from her mother? She was forbidden access to the sickroom, however.

Since they were not prepared to receive guests, Yugiri was shown to a place at the princess's veranda, whence messages were taken to her mother.

"You are very kind indeed to have come such a distance. You make me feel that I must live on -- how else can I thank you for the extraordinary kindness?"

"I had hoped that I myself might be your escort, but my father had things for me to do. My own trivial affairs have occupied me since, and so I have neglected you. I should be very sorry indeed if at any time it might have seemed to you that I did not care."

Behind her curtains, the princess listened in silence. He was aware of her presence, for the blinds were flimsy and makeshift. An elegant rustling of silk told him what part of the room to be interested in. He used the considerable intervals between messages from the old lady to remonstrate with Koshosho and the others.

"It has been some years now since I began visiting you and trying to be of service. This seems like a very chilly reception after such a record. I am kept outside and allowed only the diluted conversation that is possible through messengers. It is not the sort of thing my experience has prepared me for. Though of course it may be my lack of experience that is responsible. If I had been a trifling sort in my younger years I might possibly have learned to avoid making myself look silly. There can be few people my age who are so stupidly, awkwardly honest."

Yes, some of the women were whispering. He had every right to complain, and he was not the sort of underling one treated so brusquely.

"It will be embarrassing, my lady, if you try to put him off. You will seem obtuse and insensitive."

"I am very sorry indeed that she seems too ill to answer your kind inquiry in the way that it deserves," the princess finally sent out. "I shall try to answer for her. Whatever spirit it is that has taken possession of her, it seems to be of an unusually baneful sort, and so I have come from the city to be her nurse. I almost feel that I am no longer among the living myself. I fear you will think this no answer at all."

"These are her own words?" he said, bringing himself to attention. "I have felt, all through this sad illness, as if I myself were the victim. And do you know why that has been? It may seem rude and impertinent of me to say so, but until she has fully and happily recovered, the most important thing to all of us is that you yourself remain healthy and in good spirits. It is you I have been thinking of. If you have been telling yourself that my only concern is for your mother, then you have failed to sense the depth and complexity of my feelings."

True, perfectly true, said the women.

Soon it would be sunset. Mists were rising, and the mountain fastnesses seemed already to be receding into night. The air was heavy with the songs of the evening cicadas. Wild carnations at the hedge and an array of autumn flowers in near the veranda caught the evening light. The murmur of waters was cool. A brisk wind came down from the mountain with a sighing of deep pine forests. As bells announced that a new relay of priests had come on duty, the solemnity of the services was redoubled, new voices joined to the old. Every detail strengthened the spell that was falling over him. He wanted to stay on and on. The voice of the priest who had come down from the mountain was grander and more solemn than the rest.

Someone came to inform them that the princess's mother was suddenly in great pain. Women rushed to her side, and so the princess, who had brought few women with her in any event, was almost alone. She said nothing. The time for an avowal seemed to have arrived.

A bank of mist came rolling up to the very eaves.

"What shall I do?" he said. "The road home is blocked off.

"An evening mist -- how shall I find my way?-
Makes sadder yet a lonely mountain vi11age."
"The mists which enshroud this rustic mountain fence
Concern him only who is loathe to go."
He found these soft words somewhat encouraging and was inclined to forget the lateness of the hour.

"What a foolish predicament. I cannot see my way back, and you will not permit me to wait out the mists here at Ono. Only a very naive man would have permitted it to happen."

Thus he hinted at feelings too strong to control. She had pretended to be unaware of them and was greatly discommoded to have them stated so clearly. Though of course he was not happy with her silence, he was determined to seize the opportunity. Let her think him frivolous and rude. She must be informed of the feelings he had kept to himself for so long. He quietly summoned one of his attendants, a junior guards officer who had not long before received the cap of the Fifth Rank.

"I absolutely must speak to His Reverence, the one who has come down from the mountain. He has been wearing himself out praying for her, and I imagine he will soon be taking a rest. The best thing would be to stay the night and try to see him when the evening services are over."

He gave instructions that the guard go to his Kurusuno villa, not far away, and see to feeding the horses.

"I don't want a lot of noise. It will do no good to have people know we are here."

Sensing hidden meanings, the man bowed and withdrew.

"I would doubtless lose my way if I tried to go home," Yugiri continued unconcernedly. "Perhaps there are rooms for me somewhere hereabouts? This one here by your curtains -- may I ask you to let me have the use of it? I must see His Reverence. He should be finishing his prayers very shortly."

She was most upset. This insistent playfulness was not like him. She did not want to offend him, however, by withdrawing pointedly to the sickroom. He continued his efforts to coax her from her silence, and when a woman went in with a message he followed after.

It was still daylight, but the mists were heavy and the inner rooms were dark. The woman was horrified at having thus become his guide. The princess, sensing danger, sought to make her escape through the north door, to which, with sure instinct, he made his way. She had gone on into the next room, but her skirts trailed behind, making it impossible for her to bar the door. Drenched in perspiration, she sat trembling in the halfopen door. Her women could not think what to do. It would not have been impossible to bar the door from the near side, but that would have meant dragging him away by main force, and one did not lay hands upon such a man. h "Sir, sir. We would not have dreamed that you could even think of such a thing."

"Is it so dreadful that I am here beside her? I may not be the most desirable man in the world -- indeed I am as aware as anyone that I am far from it." He spoke slowly and with quiet emphasis. "But after all this time she can scarcely call me a stranger."

She was not prepared to listen. He had taken advantage of her, and there was nothing she wished to say.

"You are behaving like a selfish child. My crime has been to have feelings which I have kept to myself but which I cannot control. I promise you that I will do nothing without your permission. You have shattered my heart, and am I to believe that you do not know it? I am here because you have kept me at a distance and maintained this impossible pretense of ignorance -- because I have had no alternative. I have risked being thought a boorish upstart because my sorrows would mean nothing if you did not know of them. Your coldness could make me angry, but I respect your position too much to speak of it.

It would have been easy to force the door open, but that would have destroyed the impression of solemn sincerity which he had been at such pains to create.

"How touching," he said, laughing. "This thin little line between us seems to mean so much to you."

She was a sweet, gentle lady, in spite of everything. Perhaps it was her worries that made her seem so tiny and fragile. Her sleeves, pleasantly soft and rumpled -- for she had not been expecting guests -- gave off a friendly sort of perfume, and indeed everything about her was gently, quietly pleasing.

In upon a sighing wind came the sounds of the mountain night, a humming of insects, the call of a stag, the rushing of a waterfall. It was a scene that would have made the most sluggish and insensitive person postpone his rest. As the moon came over the mountain ridge he was almost in tears.

"If you wish your silence to suggest unplumbed depths you may be assured that it is having the opposite effect. You do not seem to know that

m utterly harmless, and so without pretense that I am easily made a victim of. People who feel free to deal in rumors laugh mightily at me. Are you one of them? If so, I really must beg your leave to be angry. You cannot pretend not to know about these things."

She was wretched, hating especially the hints that her experience should direct her towards easy acceptance. She had been very unlucky, and she wished she might simply vanish away.

"I am sure I have been guilty of errors in judgment, but nothing has prepared me for this." Her voice, very soft, seemed on the edge of tears.

"Weeping and weeping, paraded before the world,
The one and only model of haplessness?"
She spoke hesitantly, as if to herself. He repeated the poem in a whisper. She wished she had kept it to herself.

"I am sorry. I should not have said it.

"Had I not come inspiring all these tears,

The world would not have noticed your misfortunes?

"Come, now." She sensed that he was smiling. "A show of resolve is what is called for."

He tried to coax her out into the moonlight, but she held stubbornly back. He had no trouble taking her in his arms.

"Cannot this evidence of my feeling persuade you to be a little more companionable? But you may be assured that I shall do nothing without your permission."

Dawn was approaching. The mists had lifted and moonlight flooded the room, finding the shallow eaves of the west veranda scarcely a hindrance at all. She tried to hide her face and he thought her charming. He spoke briefly of Kashiwagi. Quietly, politely, he reproved her for holding him so much the inferior of his dead friend.

She was as a matter of fact comparing them. Although Kashiwagi had still been a minor and rather obscure official, everyone had seemed in favor of the marriage and she too had come to accept it; and once they were married he had shown that astonishing indifference. Now came scandalous insinuations on the part of a man who was as good as one of the family. How would they appear to her father-in-law -- and to the world in general -- and to her own royal father? It was too awful. She might fight him off with her last ounce of strength, but the world was not likely to give her much credit. And to keep her mother in ignorance seemed a very grave delinquency indeed. What a dunce her mother would think her when presently she learned of it all!

"Do please leave before daylight." She had nothing more to say to him.

"This is very odd. You know the interpretation which the dews are likely to put upon a departure at this hour. You shall have your way all the same; but please remember this: I have let you see what a fool I am, and if you gloat over what you have done I shall not hold myself responsible for the extremes I may be driven to."

He was feeling very inadequate to the situation and would have liked to persist further; but for all his inexperience he knew that he would regret having forced himself upon her. For her sake and for his own he made his way out under the cover of the morning mists.

"Wet by dew-laden reeds beneath your eaves,
I now push forth into the eightfold mists?
"And do you think that your own sleeves will be dry? You must pay for your arbitrary ways."

Though she could do little about rumors, she was determined not to face the reproaches of her own conscience.

"I think I have not heard the likes of it," she replied, more icily than before.

"Because these dewy grasses wet your sleeves
I too shall have wet sleeves -- is that your meaning?"
She was delightful. He felt sorry for her and ashamed of himself, that having so distinguished himself in her service and her mother's he should suddenly take advantage of her and propose a rather different sort of relationship. Yet he would look very silly if he were to bow and withdraw.

He left in great uncertainty. The weed-choked path to the city resembled his thoughts. These nocturnal wanderings were novel and exciting, but they were very disturbing too. His damp sleeves would doubtless be matter for speculation if he returned to Sanjo, and so he went instead to the northeast quarter at Rokujo. Morning mists lay heavy over the garden -- and how much heavier must they be at Ono!

The women were whispering. It was not the sort of thing they expected of him. The lady of the orange blossoms always had a change of clothing ready, fresh and elegant and in keeping with the season. When he had had breakfast he went to see his father.

He got off a note to the princess, but she refused to look at it. She was very upset at this sudden aggressiveness. She did not want to tell her mother, but it would be even worse if her mother were to have vague suspicions or to hear the story from one of the women. It was a world which refused to keep secrets. Perhaps, after all, the best thing -- it would upset her mother of course, but that could not be helped -- would be to have her women transmit the whole story, complete and without distortion. They were close even for mother and daughter, and there had not been the smallest secret between them. The romancers tell us of daughters who keep secrets from their parents even when the whole world knows, but the possibility did not occur to the princess.

"There is not the slightest indication," said one of the women, "that her mother knows anything. It is much too soon for the poor girl to begin worrying."

They were beside themselves with curiosity about the unopened letter.

"It will seem very odd, my lady, if you do not answer. Odd and, I should say, rather childish." And they opened it for her.

"It was entirely my fault," said the princess. "I was not as careful as I should have been and so he caught a glimpse of me. Yet I do think it inconsiderate of him, shockingly so. Tell him, please, that I could not bring myself to read it." Desperately lonely, she turned away from them.

The letter was warm but inoffensive, so much of it as they were able to see.

"My heart is there in the sleeve of an unkind lady,
Quite without my guidance. I am helpless.
"That is nothing unique, I tell myself. We all know what happens when a heart is left to its own devices. I do think all the same that it has been very badly misled."

It was a long letter, but this was all the women were able to read. They were puzzled. It did not sound like a nuptial letter, and yet -- they were sad for their lady, so visibly upset, and they were troubled and curious too. He had been so very kind, and if she were to let him have his way he might be disappointed in her. The future seemed far from secure.

The sick lady knew nothing of all this. The evil spirit continued to torment her, though there were intervals when she was more herself.

The noontide services were over and she had only her favorite priest beside her.

"Unless the blessed Vairocana is deceiving us," he said, overjoyed to see that she was resting comfortably, "I have every reason to believe that my humble efforts are succeeding. These spirits can be very stubborn, but they are lost souls, no more, doing penance for sins in other lives." He had a gruff voice and an abrupt manner. He added, apropos of nothing: "General Yugiri -- how long has he been keeping company with our princess?"

"Company? You are suggesting -- but there has been nothing of the sort. He and my late son-in-law were the closest of friends, and he has been very kind, most astonishingly kind, and that is all. He has come to inquire after me and I am very grateful."

"Now this is strange. I am a humble man from whom you need not hide the truth. As I was going in for the early services I saw a very stylish gentleman come out through the door there at the west corner. The mists were heavy and I was not able to make out his features, but some of my colleagues were saying that it was definitely the general. He sent his carriage away yesterday evening, they said, and stayed the night. I did catch a very remarkable scent. It almost made me dizzy. Yes, said I, it had to be the general. He does have such a scent about him always. My own feeling is that you should not be exactly overjoyed. He knows a great deal, there is no doubt about that. His grandmother was kind enough to have me read scriptures for him when he was a boy, and whenever it has been within my humble power I have continued to be of service to him since. I do not think that there are advantages in the match for your royal daughter. His lady has an iron will and very great influence, and her family is at the height of its power. She has seven or eight children. I think it most doubtful that your daughter has much chance of supplanting her. Women are weak creatures, born with sinful inclinations, and just such missteps as this leave them wandering in darkness all the long night through. If she angers the other lady she will have much to do penance for. No, my lady, no. I cannot be held responsible." Not one to mince words, he concluded with an emphatic shake of the head.

"It is, as you say, strange. There has been no indication, not the slightest, of anything of the sort. The women said that he was upset to find me so ill, and that after he had rested a little he would try to see me. Don't you suppose that is why he stayed the night? He is the most proper and honest of gentlemen."

She pretended to disagree, but his observations made sense. There had from time to time been signs of an uncommon interest. But Yugiri was such an earnest, scholarly sort, so very attentive to the proprieties, so concerned to avoid scandal. She had felt sure that nothing would happen without her daughter's permission. Had he taken advantage of the fact that she was so inadequately attended?

She summoned Koshosho when the priest had taken his leave. "What did in fact happen?" she asked, describing his view of the case. "Why didn't she tell me? But it can't really be so bad."

Though sorry for the princess, Koshosho described everything she knew in very great detail. She told of the impression made by the letter that morning, of what she had seen and the princess had hinted at.

"Don't you suppose he made a clean breast of his feelings? That and no more? He showed the most extraordinary caution and left before the sun was up. What have the others told you?"

She did not suspect Who the real informer was. The old lady was silent, tears streaming over her face. Koshosho wished she had not been so frank. She feared the effect of so highly charged a revelation on a lady already dangerously ill.

"But the door was barred," she said, trying to repair the damage a little.

"Maybe it was. But she let him see her, nothing alters that horrid fact. She may be blameless otherwise, but if the priests and the wretched urchins they brought with them have had something to say, can you imagine that they will have no more? Can you expect outsiders to make apologies for her and to protect and defend her?" And she added: "We have such a collection of incompetents around us."

Poor, poor lady, Koshosho was thinking -- in torment already, and now this shocking news. She had wanted for her daughter the elegant and courtly seclusion that becomes a princess, and just think what the world would be saying about her!

"Please tell her," said the old lady, drying her tears, "that I am feeling somewhat better and would like to see her. She will understand, I am sure, why I cannot call on her, as I know I should. It seems such a very long time."

Koshosho went for the princess, saying only that her mother wanted to see her. The princess brushed her hair, wet from weeping, and changed to fresh clothes. Still she hesitated. What would these women be thinking? And her mother -- her mother could know nothing as yet, and would be hurt if hints were to come from someone else.

"I am feeling dreadful," she said, lying down again. "It would be better for everyone if I were not to recover. Something seems to be attacking my legs."

She had one of the women massage it away, a force, probably, that had taken advantage of the confusion to mount through the extremities.

"Someone has been telling your good mother stories," said Koshosho. "She asked me about last night and I told her everything. I insisted on your innocence by making the door seem a little firmer than it was. If she should ask you, please try to make your story match mine." She did not say how upset the old lady had been.

So it was true. Utterly miserable, the princess wept in silence. Then and now -- she had had two suitors, both of them unwelcome. Both had caused her poor mother pain. As for the princess herself, she seemed to face a future of limitless trials. There would be further overtures. She had resisted, and that was some small comfort; but for a princess to have exposed herself as she had was inexcusably careless.

Presently it was evening.

"Do please come," said her mother.

She made her way in through a closet. The old lady sat up, ill though she was, and omitted none of the amenities. "I must look a fright. Do please excuse me. It has only been a few days and it seems like an eternity. We cannot know that we will meet in another world, and we cannot be sure that we will recognize each other if we meet again in this one. Perhaps it was a mistake to become so fond of each other. Such a very short time together and we must say goodbye." She was weeping.

The princess could only gaze at her in silence. Always a quiet, reserved girl, she knew nothing of the comforts of confession. The mother could not bring herself to ask questions. She ordered lights and had dinner brought for the two of them. Having heard from Koshosho that the princess was not eating, she arranged the meal in the way the princess liked best, but to no avail. The princess was pleased all the same to see her mother so improved.

A letter came from Yugiri. A woman who knew nothing of what had happened took it. "From the general," she said, "for Koshosho."

How unfortunate, thought Koshosho. Very deferentially, the mother asked what might be in it. Resentment was giving way to anticipation and a hope that Yugiri might again come visiting. Indeed, the possibility that he might not was emerging as her chief worry.

"You really must answer him," she said to the princess. "You may proclaim to the world that you are clean and pure, but how many will believe you? Let him have a good-natured answer and let things go on very much as they are. That will be the best thing. You will not want him to think you an ill-mannered flirt."

Reluctantly Koshosho gave up the letter.

"You may be sure that evidence of your unconscionable hostility will have the effect of arousing me further.

"Shallow it is, for all these efforts to dam it.
You cannot dam and conceal so famous a flow."
It was a long letter, but the old lady read no more. It seemed to her the worst sort of sophistry, and the implied reason for his failure to visit seemed pompous and wholly unacceptable. Kashiwagi had not been the best of husbands, but he had behaved correctly and never made the princess feel threatened or insecure. The old lady had not been happy with him -- and Yugiri's behavior was far worse. What would Tono Chujo and his family be thinking, what would they be saying?

But she must try to learn more of Yugiri's intentions. Drying her tears and struggling to quiet her thoughts, she set about composing a letter. The hand was like the strange tracks of a bird.

"When she came inquiring about my health, which is in a sorry state, I urged that she reply to your letter. I could see that she was not at all well herself, and I felt that some sort of reply was required of someone.

"You stay a single night. It means no more,
This field of sadly fading maiden flowers?"
It was a much shorter note than she would have wished. She folded it formally and lay down, suddenly worse. Her women were greatly alarmed. The evil spirit had lulled her into a moment of inattention and taken advantage of it. The more famous healers were put to work again and the house echoed with their prayers and incantations. The princess must return at once to her rooms, insisted the women. She refused absolutely. If her mother was to die she wished to die also.

Yugiri returned to his Sanjo mansion at about noon. He knew what almost no one else did, that nothing had happened, and he would have felt rather foolish running off to Ono again in the evening. This victory for restraint, however, increased his longing a thousand times over. Kumoinokari had sensed in a general way what was happening and was of course not pleased, but with so many children to look after she had no trouble feigning ignorance. She was resting in her parlor.

It was dark when the old lady's letter arrived. In that strange hand, like the tracks of a bird, it was next to illegible. He brought it close to a lamp.

Kumoinokari came lurching through her curtains and snatched it from over his shoulder.

"And why did you do that? It is a note from the lady at Rokujo. She was coming down with a cold this morning and feeling wretched. I meant to look in on her when I left Father, but something came up, and so I got off a note instead. Read it, if you are so curious. Does it look like a love letter? It seems rather common of you to want to. You treat me more like a child the longer we are together. Have you thought of the effect it may have on me?"

He did not try to recover the note, nor could she quite bring herself to read it.

"It is your own conduct," she said, "which makes you feel that I do not do sufficient honor to your maturity."

Though she found his self-possession somewhat daunting, she answered with a brisk youthfulness that was not at all unconvincing.

"You may be right. But there is one matter of which you seem to be unaware, that this sort of thing happens all the time. What is unique, I suspect, is the case of a man who reaches a certain station in life and continues to be unwaveringly faithful to one lady. You have heard of henpecking, perhaps? People always seem to find it very funny. And I should point out that the wife of so stodgy a man tends not to seem very exciting herself. Think how her reputation rises, how the wrinkles go away, how interesting and amusing life is, when she is first among a multitude of ladies. What fun is it and what satisfaction does it give to be like the old dotard, what's his name, hanging on to his Lady Something-orother?"

It seemed to be his purpose, while pretending that the letter was nothing, to get it back.

She smiled a bright and pretty smile. "But you are so young all of a sudden that you make me very much aware of my wrinkles. And the novelty will take some getting used to. I have not had the proper education."

A complaining wife, he thought, can sometimes be rather charming.

"Oh, you see a change in me? That surprises and upsets me. It shows that we no longer understand each other as we once did. Has someone been talking about me? Someone, perhaps, who long ago found me unacceptable? Who has failed to note that my sleeves are no longer blue, and still wishes to interfere? But whoever she may be, an innocent princess is being wronged." He was not feeling in the least apologetic, and did not wish to argue the matter.

Tayu squirmed but was no more prepared to argue than he. The discussion went on for a time, during which Kumoinokari managed to hide the letter. Pretending not to care very much, he went to bed. But he was very excited and very eager to have it back. He had guessed that it was from the princess's mother. And what might it say? He lay sleepless, and when Kumoinokari was asleep probed under her quilts. He found nothing. How had she been able to hide it?

He lay in bed after the sun was up and after Kumoinokari had been summoned to work by the children. As if putting himself in order for the day, he probed yet further, and still found no trace of it. Persuaded that it was indeed an innocent sort of letter, the busy Kumoinokari had forgotten about it. The children were chasing one another and ministering to their dolls and having their time at reading and calligraphy. The baby had come crawling up and was tugging at her sleeves. She had no thought for the letter. Yugiri could think of nothing else. He must get off an answer, but he did not know what he would be answering. The old lady would conclude that her letter had been lost if his seemed irrelevant.

After breakfast there came a lull of sorts and he felt that he could wait no longer.

"What was in the letter last night? Do you propose to keep it secret? I ought to go see her again today, but I am not feeling at all well myself. So I ought to get off a note."

He did not seem to care a great deal, and she was beginning to feel a little foolish.

"Oh, think up some elegant excuse. Tell her you went hiking in the mountains and caught cold."

"That was not funny, and I see no need for elegance. You think I am like all the others, do you? Our friends here have always thought me a queer old stick, and these insinuations must strike them as rather far from the mark. But the letter -- where is it?"

She was in no hurry. They talked of this and that, and had their naps, and it was evening. Awakened by the evening cicadas he thought again of the gloomy mountain mists. What a wretched business! And he still had not answered. Deliberately, he got ink and brush ready, and considered how to answer an unseen letter. His eyes lighted on a cushion that seemed to bulge along the far edge -- and there it was! The obvious places were the ones a person overlooked. He smiled, and immediately was serious again. It was deeply distressing. The old lady was assuming that something of significance had occurred. How very unfortunate -- and his failure to visit the night before must have been for her a disaster. He had not even written. No ordinary sort of disquiet could explain such a chaotic hand.

Nothing could be done now to repair the damage. He was angry with Kumoinokari. Her playfulness could have done no good even if it had done no damage. But no, the fault was his. He had not trained her properly. He was so angry with her and with himself that he wanted to weep.

Perhaps he should go immediately to Ono. He could expect the princess to be no friendlier than before. But how was he to explain the mother's apparent sense of crisis? It was moreover a very unlucky day, not the sort on which a man went forth in the expectation of having a bride bestowed upon him. He must be calm and take the longer view. He set about an answer.

"I was surprised and for many reasons pleased to have your letter. Yet it is somehow accusing. What can have aroused your suspicions?

"Although I made my way through thick autumn grasses,
I wove no pillow of grass for vagrant sleep.
"Apologies are not always to the point, even when silence might seem to speak of something"

There was a long message for the princess as well. Ordering a fast horse, he summoned the guards officer of the last Ono visit and, with whispered instructions, sent him off to Ono once more.

"Say that I have been at Rokujo all day and have just come home."

The princess's mother had been persuaded by his apparent coldness to dispatch a resentful note, and there had been no answer. What utter insolence! It was evening once more and she was in despair and in even greater pain. The princess, for her part, did not find his behavior even mildly surprising. Her only concern was that she had let him see her. Her mother's apparent view of the case embarrassed her acutely and left her more inarticulate than ever. Poor child, the mother was thinking. Misfortune heaped upon misfortune.

"I do not wish to seem querulous, my dear, but your astonishing innocence makes it difficult for me to resign myself to what has happened. You have left yourself exposed. There is nothing to be done now, but do please try to be more careful. I do not count, I know, but I have tried to do my best. I would have thought that you had reached an age when you could be expected to know about men. I have hoped that I might be a little more confident. But I see that you are still as easily persuaded as a child, and pray that I may live a little longer.

"Wellborn ladies, even if they are not princesses, do not have two husbands. And you are a princess, and should above everything guard against appearing to be within easy reach. Things went so badly the first time and I worried so about you. But it was meant to be, and there is no point in complaining. Your royal father seemed to find him acceptable, and he seems to have had his father's permission too, and so I told myself that I must be the one who did not understand. I watched it all, knowing that you had done nothing wrong and that I might as well complain to the skies. This new affair will bring no great honor to either of you, but if it leads to the usual sort of relationship, well, time will go by and we can try not to listen to the gossips, and perhaps learn to live with it. Or so I had concluded." She was weeping. "So I had concluded before I discovered what sort of man he is."

A gently, forlornly elegant little figure, the princess could only weep with her.

"Certainly there is nothing wrong with your appearance," continued the mother, gazing at her, "nothing that singles you out as remarkably inferior. What can you have done in other lives that you should have no happiness in this one?"

She was suddenly in very great pain. Malevolent spirits have a way of seizing upon a crisis. She fell into a coma and was growing colder by the moment. The priests offered the most urgent supplications. For her favorite priest there was a special urgency. He had compromised his vows, and it would be a cruel defeat to take down his altar and, having accomplished nothing at all, wander back up the mountain. Surely he deserved better treatment at the hands of the Blessed One.

The princess was beside herself.

In the midst of all the confusion a letter arrived from Yugiri. The old lady, now dimly aware of what was happening, took it as evidence that another night would pass without a visit. Worse and worse -- nothing now could keep her daughter from being paraded before the world as an utter simpleton. And she herself -- what could have persuaded her to write so damaging a letter?

These were her last thoughts. She was no more.

I need not describe the grief and desolation she left behind. She had been ill much of the time, victim of a malign possession, and more than once they had thought that she was dying. It had been assumed that this was another such seizure, and the priests had been feverishly at work. But it was soon apparent that the end had come. The princess clung to her, longing to go wherever she had gone.

"We must accept the inevitable, my lady." The women offered the usual platitudes. "Of course you are sad, but she has gone the way from which there is no returning. However much you may wish to go with her, it is not possible." They pulled her from her mother's side. "You are inviting bad luck, and your dear mother will have much to reprove you for. Do please come with us."

But the girl seemed to waste away before their eyes, and to understand nothing of what was said to her.

The altar was taken down. Two and three at a time, the priests were departing. Intimates of the family remained, as might have been expected, but everything was over, and the house was still and lonely.
Messages of condolence were already coming in, for the news had spread swiftly. A dazed Yugiri was among the first to send condolences. There were messages from Genji and Tono Chujo and many others.

There was an especially touching letter from the princess's father, the Suzaku emperor. The princess forced herself to read it.

"I had known of her illness for some time, but I had known too, of course, that she had long been in bad health. I see now that I was not as worried as I should have been. But that is over and finished, and what concerns us now is your own state of mind. Please be sure, if it is any comfort, that I am grieving with you, and please try to take some comfort from the thought that everything must pass."

Through her tears, she set down an answer.

The old lady had left instructions that the funeral take place that same day. Her nephew, the governor of Yamato, had charge of the arrangements. The princess asked for a last silent interview with her mother, but of course it accomplished nothing. The arrangements were soon in order.

At the worst possible moment Yugiri appeared.

"I must go to Ono today," he had said as he left Sanjo. "If I don't go today I don't know when I can go. The next few days are bad." The image of the grieving princess was before his eyes.

"Please, my lord," said the women. "You should not seem to be in such a hurry."

But he insisted.

The journey to Ono was a long one and a house of grief awaited him at the end of it. Gloomy screens and awnings kept the funeral itself from his view. He was shown to the princess's room, where the governor of Yamato, in tears, thanked him for his visit. Leaning against a corner railing, he asked that one or two of the princess's women be summoned. They were none of them in a state to receive him, but Koshosho did presently come in. Though he was not an emotional man, what he had seen of the house and its occupants so moved him that he was at first unable to speak. Generalizations about the evanescence of things were suddenly particular and immediate.

"I had allowed myself to be persuaded that she was recovering," he said, controlling himself with difficulty. "It always takes time to awaken, as they say, and this has been so sudden."

The cause of her mother's worst torments, thought the princess, was here before her. She knew about inevitability and all that sort of thing. But how cruel they were, the ties that bound her to him! She could not bring herself to send out an answer.

"And what may we tell him you have said, my lady? He is an important man and he has come running all this distance to see you. Do not, please, make it seem that you are unaware of his kindness."

"Imagine how I feel and say what seems appropriate. I cannot think of anything myself." And she went to bed.

Her women quite understood. "Poor lady, she is half dead herself," said one of them. "I have told her that you are here."

"There is nothing more I can say. I shall come again when I am a little more in control of myself and when your lady is somewhat more composed. But why did it happen so suddenly?"

With many pauses and with some understatement, Koshosho described the old lady's worries. "I fear I will seem to be accusing you of something, my lord. This dreadful business has left us somewhat distraught, and it may be that I have been guilty of inaccuracies. My lady seems only barely alive, but these things too must end, and when she is a little more herself perhaps I can describe things a little more clearly and listen more carefully to whatever you may wish to say to her."

She did not seem to be exaggerating her grief. There was little more to be said.

"Yes, we all wandering in pitch-blackness. Please do try to comfort her, and if there should be the briefest answer -- "

He did not want to go, but it was a delicate situation and he had his dignity to consider. It had not occurred to him that the funeral would take place this very evening. Though the arrangements had been hurried, they did not seem in any way inadequate. He left various instructions with the people from his manors and started for the city. Ceremonies which because of the haste might have been almost perfunctory were both grand and well attended.

"Extraordinarily kind of Your Lordship," said the governor of Yamato.

And so it was all over, and the princess was quite alone. She was convulsed with grief, but of course nothing was to be done. It went against nature, thought the women, to become so strongly attached to anyone, even a mother.

"You cannot stay here by yourself," insisted the governor, busy with the last details. "If you are ever to find comfort it must be back in the city."

But the princess insisted that she would live out her days at Ono, with the mountain mists to remember her mother by. The priests who were to preside over the mourning had put up temporary cells in the east rooms and galleries and certain of the east outbuildings. One hardly knew that they were still on the premises. The last traces of color had been stripped from the princess's rooms.

The days went by, though she was scarcely able to distinguish day from night, and it was the Ninth Month.

Harsh winds came down from the mountains, the trees were stripped bare, and it was the melancholy time of the year. The princess's spirits were as black as the skies. She wanted to die, but not even that was permitted her. The gloom was general, though Yugiri's gifts brightened the lives of the priests a little. There were daily messages for the princess which combined the most eloquent condolences with chidings for her aloofness. She refused to look at them. She was still living her mother's last days. It was as if her mother, wasting away, were still here beside her, seeing everything in the worst light, convinced that no other interpretation was possible. The resentment would most certainly be an obstacle on the way into the next world. The briefest of his messages repelled her and brought on new floods of tears. The women could not think what to do for her.

Yugiri at first attributed the silence to grief. But too much time went by and he was becoming resentful. Grief must end, after all. She was being unkind, obtuse even, and indeed he was coming to think it a rather childish performance. If his notes had been full of flowers and butterflies and all the other fripperies, she would have been right to ignore them; but he made it quite clear that he felt her grief as his own.

He remembered his grandmother's death. It had seemed to him that Tono Chujo was inadequately grief-stricken and too easily philosophical, and that the memorial services were more for the public than for the dead lady herself. He had been deeply grateful to Genji, on the other hand, for going beyond what was asked of an outsider, and he had felt very close to Kashiwagi. Of a quiet, meditative nature, Kashiwagi had seemed the most lovable of them all, the most sensitive to the sorrows of things. And so he felt very keenly for the bereaved princess.

What did it all mean? Kumoinokari was asking. He had not seemed on such very good terms with the dead lady, nor had their correspondence been of the most flourishing.

One evening as he lay gazing up at the sky she sent one of her little boys with a note on a rather ordinary bit of paper.

"Which emotion demands my sympathy,
Grief for the one or longing for the other?
"The uncertainty is most trying."

He smiled. She had a lively imagination, though he did not think the reference to the princess's mother in very good taste. Coolly he dashed off a reply.

"I do not know the answer to your question.
The dew does not rest long upon the leaves.
"My feelings are for the world in general."

She wished he might be a little more communicative. It was not the fleeting dews that worried her.

He set off for Ono once more. He had thought to wait until the mourning was over but could no longer contain his impatience. The princess's reputation was beyond saving in any event, and he might as well do what other men did and have his way with her. He did not try very hard to persuade Kumoinokari that her suspicions were groundless. For all the princess's determination to be unfriendly, he had a weapon to use against her, the old lady's reproof at his failure to come visiting that second evening.

It was the middle of the Ninth Month, a time when not even the most insensitive of men can be unaware of the mountain colors. The autumn winds tore at the trees and the leaves of the vines seemed fearful of being left behind. Someone far away was reading a sutra, and someone was invoking the holy name, and for the rest Ono seemed deserted. Indifferent to the clappers meant to frighten them from the harvests, the deer that sought shelter by the garden fences were somber spots among the hues of autumn. A stag bayed plaintively, and the roar of a waterfall was as if meant to break in upon sad thoughts. Insect songs, less insistent, among the brown grasses, seemed to say that they must go but did not know where. Gentians peered from the grasses, heavy with dew, as if they alone might be permitted to stay on. The sights and sounds of autumn, ordinary enough, but recast by the occasion and the place into a melancholy scarcely to be borne.

In casual court robes, pleasantly soft, and a crimson singlet upon which the fulling blocks had beaten a delicate pattern, he stood for a time at the corner railing. The light of the setting sun, almost as if directed upon him alone, was so bright that he raised a fan to his eyes, and the careless grace would have made the women envious had he been one of their number. But alas, they could not have imitated it. He smiled, so handsome a smile that it must bring comfort to the cruelest grief, and asked for Koshosho.

"Come closer please" Though she was already very near, he sensed that there were others behind the blinds "I would expect at least you to be a little friendlier. The mists are thick enough to hide you if you are afraid of being seen" He glanced up at them though not as if reposing great faith in them. "Do please come out."

She gathered her skirts and took a place behind a curtain of mourning which she had set out just beyond the blinds. A younger sister of the governor of Yamato, she had been taken in by her aunt and reared with the Second Princess, almost as a sister. She had therefore put on the most somber of mourning robes.

He was soon in tears. "To a grief that refuses to go away is added a sense of injury quite beyond describing, enough to take all the meaning from life. Everywhere I look I encounter expressions of amazement that it should be so." He spoke too of the mother's last letter.

Koshosho was sobbing. "When you did not write she withdrew into her thoughts as if she did not mean to come out again. She seemed to go away with the daylight. I could see that the evil spirit, whatever it may have been, was behaving as usual, taking advantage of her weakness. I had seen it happen many times during our troubles with the young master. But she always seemed to rally, with a great effort of will, when she saw that the princess was as unhappy as she and needed comforting. The princess, poor thing, has been in a daze." There were many pauses, as if it had all been more than she could reconcile herself to.

"That is exactly what I mean. She must pull herself together and make up her mind. You may think it impertinent of me to say so, but I am all she has left. Her father is a complete recluse. She cannot expect messages to come very often from those cloudy peaks. Do, please, have a word with her. What must be must be. She may not want to live on, but we cannot have our way in these matters. If we could, then of course these cruel partings would not occur."

Koshosho did not seek to interrupt. A stag called out from just beyond the garden wall.

"I would not be outdone.

"I push my way through tangled groves to Ono.
Shall my laments, 0 stag, be softer than yours?"
Koshosho replied:

"Dew-drenched wisteria robes in autumn mountains.
Sobs to join the baying of the stag."
It was no masterpiece, but the hushed voice and the time and place were right.

He sent in repeated messages to the princess. A single answer came back, so brief that it was almost curt. "It is like a nightmare. I shall try to thank you when I am a little more myself."

What uncommon stubbornness! The thought of it rankled all the way back to the city. Though the autumn skies were sad, the moon, near full, saw him safely past Mount Ogura. The princess's Ichijo mansion wore an air of neglect and disrepair. The southwest corner of the garden wall had collapsed. The shutters were drawn and the grounds were deserted save for the moon, which had quite taken possession of the garden waters. He thought how Kashiwagi's flute would have echoed through these same grounds on such a night.

"No shadows now of them whom once I knew.
Only the autumn moon to guard the waters."
Back at Sanjo he gazed up at the moon as if his soul had abandoned him and gone wandering through the skies.

"Never saw anything like it," said one of the women. "He always used to be so well behaved."

Kumoinokari was very unhappy indeed. He seemed to have lost his head completely. Perhaps he had been observing the ladies at Rokujo, long used to this sort of thing, and had concluded that she was worse than uninteresting. Well, it might be that his dissatisfaction should be directed at himself. Life might have been better for her if he had been a Genji. Everyone seemed to agree that she was married to a model of decorum and that her marriage had been ordained by the happiest fates. And was it to end in scandal?

Dawn was near. Sleepless, they were alone with their separate thoughts. He was as always in a rush to get off a letter, even before the morning mists had lifted. Disgusting, thought she, though she did not this time try to take it from him. It was a long letter, and when he had finished he read certain favored passages over to himself, softly but quite audibly.

"It falls from above.

"Waking from the dream of an endless night
You said -- and when may I pay my visit?"
"And what am I to do?" he added in a whisper as he folded it into an envelope and sent for a messenger.

She would have liked to know what else was in it and hoped that she might have a glimpse of the reply. It was all most unsettling.

The sun was high when the reply came. On paper of a dark purple, it was as usual from Koshosho, and, as usual, short and businesslike.

"She made a few notes at the end of your letter. Feeling a little sorry for you and thinking them better than nothing, I gathered them and herewith smuggle them to you."

So the princess had seen his letter! His delight was perhaps a little too open. There were indeed scraps of paper, fragmentary and disconnected, some of which he reassembled into a poem:

"Morning and night, laments sound over Mount Ono
And Silent Waterfall -- a flow of tears?"
There were also fragments from the anthologies, in a very good hand.

He had always thought that there was something wrong with a man who could lose his senses over a woman, and here he was doing it himself. How strange it was, and how extremely painful. He tried to shake himself back into sanity, but without success.

Genji learned of the affair. The calm, sober Yugiri, about whom there had never been a whisper of scandal, an edifying contrast with the Genji of the days when he had seemed rather too susceptible -- here Yugiri was making two women unhappy. And he was Tono Chujo's son-in-law and nephew, certainly no stranger to the family. But Yugiri must know what he was doing. No doubt it had all been fated, and Genji was in no position to offer advice. He felt very sorry for the women, and he thought of Murasaki and how unhappy he had made her. Each time a new rumor reached him he would tell her how he worried about her and the life that awaited her when he was gone.

It was not kind of him, she thought, flushing, to have plans for leaving her. Such a difficult, constricted life as a woman was required to live! Moving things, amusing things, she must pretend to be unaffected by them. With whom was she to share the pleasure and beguile the tedium of this fleeting world? Since it chose to look upon women as useless, unfeeling creatures, should it not pity the fathers who went to such trouble rearing them? Like the mute prince who was always appearing in sad parables, a woman should be sensitive but silent. The balance was certainly very difficult to maintain -- and the little girl in her care, Genji's granddaughter, must face the same difficulties.

Genji found occasion, on one of Yugiri's visits, to seek further information. "I suppose the mourning for the Ichijo lady will soon be over. It was only yesterday, you think, and already thirty years and more have gone by. That is the sort of world we live in, and we cling to a life that is no more substantial than the evening dew. I have wanted for a very long time to leave it all behind, and it does not seem right that I should go on living this comfortable life"

"It is true," said Yugiri. "The very least of us clings to his tiny bit of life. The governor of Yamato saw to the memorial services without the help of anyone. It was rather pathetic, somehow. You sensed how little the poor lady had behind her. There was an appearance of solidity while she lived and then it was gone."

"I suppose there have been messages from the Suzaku emperor? I can imagine how things must be with the princess. I did not know them well, but there have been reports in recent years suggesting what a superior person the dead lady was. We all feel the loss. The ones we need are the ones who go away. It must have been a dreadful blow to the Suzaku emperor. I am told that the Second Princess is his favorite after the Third Princess here. Everyone says that she is most attractive."

"But what about her disposition? I wonder. The mother was, as you suggest, a lady whom no one could find fault with. I did not know her well, but I did see her a few times, on this occasion and that."

He obviously did not propose to give himself away. Genji held his peace. One did not question the feelings of a man so admirably in control of himself, nor did one expect to be listened to.

Yugiri himself had in fact taken responsibility for the memorial services. Such matters do not remain secret, and reports reached Tono Chujo. Knowing Yugiri, he put the whole blame on the princess and concluded that she must be a frivolous, flighty little thing. His sons were all present at the services, and Tono Chujo himself sent lavish offerings. In the end, because no one wished to be outdone, they were services worthy of the highest statesman in the land.

The princess had said that she would end her days at Ono. Her father learned of these intentions and sought to remonstrate with her.

'It will not do. You are right to want to avoid complications, but it sometimes happens that when a lady alone in the world seeks to withdraw from it completely she finds that just the opposite has happened. She finds herself involved in scandal, and therefore in the worst position, neither in the world nor out of it. I have become a priest and your sister has followed me and become a nun, and people seem to think my line rather unproductive. I know that in theory I should not care what they say, but I must admit that it is not the most pleasing sight, my daughters racing one another into a nunnery. No, my dear -- the world may seem too much for you, but when you run impulsively away from it you sometimes find that it is with you more than ever. Do please wait a little while and have a calm look at things when you are in better spirits."

It seemed that he had heard of Yugiri's activities. People would not make charitable judgments, he feared. They would say that she had been jilted. Though he would not think it entirely dignified of her to appear before the world as one of Yugiri's ladies, he did not want to embarrass her by saying so. He should not even have heard of the affair and he had no right to an opinion. He said not a word about it.

Yugiri was feeling restless and inadequate. His petitions were having no effect at all. Nor did it seem likely that persistence would accomplish anything. If he could only think how, he might let it be known that the mother had accepted his suit. He might risk doing slight discredit to the dead lady's name by making it seem that the affair had begun rather a long time before, he scarcely knew when. He would feel very silly, in any event, going through the tears and supplications all over again.

Choosing a propitious day for taking her back to Ichijo, he instructed the governor of Yamato to make the necessary preparations. He also gave instructions for cleaning and repairing the Ichijo mansion. It was a fine house, a suitable dwelling for royalty, but the women she had left behind could scarcely see out through the weeds that had taken over the garden. When he had everything cleaned and polished he turned to preparations for the move itself, asking the governor to put his craftsmen to work on screens and curtains and cushions and the like.

On the appointed day he went to Ichijo and sent carriages and an escort to Ono. The princess quite refused to leave. Her women noisily sought to persuade her, as did the governor of Yamato.

"I am near the end of my patience, Your Highness. I have felt sorry for you and done everything I could think of to help you, even at the cost of neglecting my official duties. I absolutely must go down to Yamato and see to putting things in order again. I would not want to send you back to Ichijo all by yourself, but we have the general taking care of everything. I have to admit that when I give a little thought to these arrangements I do not find them ideal for a princess, but we have examples enough of far worse things. Are you under the impression that you alone may escape criticism? A very childish impression indeed. The strongest and most forceful lady cannot put her life in order without someone to help her, someone to make the arrangements and box the corners. Much the wiser thing would be to accept help where it is offered. And you," he said to Koshosho and Sakon. "You have not given her good advice, and your behavior has not been above reproach."

They stripped her of mourning and brought out fresh, bright robes and brushed the hair she had resolved to cut. It was a little thinner, but still a good six feet long and the envy of them all. Yet she went on telling herself that she looked dreadful, that she must not be seen, that no one had ever been more miserable than she.

"We are late, my lady." Her women accosted her one after another. "We are very late."

There was a sudden and violent rain squall.

"My choice would be to rise with the smoke from the peaks,
Which might perhaps not go in a false direction."
Knowing of her wish to become a nun, they had hidden the knives and scissors. All very unnecessary. She no longer cared in the least what happened to her, and she would not have been so childish, nor would she have wished people to think her so obstinate, as to cut her hair in secret.

Everyone was in a great hurry. All manner of combs and boxes and chests and bulging bags had already been sent off to the city. The house was bare, she could not stay on alone. In tears, she was finally shown into a carriage, and beside her was the empty seat that had been her mother's. On the journey to Ono her mother, desperately ill, had stroked her hair and gently sought to comfort her, and on their arrival had insisted that she dismount first. She had her talisman sword beside her as always, and a sutra box inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a memento of her mother.

"A small bejeweled box, now wet with tears,
To help me remember and seek elusive solace."
She had kept it back from the offerings in memory of her mother. The black sutra box she had ordered for herself was not yet ready.

She felt like the son of Urashima, returning to an utterly changed world. The Ichijo house, now buzzing with life, was scarcely recognizable. She found it somehow frightening, and at first refused to leave the carriage, which had been pulled up at a veranda. What a foolish child, said her women, who could not think what to do.

Yugiri had taken the main room of the east wing for his own use. There were whispers of astonishment back at Sanjo. "When can it all have begun?"

This most proper of gentlemen was showing unexpected tendencies. Everyone concluded that he must have kept the affair secret for months and years. It did not occur to people that in fact the princess was still defending her virtue. The gossip and Yugiri's continuing attentions made her very unhappy indeed.

It was not the best possible time for nuptial measures, but he proceeded to the princess's rooms when dinner was over and the house was quiet, and demanded that Koshosho admit him.

"Please, sir. If your affection seems likely to last awhile longer, please do her the kindness of waiting a day or two. It may seem to you that she has come home, but she feels utterly lost and is lying there as if she might be on the point of expiring. She tells me I am being heartless when I try to rouse her. I would find it almost impossible to say more than I have already said even if I were arguing my own case."

"How very strange. She is a sillier goose than I had imagined." All over again, he assured Koshosho that his motives were unassailable.

"Please, sir, I beg of you. I do almost fear that I might have another dead lady on my hands, and your reasoned arguments are beyond me. Please, please do nothing rash or violent."

"Now this is a unique situation. I have been put at the bottom of the list, and I would like to call in judges and ask whether I deserve to be there." He fell silent.

Koshosho smiled. "If you think it unique, then you are confessing that you have not had much experience in these matters. We must by all means call in judges."

This jocularity hid very great uneasiness, for she was powerless to restrain him. He marched in ahead of her and made his way through unfamiliar rooms to the princess's side. She was stunned. She would not have thought him capable of such impetuosity. She still had a device or two, however, and they could all scream to the world, if they wished, that she was being childish. She locked herself in a closet and prepared to spend the night there. She still felt far from secure, and she was very angry with Koshosho and the rest, who seemed to find his advances pleasing and exciting.

Yugiri too was angry, but he persuaded himself to take the longer view. Like the mountain pheasant, he spent the night alone.

Daylight came and the impasse remained.

"Open the door just a crack," he said over and over again. There was no answer.

"My sorrows linger as the winter night.
The stony barrier gate is as slow to open.
"O cruelest of ladies!" In tears, he made his way out.

He rested for a time at Rokujo.

"We have heard from Tono Chujo's people," said the lady of the orange blossoms, "that you have moved the Second Princess back to Ichijo. What can it mean?" He could see her, calm and gentle, through the curtains.

"Yes, it is the sort of thing people like to talk about. Her mother quite refused to agree to anything of the sort, but towards the end she let it be known -- possibly her resolution had weakened, or possibly the thought of leaving the princess all alone was too much for her -- she let it be known that I was the one the princess was to turn to. These thoughts fitted perfectly with my own intentions. And so I suppose each of the gossips has his own conclusion to the story." He laughed. "How righteous and confident people can be in disposing of these trivialities. The princess herself says only that she wants to become a nun. I have very little hope of dissuading her. The rumors will go on in any event, and I only hope that my fidelity to her mother's dying wishes outlasts them. So I have made such arrangements as I have made. When you next see Father you might try to explain all of this to him. I have managed to keep his respect over the years, I think, and I would hate to lose it now." He lowered his voice. "It is curious how irrelevant all the advice and all the promptings of your own conscience can sometimes seem."

"I had not believed it. There is nothing so unusual about it, I suppose, though I do feel sorry for your lady at Sanjo. She has had such a good life all these years."

"'Your lady' -- that is kind of you.'Your ogre' might be more to the point. But surely you cannot imagine that I would not do the right thing? You will think it impertinent of me to say so, but consider for a moment the arrangements you have here at Rokujo. Yes, the tranquil life is what we all want. A man may dodge a noisy woman and make all the allowances, but in the end he wants to be quietly rid of her. The noise may die down but the irritation remains. Murasaki seems in many ways a very rare sort of lady. And when it comes to sweetness and docility you do not have many rivals yourself."

She smiled. "This sort of praise makes me feel that my shortcomings must show very clearly. One thing does strike me as odd: your good father seems to think that no one has the smallest suspicion of his own delinquencies, and that yours give him a right to lecture when you are here and criticize when you are not. We have heard of sages whose wisdom does not include themselves."

"Yes, he does lecture, indefatigably. And I am a rather careful person even in the absence of his wise advice."

He went to Genji's rooms. Genji too had heard of these new developments, but he saw no point in saying so. Waiting for Yugiri to speak, he did not see how anyone could reprove such a handsome young man, at the very best time of life, for occasionally misbehaving. Surely the most intolerant of the powers above must feel constrained to forgive him. And he was not a child. His younger years had been blameless, and, yes, he could be forgiven these little affairs. The remarkable thing, if Genji did say so about his own son, was that the image he saw in the mirror did not give him the urge to go out and make conquest after conquest.

It was midmorning when Yugiri returned to Sanjo. Pretty little boys immediately commenced climbing all over him. Kumoinokari was resting and did not look up when he came behind her curtains. He could see that she was very much put out with him. She had every right to be, but he could only pretend that he had nothing to be ashamed of.

"Do you know where you are?" she said finally. "You are in hell. You have always known that I am a devil, and I have merely come home."

"In spirit worse than a devil," he replied cheerfully, "but in appearance not at all unpleasant."

She snorted and sat up. "I know that I do not go very well with your own fine looks, and I would prefer just to be out of sight. I have wasted so many years. Please do not remember me as I am now."

He thought her anger, which had turned her a fresh, clean scarlet, very charming.

"I am used to you and am not at all terrified of you. Indeed, I might almost wish for something a little more awesome."

"That will do. Just disappear, please, if you do not mind, and I will hurry and do the same. I do not like the sight of you and I do not like the sound of you. My only worry is that I may die first and leave you happily behind."

He found her more and more amusing. "Oh, but you would still hear about me. How do you propose to avoid that unpleasantness? Is the point of your remarks that there would seem to be a strong bond between us? It will hold, I think. We are fated to move on to another world in quick succession."

He sought to dismiss it as an ordinary marital spat. She was a goodnatured lady in spite of everything, youthful and forgiving, and though she knew very well what he was doing her anger presently left her.

He was sorry for her, to the extent that his unsettled state of mind permitted. The princess did not strike him as a willful or arbitrary sort, but if she were this time to insist on having her way and become a nun he would look very silly indeed. He must not let her spend many nights alone, he nervously concluded. Evening approached, and again it became appar ent that he would not hear from her. Dinner was brought in. Kumoinokari ate very little, and Yugiri himself had eaten nothing at all since the day before.

"I remember all the years when I thought of no one but you, and your father would not have me. Thanks to him the whole world was laughing at me. But I persevered and bore the unbearable, and refused all the other young ladies who were offered to me. I remember how my friends all laughed. Not even a woman was expected to be so constant and steadfast, they all said. And indeed I can see that my solemn devotion must have been rather funny. You may be angry with me at the moment, but before you think of leaving me think of all the little ones you can have no intention of leaving. They are threatening to crowd us out of the house. You are not that angry, surely?" He dabbed at his eyes. "Do give the matter a moment's thought. Life is very uncertain."

She thought how remarkably happy their marriage had been, and concluded that they must indeed have brought a strong bond from other lives.

He changed his rumpled house clothes for exquisitely perfumed new finery. Seeing him off, a dazzlingly handsome figure in the torchlight, she burst into tears and reached for one of the singlets he had discarded.

"I do not complain that I am used and rejected.
Let me but go and join them at Matsushima.
"I do not think I can possibly be expected to continue as I am."

Though she spoke very softly, he heard and turned back.

"You do seem to be in a mood.

"Robes of Matsushima, soggy and worn,
For even them you may be held to account."
It was an impromptu effort and not a very distinguished one.

Again he found the princess locked in a closet.

"What a silly child you are," said one of her women. "People will think it very, very strange. Do please come out and receive him in a more conventional sort of room."

She knew that they were right, but she hated him for the unhappiness he had caused and for all the gossip to come. She had not asked for these attentions, and she hated them. She spent another night in her closet.

"Astounding," said he. "At first I thought you were joking."

Her women agreed with him completely. "She says, my lord, that she is certain to feel a little more herself one of these days, and perhaps she can talk with you then if you still wish it. She is much concerned, however, that nothing be allowed to disturb the period of mourning. She knows that unpleasant rumors seem to be making the rounds, and they have upset her enormously."

"My feelings and intentions are such that she has no right to feel upset in the least. Please ask her to come out of that closet. She can keep curtains between us if she insists. I am prepared to wait years and years." His petition was lengthy but unsuccessful.

"It is unkind of you to add to my troubles," she sent back. "The rumors are sensational. They make me unhappy, but I must grant that they are well founded. Your behavior is indefensible."

He must act. The rumors were not at all surprising, and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable before these women.

"Let us consider another possibility," he said to Koshosho. "Let us make it seem that she has accepted me, even though we are guilty of deception. People must be very curious to know whether she has or has not. And think how much worse the damage would be from her point of view if I were to stop coming. This grim determination is both sad and foolish."

Koshosho agreed, and could not hold out against so ill-used and so estimable a gentleman. The closet had a back door through which servants were admitted. She led him to it.

The princess was angry and bewildered, and helpless. Such was human nature, it appeared. No doubt she could expect even worse in the future.

Sometimes eloquently and sometimes jokingly, he sought to teach her the natural and, he should have thought, universally recognized ways of the world. But she was very angry and very sorry for herself.

"You have put me in my place. I only wish I had been cool enough to see from the outset what an unlikely affection it was. But here we are. What good is your proud name now? Forget about it, please, and accept what must be. One hears of people who in desperation throw themselves into the deep. Think of it as a simile: my love is a deep pool into which you may throw yourself."

She sat with her face in her hands and a singlet pulled over her head and bowed shoulders. Far from being "proud," she was utterly forlorn, capable only of weeping aloud. He looked at her in wonderment, unable to do more. It was a fine predicament. Why did she so dislike him? They had long passed the point at which an ordinary woman would have given in, however much she disliked a man. The princess was as unyielding as a rock or a tree. He had heard that these antipathies are sometimes formed in other lives. Might it be so with the princess?

He thought of Kumoinokari, for whom it would be a lonely night, and all their years together. Their marriage had been a remarkably peaceful one, and they had been nearer than most husbands and wives. And now this predicament, which he could so easily have avoided. He gave up trying to prevail upon the princess and spent the night with his sighs.

To flee from this ridiculous situation would only be to make it worse. He spent the day quietly at Ichijo.

What brazen impudence, the princess was thinking. She wished she had never seen him. And he for his part, half angry and half apologetic, was thinking what a very silly child she was.

The closet was bare save for a perfume chest and a cupboard. They had been pushed aside and simple curtains put up to make a semblance of a boudoir. The morning light somehow came seeping in. He pulled away the quilts and smoothed her tangled hair, and so had his first good look at her. She was very pretty, delicate and ladylike. He himself was handsomer in casual dress than in full court regalia. She remembered how even in her better days with Kashiwagi he had lost no opportunity to make her feel inferior. And here she was, wan and emaciated, exposed to the gaze of this extraordinarily handsome man. He would glance at her a single time, surely, and cast her away. She tried to sort out her thoughts and make some sense of them. She feared she was guilty of all the misdeeds with which the world seemed to be charging her, and her timing could not have been worse.

She returned to her sitting room and, having seen to her toilet, ordered breakfast. The somber mourning fixtures being ill-omened and inappropriate for such an occasion, there were screens along the east side and clovesdyed curtains of saffron at the main par1or. The tiered stands of unlacquered wood, plain but tasteful, had with the other furnishings been provided by the governor of Yamato. The women in attendance at breakfast were in yellows and reds and greens and purples, neither dull nor ostentatious, and there were lavender trains and yellow-greens to break the neutral tones of mourning. The princess's housekeeping arrangements had been rather loose and disorganized since Kashiwagi's death, and only the governor of Yamato had sought to discipline the few stewards and chamberlains she had left. Stewards who had been off about their own business came running back at news of this eminent guest. They all seemed very busy.

Yugiri wished to make it appear that he had established residence at Ichijo, and Kumoinokari, though she tried to tell herself that it could not be so, concluded that all was over between them. She had heard that when honest, serious men change they change completely. It did seem to be true, she sighed, going over her stock of nuptial lore. Wanting to avoid further insults and armed with a convenient taboo, she went home to her father's house. Her sister, one of the Reizei emperor's ladies, happened to be there too. With such interesting company she was not in her usual hurry to be back at Sanjo.

Yugiri heard the news. It was as he had feared. She was a flighty and somewhat choleric lady, perhaps having inherited these traits from her father, never as calm a man as one might have wished. No doubt each of them was now busy strengthening the other's view that he had behaved outrageously and would be doing them a great favor if he were to disappear.

He hurried back to Sanjo. She had taken her daughters with her and left behind all her sons but the youngest. It was a touching reunion. The boys clambered all over him in their delight to see him, though some were also calling for their mother.

He sent messages and emissaries, but there was no reply. He was angry now -- such blind obstinacy as he had allied himself to! Waiting for darkness, he went to see what thoughts her father might have in the matter.

Their lady was in the main hall, said the women. The children were with their nurse.

He sent over a stern message. "We are a little old, I should think, for this sort of thing. There you are by yourself, having left a trail of children behind you, here and at Sanjo. I have found much in your nature that does not ideally suit me, but I have been fated to stay with you. And now-these swarms of children convince me that the time for desertion has passed. Your behavior seems ridiculously dramatic and overdone."

"'And now.' Yes, "she sent back," you have'now' quite lost patience, and so I suppose that matters are'now' beyond repair. And what then are we to do? It will give me some comfort if you find it possible to stay with these little ragamuffins."

"Thank you -- such a sweet answer. And whose is the more sorrowfully injured name? I wonder." He did not insist that she come to him, and spent the night alone.

Lying down among the children, he surveyed the confusion he had managed to create in both houses. The Second Princess must be utterly bewildered. What man in his right mind could think these affairs interesting or amusing? He had had enough of them.

At dawn he sent over another indignant message. "Everything people see and hear must strike them as infantile. If you wish this to be the end, well, let us have a try at it and see how it suits us. Though I am sure that the children at Sanjo are very touching as they ask where we may be, I am sure too that you had your reasons for bringing some with you and leaving others behind. I do not find it possible to play favorites myself. I shall go on doing everything I can for all of them."

Always quick with her judgments, she saw in the message a threat to take the girls away and hide them from her.

"Come with me," he said to one of them, a very pretty little thing. "It will not be easy for me to visit you here, and I must think of your brothers too. I want you all to be together. You must not listen to what your mother says about me. She doesn't understand me very well."

Tono Chujo had heard of these events and was much disturbed. "You should not have been so hasty," he said to his daughter. "There is probably an explanation, and this is the sort of thing that gives a woman a bad name. But what is done is done. You have made your position quite clear and there is no need for you to rush home again now that you are here. His position should soon be clearer."

He sent one of his sons with a note for the Second Princess.

"A bond from another life yet holds us together?
Fond thoughts I have, disquieting reports.
"Nor, I should imagine, will you have forgotten us."

The young man came marching in. The princess's women received him at the south veranda but could think of nothing to say. The princess was even more uncomfortable. He was one of Tono Chujo's handsomer sons, and they were all very handsome, and he carried himself well. As he looked calmly about him, he seemed to be remembering the past.

"I feel as if I belonged here," he said. It had the sound of an innuendo. "You must not treat me like a stranger."

The princess sent back that he had found her in a very unsettled state and that she could not, she feared, give his father a proper answer.

"This is no way for a grown woman to behave," said one of the women who crowded about her. "And it will seem very rude if one of us tries to answer in your place."

How she wished that her mother were here, to protect her and explain away everything, even details of which she might not approve. Tears fell to mix with the ink.

She finally managed to set down a verse, though it had a fragmentary and unfinished look about it.

"Disquieting reports, resentful thoughts-
Of one who does not matter in the least?"
She folded it into an envelope.

"You may expect to see a great deal more of me," said the young man to the women. "I would feel much more comfortable inside the house. Yes, the ties are strong, and I shall come often. I shall tell myself that because of my services over the years I have been given the freedom of the house." It was all most suggestive.

Yugiri could think of nothing to do. The princess's hostility quite baffled him.

Still with her father, Kumoinokari was more and more unhappy.

Rumors reached Koremitsu's daughter, who thought of the haughty disdain with which Kumoinokari had treated her in other years. Kumoinokari had found her equal this time! Koremitsu's daughter had written occasionally and now got off a note.

"The gloom I would know were I among those who matter
I see from afar. I weep in sympathy."
A bit impertinent, thought Kumoinokari. But she was lonely and bored, and here, if not of the most satisfying kind, was sympathy. She sent off an answer.

"Many unhappy marriages I have seen,
And never felt them as I feel my own."
It seemed honest and unaffected. The other lady had been the sole and secret object of Yugiri's attentions in the days when Kumoinokari was refusing him. Though he had turned away from her after his marriage, she had borne several of his children. Kumoinokari was the mother of his first, third, fifth, and sixth sons and second, fourth, and fifth daughters; the other lady, of his first, third, and sixth daughters and second and fourth sons. They were all fine children, healthy and pretty, but Koremitsu's grandchildren were perhaps the brightest and prettiest. The lady of the orange blossoms had been given the third daughter and second son to rear, and they had the whole of her attention. Genji had become very much attached to them.

Yugiri's affairs, one is told, were very complicated indeed.

 

Chapter 40

The Rites


Murasaki had been in uncertain health since her great illness. Although there were no striking symptoms and there had been no recurrence of the crisis that had had her near death, she was progressively weaker. Genji could not face the thought of surviving her by even a day Murasaki,s one regret was that she must cause him pain and so be unfaithful to their vows. For the rest, she had no demands to make upon this world and few ties with it. She was ready to go, and wanted only to prepare herself for the next world. Her deepest wish, of which she sometimes spoke, had long been to give herself over entirely to prayers and meditations. But even now Genji refused to hear of it.
Yet he had for some time had similar wishes. Perhaps the time had come and they should take their vows together. He would permit himself no backward glances, however, once the decision was made. They had promised, and neither of them doubted, that they would one day have their places side by side upon the same lotus, but they must live apart, he was determined, a peak between them even if they were on the same mountain, once they had taken their vows. They would not see each other again. The sight of her now, ravaged with illness, made him fear that the final separation would be too much for him. The clear waters of their mountain retreat would be muddied. Years went by, and he had been left far behind by people who, their conversion far from thorough, had taken holy orders heedlessly and impulsively.

It would have been ill mannered of Murasaki to insist on having her way, and she would be running against her own deeper wishes if she opposed his; and so resentment at his unyielding ways was tempered by a feeling that she might be at fault herself.

For some years now she had had scriveners at work on the thousand copies of the Lotus Sutra that were to be her final offering to the Blessed One. They had their studios at Nijo, which she still thought of as home. Now the work was finished, and she made haste to get ready for the dedication. The robes of the seven priests were magnificent, as were all the other details. Not wanting to seem insistent, she had not asked Genji's help, and he had stayed discreetly in the background. No other lady, people said, could have arranged anything so fine. Genji marveled that she should be so conversant with holy ritual, and saw once again that nothing which she set her mind to was beyond her. His own part in the arrangements had been of the most general and perfunctory sort. Yugiri gave a great deal of time and thought to the music and dancing. The emperor, the empresses, the crown prince, and the ladies at Rokujo limited themselves to formal oblations, and even these threatened to overflow the Nijo mansion. There were others as well, all through the court, who wanted some small part in the ceremonies, which in the end were so grand that people wondered when she might have commenced laying her plans. They suggested a holy resolve going back through all the ages of the god of Furu. The lady of the orange blossoms and the lady of Akashi were among those who assembled at Nijo. Murasaki's place was in a walled room to the west of the main hall, sequestered but for doors at the south and east opening upon the ceremonies. The other ladies were in the northern rooms, separated from the altar by screens.

It was the tenth day of the Third Month. The cherries were in bloom and the skies were pleasantly clear. One felt that Amitabha's paradise could not be far away, and for even the less than devout it was as if a burden of sin were being lifted. At the grand climax the voices of the brushwood bearers and of all the priests rose to describe in solemn tones the labors of the Blessed One, and then there was silence, more eloquent than the words. It spoke to the least sensitive of those present, and it spoke worlds to her for whom everything these days was vaguely, delicately sad.

She sent a poem to the Akashi lady through little Niou, the Third Prince:

"I have no regrets as I bid farewell to this life.
Yet the dying away of the fire is always sad."
If the lady's answer seemed somewhat cool and noncommittal, it may have been because she wished above all to avoid theatrics.

"Our prayers, the first of them borne in on brushwood,
Shall last the thousand years of the Blessed One's toils."
The chanting went on all through the night, and the drums beat intricate rhythms. As the first touches of dawn came over the sky the scene was is if made especially for her who so loved the spring. All across the garden cherries were a delicate veil through spring mists, and bird songs rose numberless, as if to outdo the flutes. One would have thought that the possibilities of beauty were here exhausted, and then the dancer on the stage became the handsome General Ling, and as the dance gathered momentum and the delighted onlookers stripped off multicolored robes and showered them upon him, the season and the occasion brought a yet higher access of beauty. All the finest performers among the princes and grandees had quite outdone themselves. Looking out upon all this joy and beauty, Murasaki thought how little time she had left.

She was almost never up for a whole day, and today she was back in bed again. These were the familiar faces, the people who had gathered over the years. They had delighted her one last time with flute and koto. Some had meant more to her than others. She gazed intently at the most distant of them and thought that she could never have enough of those who had been her companions at music and the other pleasures of the seasons. There had been rivalries, of course, but they had been fond of one another. All of them would soon be gone, making their way down the unknown road, and she must make her lonely way ahead of them.

The services were over and the other Rokujo ladies departed. She was sure that she would not see them again. She sent a poem to the lady of the orange blossoms:

"Although these holy rites must be my last,
The bond will endure for all the lives to come."
This was the reply:

"For all of us the time of rites is brief.
More durable by far the bond between us."
They were over, and now they were followed by solemn and continuous readings from the holy writ, including the Lotus Sutra. The Nijo mansion had become a house of prayers. When they seemed to do no good for its ailing lady, readings were commissioned at favored temples and holy places.

Murasaki had always found the heat very trying. This summer she was near prostration. Though there were no marked symptoms and though there was none of the unsightliness that usually goes with emaciation, she was progressively weaker. Her women saw the world grow dark before their eyes as they contemplated the future.

Distressed at reports that there was no improvement, the empress visited Nijo. She was given rooms in the east wing and Murasaki waited to receive her in the main hall. Though there was nothing unusual about the greetings, they reminded Murasaki, as indeed did everything, that the empress's little children would grow up without her. The attendants announced themselves one by one, some of them very high courtiers. A familiar voice, thought Murasaki, and another. She had not seen the em press in a very long while and hung on the conversation with fond and eager attention.

Genji looked in upon them briefly. "You find me disconsolate this evening," he said to the empress, "a bird turned away from its nest. But I shall not bore you with my complaints." He withdrew. He was delighted to see Murasaki out of bed, but feared that the pleasure must be a fleeting one.

"We are so far apart that I would not dream of troubling you to visit me, and I fear that it will not be easy for me to visit you."

After a time the Akashi lady came in. The two ladies addressed each other affectionately, though Murasaki left a great deal unsaid. She did not want to be one of those who eloquently prepare the world to struggle along without them. She did remark briefly and quietly upon the evanescence of things, and her wistful manner said more than her words.

Genji's royal grandchildren were brought in.

"I spend so much time imagining futures for you, my dears. Do you suppose that I do after all hate to go?"

Still very beautiful, she was in tears. The empress would have liked to change the subject, but could not think how.

"May I ask a favor?" said Murasaki, very casually, as if she hesitated to bring the matter up at all. "There are numbers of people who have been with me for a very long while, and some of them have no home but this. Might I ask you to see that they are taken care of?" And she gave the names.

Having commissioned a reading from the holy writ, the empress returned to her rooms.

Little Niou, the prettiest of them all, seemed to be everywhere at once. Choosing a moment when she was feeling better and there was no one else with her, she seated him before her.

"I may have to go away. Will you remember me."

"But I don't want you to go away." He gazed up at her, and presently he was rubbing at his eyes, so charming that she was smiling through her tears. "I like my granny, better than Father and Mother. I don't want you to go away."

"This must be your own house when you grow up. I want the rose plum and the cherries over there to be yours. You must take care of them and say nice things about them, and sometimes when you think of it you might put flowers on the altar."

He nodded and gazed up at her, and then abruptly, about to burst into tears, he got up and ran out. It was Niou and the First Princess whom Murasaki most hated to leave. They had been her special charges, and she would not live to see them grow up.

The cool of autumn, so slow to come, was at last here. Though far from well, she felt somewhat better. The winds were still gentle, but it was a time of heavy dews all the same. She would have liked the empress to stay with her just a little while longer but did not want to say so. Messengers had come from the emperor, all of them summoning the empress back to court, and she did not want to put the empress in a difficult position. She was no longer able to leave her room, however much she might want to respect the amenities, and so the empress called on her. Apologetic and at the same time very grateful, for she knew that this might be their last meeting, she had made careful preparations for the visit.

Though very thin, she was more beautiful than ever -- one would not have thought it possible. The fresh, vivacious beauty of other years had asked to be likened to the flowers of this earth, but now there was a delicate serenity that seemed to go beyond such present similes. For the empress the slight figure before her, the very serenity bespeaking evanescence, was utter sadness.

Wishing to look at her flowers in the evening light, Murasaki pulled herself from bed with the aid of an armrest.

Genji came in. "Isn't this splendid? I imagine Her Majesty's visit has done wonders for you."

How pleased he was at what was in fact no improvement at all -- and how desolate he must soon be!

"So briefly rests the dew upon the _hagi_.
Even now it scatters in the wind."
It would have been a sad evening in any event, and the plight of the dew even now being shaken from the tossing branches, thought Genji, must seem to the sick lady very much like her own.

"In the haste we make to leave this world of dew,
May there be no time between the first and last."
He did not try to hide his tears.

And this was the empress's poem:

"A world of dew before the autumn winds.
Not only theirs, these fragile leaves of grass."
Gazing at the two of them, each somehow more beautiful than the other, Genji wished that he might have them a thousand years just as they were; but of course time runs against these wishes. That is the great, sad truth.

"Would you please leave me?" said Murasaki. "I am feeling rather worse. I do not like to know that I am being rude and find myself unable to apologize." She spoke with very great difficulty.

The empress took her hand and gazed into her face. Yes, it was indeed like the dew about to vanish away. Scores of messengers were sent to commission new services. Once before it had seemed that she was dying, and Genji hoped that whatever evil spirit it was might be persuaded to loosen its grip once more. All through the night he did everything that could possibly be done, but in vain.
Just as light was coming she faded away. Some kind power above, he thought, had kept the empress with her through the night. He might tell himself, as might all the others who had been with her, that these things have always happened and will continue to happen, but there are times when the natural order of things is unacceptable. The numbing grief made the world itself seem like a twilight dream. The women tried in vain to bring their wandering thoughts together. Fearing for his father, more distraught even than they, Yugiri had come to him.

"It seems to be the end," said Genji, summoning him to Murasaki's curtains. "To be denied one's last wish is a cruel thing. I suppose that their reverences will have finished their prayers and left us, but someone qualified to administer vows must still be here. We did not do a great deal for her in this life, but perhaps the Blessed One can be persuaded to turn a little light on the way she must take into the next. Tell them, please, that I want someone to give the tonsure. There is still someone with us who can do it, surely?"

He spoke with studied calm, but his face was drawn and he was weeping.

"But these evil spirits play very cruel tricks," replied Yugiri, only slightly less benumbed than his father. "Don't you suppose the same thing has happened all over again? Your suggestion is of course quite proper. We are told that even a day and a night of the holy life brings untold blessings. But suppose this really is the end -- can we hope that anything we do will throw so very much light on the way she must go? No, let us come to terms with the sorrow we have before us and try not to make it worse."

But he summoned several of the priests who had stayed on, wishing to be of service through the period of mourning, and asked them to do whatever could still be done.

He could congratulate himself on his filial conduct over the years, upon the fact that he had permitted himself no improper thoughts; but he had had one fleeting glimpse of her, and he had gone on hoping that he might one day be permitted another, even as brief, or that he might hear her voice, even faintly. The second hope had come to nothing, and the other -- if he did not see her now he never would see her. He was in tears himself, and the room echoed with the laments of the women.

"Do please try to be a little quieter, just for a little while." He lifted the curtains as he spoke, making it seem that Genji had summoned him. In the dim morning twilight Genji had brought a lamp near Murasaki's dead face. He knew that Yugiri was beside him, but somehow felt that to screen this beauty from his son's gaze would only add to the anguish.

"Exactly as she was," he whispered. "But as you see, it is all over."

He covered his face. Yugiri too was weeping. He brushed the tears away and struggled to see through them as the sight of the dead face brought them flooding back again. Though her hair had been left untended through her illness, it was smooth and lustrous and not a strand was out of place. In the bright lamplight the skin was a purer, more radiant white than the living lady, seated at her mirror, could have made it. Her beauty, as if in untroubled sleep, emptied words like "peerless" of all content. He almost wished that the spirit which seemed about to desert him might be given custody of the unique loveliness before him.

Since Murasaki's women were none of them up to such practical matters, Genji forced himself to think about the funeral arrangements. He had known many sorrows, but none quite so near at hand, demanding that he and no one else do what must be done. He had known nothing like it, and he was sure that there would be nothing like it in what remained of his life.

Everything was finished in the course of the day. We are not permitted to gaze upon the empty shell of the locust. The wide moor was crowded with people and carriages. The services were solemn and dignified, and she ascended to the heavens as the frailest wreath of smoke. It is the way of things, but it seemed more than anyone should be asked to endure. Helped to the scene by one or two of his men, he felt as if the earth had given way beneath him. That such a man could be so utterly defeated, thought the onlookers; and there was no one among the most insensitive of menials who was not reduced to tears. For Murasaki's women, it was as if they were wandering lost in a nightmare. Threatening to fall from their carriages, they put the watchfulness of the grooms to severe test. Genji remembered the death of his first wife, Yugiri's mother. Perhaps he had been in better control of himself then -- he could remember that there had been a clear moon that night. Tonight he was blinded with tears. Murasaki had died on the fourteenth and it was now the morning of the fifteenth. The sun rose clear and the dew had no hiding place. Genji thought of the world he must return to, bleak and comfortless. How long must he go on alone? Perhaps he could make grief his excuse for gratifying the old, old wish and leaving the world behind. But he did not want to be remembered as a weakling. He would wait until the immediate occasion had passed, he decided, his heart threatening to burst within him.

Yugiri stayed at his father's side all through the period of mourning. Genuinely concerned, he did what he could for the desperately grieving Genji. A high wind came up one evening, and he remembered with a new onset of sorrow an evening of high winds long before. He had seen her so briefly, and at her death that brief glimpse had been like a dream. Invoking the name of Lord Amitabha, he sought to drive away these almost unbearable memories -- and to let his tears lose themselves among the beads of his rosary.

"I remember an autumn evening long ago
As a dream in the dawn when we were left behind."
He set the reverend gentlemen to repeating the holy name and to reading the Lotus Sutra, very sad and very moving.
Still Genji's tears flowed on. He thought back over his life. Even the face he saw in the mirror had seemed to single him out for unusual honors, but there had very earl y been signs that the Blessed One meant him more than others to know the sadness and evanescence of things. He had made his way ahead in the world as if he had not learned the lesson. And now had come grief which surely did single him out from all men, past and future. He would have nothing more to do with the world. Nothing need stand in the way of his devotions. Nothing save his uncontrollable grief, which he feared would not permit him to enter the path he so longed to take. He prayed to Amitabha for even a small measure of forgetfulness.

Many had come in person to pay condolences, and there had been messages from the emperor and countless others, all of them going well beyond conventional expressions of sympathy. Though he had no heart for them, he did not want the world to think him a ruined old man. He had had a good and eventful life, and he did not want to be numbered among those who were too weak to go on. And so to grief was added dissatisfaction at his inability to follow his deepest wishes.

There were frequent messages from Tono Chujo, who always did the right thing on sad occasions and who was honestly saddened that such loveliness should have passed so swiftly. His sister, Yugiri's mother, had died at just this time of the year, and so many of the people who had sent condolences then had themselves died since. There was so very little time between the first and 1ast. He gazed out into the gathering darkness and presently set down his thoughts in a long and moving letter which he had delivered to Genji by one of his sons and which contained this poem:

"It is as if that autumn had come again
And tears for the one were falling on tears for the other."
This was Genji's answer:

"The dews of now are the dews of long ago,
And autumn is always the saddest time of all."
"It is very kind of you to write so often," he added, not wanting his perceptive friend to guess how thoroughly the loss had undone him. He wore darker mourning than the gray weeds of that other autumn.

The successful and happy sometimes arouse envy, and sometimes they let pride and vanity have their way and bring unhappiness to others. It was not so with Murasaki, whom the meanest of her servants had loved and the smallest of whose acts had seemed admirable. There was something uniquely appealing about her, having to do, perhaps, with the fact that she always seemed to be thinking of others. The wind in the trees and the insect songs in the grasses brought tears this autumn to the eyes of many who had not known her, and her intimates wondered when they might find consolation. The women who had long been with her saw the life they must live without her as utter bleakness. Some of them, wishing to be as far as possible from the world, went off into remote mountain nunneries.

There were frequent messages from Akikonomu, seeking to describe an infinite sorrow.

"I think that now, finally, I understand.
"She did not like the autumn, that I knew-
Because of the wasted moors that now surround us?"

Hers were the condolences that meant most, the letters that spoke to Genji through the numbness of his heart. He wept quietly on, lost in a sad reverie, and took a very long time with his answer.

"Look down upon me from your cloudy summit,
Upon the dying autumn which is my world."
He folded it into an envelope and still held it in his hand.
He had taken residence in the women's quarters, not wanting people to see what a useless dotard he had become. A very few women with him, he lost himself in prayer. He and Murasaki had exchanged their vows for a thousand years, and already she had left him. His thoughts must now be on that other world. The dew upon the lotus: it was what he must strive to become, and nothing must be allowed to weaken the resolve. Alas, he did still worry about the name he had made for himself in this world.

Yugiri took charge of the memorial services. If they had been left to Genji they would have been managed far less efficiently. He would take his vows today, Genji told himself; he would take his vows today. Dreamlike, the days went by.

The empress too remained inconsolable.

 

 

Chapter 41

The Wizard


Bright spring was dark this year. There was no relief from the sadness of the old year. Genji had callers as always, but he said that he was not well and remained in seclusion. He made an exception for his brother, Prince Hotaru, whom he invited behind his curtains.
"And why has spring so graciously come to visit
A lodging where there is none to admire the blossoms?"
The prince was in tears as he replied:

"You take me for the usual viewer of blossoms?
If that is so, I seek their fragrance in vain."
He went out to admire the rose plum, and Genji was reminded of other springs. And who indeed was there to admire these first blossoms? He had arranged no concerts this year. In very many ways it was unlike the springs of other years.

The women who had been longest in attendance on Murasaki still wore dark mourning, and acceptance and resignation still eluded them. Their one real comfort was that Genji had not gone back to Rokujo. He was still here at Nijo, for them to serve. Although he had had no serious affairs with any of them, he had favored one and another from time to time. He might have been expected, in his loneliness, to favor them more warmly now, but the old desires seemed to have left him. Even the women on night duty slept outside his curtains. Sometimes, to break the tedium, he would talk of the old years. He would remember, now that romantic affairs meant so little to him, how hurt Murasaki had been by involvements of no importance at all. Why had he permitted himself even the trivial sort of dalliance for which he had felt no need to apologize? Murasaki had been too astute not to guess his real intentions; and yet, though she had been quick to recover from fits of jealousy which were never violent in any event, the fact was that she had suffered. Each little incident came back, until he felt that he had no room in his heart for them all. Sometimes a woman would comment briefly on an incident to which she had been witness, for there were women still with him who had seen everything.

Murasaki had given not the smallest hint of resentment when the Third Princess had come into the house. He had known all the same that she was upset, and he had been deeply upset in his turn. He remembered the snowy morning, a morning of dark, roiling clouds, when he had been kept waiting outside her rooms until he was almost frozen. She had received him quietly and affectionately and tried to hide her damp sleeves. All through the wakeful nights he thought of her courage and strength and longed to have them with him again, even in a dream.

"Just see what a snow we have had!" One of the women seemed to be returning to her own room. It was snowy dawn, just as then, and he was alone. That was the tragic difference.

"The snow will soon have left this gloomy world.
My days must yet go on, an aimless drifting."
Having finished his ablutions, he turned as usual to his prayers. A woman gathered embers from the ashes of the night before and another brought in a brazier. Chunagon and Chujo were with him.

"Every night is difficult when you are alone, but last night was worse than most of them. I was a fool not to leave it all behind long ago."

How sad life would be for these women if he were to renounce the world! His voice rising and falling in the silence of the chapel as he read from a sutra had always had a strange power to move, unlike any other, and for the women who served him it now brought tears that were not to be held back.

"I have always had everything," he said to them. "That was the station in life I was born to. Yet it has always seemed that I was meant for sad things too. I have often wondered whether the Blessed One was not determined to make me see more than others what a useless, insubstantial world it is. I pretended that I did not see the point, and now as my life comes to a close I know the ultimate in sorrow. I see and accept my own inadequacies and the disabilities I brought with me from other lives. There is nothing, not the slenderest bond, that still ties me to the world. No, that is not true: there are you who seem so much nearer than when she was alive. It will be very hard to say goodbye."

He dried his tears and still they flowed on. The women were weeping so piteously that they could not tell him what sorrow it would be to leave him.

In sad twilight in the morning and evening he would summon the women who had meant most to him. He had known Chujo since she was a little girl, and would seem to have favored her with discreet attentions. She had been too fond of Murasaki to let the affair go on for very long, and he thought of her now, with none of the old desire, as one of Murasaki's favorites, a sort of memento the dead lady had left behind. A pretty, good-natured woman, she was, so to speak, a yew tree nearer the dead lady's grave than most.

He saw only the closest intimates. His brothers, good friends among the high courtiers -- they all came calling, but for the most part he declined to see them. Try though he might to control himself, he feared that his senility and his crankish ways would shock callers and be what future generations would remember him by. People might assume, of course, that his retirement was itself evidence of senility, and that would be a pity; but it could be far worse to have people actually see him. Even Yugiri he addressed through curtains and blinds. He had decided that he would bide his time until talk of the change in him had stopped and then take holy orders. He paid very brief calls at Rokujo, but because the flow of tears was only more torrential he was presently neglecting the Rokujo ladies.

The empress, his daughter, returned to court, leaving little Niou to keep him company. Niou remembered the instructions his "granny" had left and was most solicitous of the rose plum at the west wing. Genji thought it very kind of him, and completely charming. The Second Month had come, and plum trees in bloom and in bud receded into a delicate mist. Catching the bright song of a warbler in the rose plum that had been Murasaki's especial favorite, Genji went out to the veranda.

"The warbler has come again. It does not know
That the mistress of its tree is here no more."
It was high spring and the garden was as it had always been. He tried not to remember, but everything his eye fell on brought such trains of memory that he longed to be off in the mountains, where no birds sing. Tears darkened the yellow cascade of yamabuki. In most gardens the cherry blossoms had fallen. Here at Nijo the birch cherry followed the double cherries and presently it was time for the wisteria. Murasaki had brought all the spring trees, early and late, into her garden, and each came into bloom in its turn.

"_My cherry_," said Niou. "Can't we do something to keep it going? Maybe if we put up curtains all around and fasten them down tight. Then the wind can't get at it."

He was so pretty and so pleased with his proposal that Genji had to smile. "You are cleverer by a great deal than the man who wanted to cover the whole sky with his sleeve." Niou was his one companion.

"It may be that we can't go on being friends much longer," he continued, feeling as always that tears were not far away. "We may not be able to see each other, even if it turns out that I still have some life left in me."

The boy tugged uncomfortably at his sleeve and looked down. "Do you have to say what Granny said?"

At a corner balustrade, or at Murasaki's curtains, Genji would sit gazing down into the garden. Some of the women were still in dark weeds, and those who had changed back to ordinary dress limited themselves to somber, unfigured cloths. Genji was in subdued informal dress. The rooms were austerely furnished and the house was hushed and lonely.

"Taking the final step, I must abandon
The springtime hedge that meant so much to her."
No one was hurrying him off into a cell. It would be his own doing, and yet he was sad.

With time heavy on his hands, he visited the Third Princess. Niou and his nurse came along. As usual, Niou was everywhere, and the company of Kaoru, the princess's little boy, seemed to make him forget his fickle cherry blossoms. The princess was in her chapel, a sutra in her hands. Genji had never found her very interesting or exciting, but he had to admire this quiet devotion, untouched, apparently, by regrets for the world and its pleasures. How bitterly ironical that this shallow little creature should have left him so far behind!

The flowers on the altar were lovely in the evening light.

"She is no longer here to enjoy her spring flowers, and I am afraid that they do very little for me these days. But if they are beautiful anywhere it is on an altar." He paused. "And her yamabuki -- it is in bloom as I cannot remember having seen it before. The sprays are gigantic. It is not a flower that insists on being admired for its elegance, and that may be why it seems so bright and cheerful. But why do you suppose it chose this year to come into such an explosion of bloom? -- almost as if it wanted us to see how indifferent it is to our sorrows."

"Spring declines to come to my dark valley," she replied, somewhat nonchalantly.

Hardly an appropriate allusion. Even in the smallest matters Murasaki had seemed to know exactly what was wanted of her. So it had been to the end. And in earlier years? All the images in his memory spoke of sensitivity and understanding in mood and manner and words. And so once again he was letting one of his ladies see him in maudlin tears.

Evening mists came drifting in over the garden, which was very beautiful indeed.

He went to look in on the Akashi lady. She was startled to see him after such a long absence, but she received him with calm dignity. Yes, she was a superior lady. And Murasaki's superiority had been of a different sort. He talked quietly of the old years.

"I was very soon taught what a mistake it is to be fond of anyone. I tried to make sure that I had no strong ties with the world. There was that time when the whole world seemed to turn against me. If it did not want me, I had nothing to ask of it. I could see no reason why I should not end my days off in the mountains. And now the end is coming and I still have not freed myself of the old ties. I go on as you see me. What a weakling I do seem to be."

He spoke only indirectly of the matter most on his mind, but she understood and sympathized. "Even people whom the world could perfectly well do without have lingering regrets, and for you the regrets must be enormous. But I think that if you were to act too hastily the results might be rather unhappy. People will think you shallow and flighty and you will not be happy with yourself. I should imagine that the difficult decisions are the firmest once they are made. I have heard of so many people who have thrown away everything because of a little surprise or setback that really has not mattered in the least. That is not what you want. Be patient for a time, and if your resolve has not weakened when your grandchildren are grown up and their lives seem in order -- I shall have no objections and indeed I shall be happy for you."

It was good advice. "But the caution at the heart of the patience you recommend is perhaps even worse than shallowness."

He spoke of the old days as memories came back. "When Fujitsubo died I thought the cherry trees should be in black. I had had so much time when I was a boy to admire her grace and beauty, and it may have been for that reason that I seemed to be the saddest of all when she died. Grief does not correspond exactly with love. When an old and continuous relationship comes to an end, the sorrow is not just for the relationship itself. The memory of the girl who was presently a woman and of all the years until suddenly at the end of your own life you are alone -- this is too much to be borne. It is the proliferation of memories, some of them serious and some of them amusing, that makes for the deepest sorrow."

He talked on into the night of things old and new, and was half inclined to spend the night with her; but presently he made his departure. She looked sadly after him, and he was puzzled at his own behavior.

Alone once more, he continued his devotions on through the night, resting only briefly in his drawing room. Early in the morning he got off a letter to the Akashi lady, including this poem:

"I wept and wept as I made my slow way homewards.
It is a world in which nothing lasts forever.
Though his abrupt departure had seemed almost insulting, she was in tears as she thought of the dazed, grieving figure, somehow absent, so utterly unlike the old Genji.

"The wild goose has flown, the seedling rice is dry.
Gone is the blossom the water once reflected."
The hand was as always beautiful. He remembered Murasaki's resentment towards the Akashi lady. They had in the end become good friends, and yet a certain stiffness had remained. Murasaki had kept her distance. Had anyone except Genji himself been aware of it? He would sometimes look in on the Akashi lady when the loneliness was too much for him, but he never stayed the night.

It was time to change into summer robes. New robes came from the lady of the orange blossoms, and with them a poem:

"It is the day of the donning of summer robes,
And must there be a renewal of memories?"
He sent back:

"Thin as the locust's wing, these summer robes,
Reminders of the fragility of life."
The Kamo festival seemed very remote indeed from the dullness of his daily round.

"Suppose you all have a quiet holiday," he said to the women, fearing that the tedium must be even more oppressive today than on most days. "Go and see what the people at home are up to."

Chujo was having a nap in one of the east rooms. She sat up as he came in. A small woman, she brought a sleeve to her face, bright and lively and slightly flushed. Her thick hair, though somewhat tangled from sleep, was very beautiful. She was wearing a singlet of taupe-yellow, dark-gray robes, and saffron trousers, all of them just a little rumpled, and she had slipped off her jacket and train. She now made haste to put herself in order. Beside her was a sprig of heartvine.

"It is so long since I have had anything to do with it," he said, picking it up, "that I have even forgotten the name."

She thought it a somewhat suggestive remark.

"With heartvine we garland our hair -- and you forget!
All overgrown the urn, so long neglected."
Yes, he had neglected her, and he was sorry.

"The things of this world mean little to me now,
And yet I find myself reaching to break off heartvine."
There still seemed to be one lady to whom he was not indifferent.

The rainy Fifth Month was a difficult time.

Suddenly a near-full moon burst through a rift in the clouds. Yugiri chanced to be with him at this beautiful moment. The white of the orange blossoms leaped forward in the moonlight and on a fresh breeze the scent that so brings memories came wafting into the room. But it was for only a moment. The sky darkened even as they awaited, "unchanged a thousand years, the voice of the cuckoo." The wind rose and almost blew out the eaves lamp, rain pounded on the roof, and the sky was black once more.

"The voice of rain at the window," whispered Genji. It was not a very striking or novel allusion, but perhaps because it came at the right moment Yugiri wished it might have been heard "at the lady's hedge."

"I know I am not the first man who has had to live alone," said Genji, "but I do find myself restless and despondent. I should imagine that after this sort of thing a mountain hermitage might come as a relief. Bring something for our guest," he called to the women. "I suppose it is too late to send for the men."

Yugiri wished that his father were not forever gazing up into the sky as if looking for someone there. This inability to forget must surely stand in the way of salvation. But if he himself was unable to forget the one brief glimpse he had had of her, how could he reprove his father?

"It seems like only yesterday, and here we are at the first anniversary. What plans do you have for it?"

"Only the most ordinary sort. This is the time, I think, to dedicate the Paradise Mandala she had done, and of course she had a great many sutras copied. The bishop, I can't think of his name, knows exactly what she wanted. He should be able to give all the instructions."

"Yes, she seems to have thought about these things a great deal, and I am sure that they are a help to her wherever she is now. We know, of course, what a fragile bond she had with this world, and the saddest thing is that she had no children."

"There are ladies with stronger bonds who still have not done very well in the matter of children. It is you who must see that our house grows and prospers."

Not wanting it to seem that he did nothing these days but weep, Genji said little of the past.

Just then, faintly -- how can it have known? -- there came the call of the cuckoo for which they had been waiting.

"Have you come, O cuckoo, drenched in nighttime showers,

In memory of her who is no more?"

And still he was gazing up into the sky.

Yugiri replied:

"Go tell her this, O cuckoo: the orange blossoms
Where once she lived are now their loveliest."
The women had poems too, but I shall not set them down.

Yugiri, who often kept his father company through the lonely nights, spent this night too with him. The sorrow and longing were intense at the thought that the once-forbidden rooms were so near and accessible.

One very hot summer day Genji went out to cool himself beside a lotus pond, now in full bloom. "That there should be so very many tears" : it was the phrase that first came into his mind. He sat as if in a trance until twilight. What a useless pursuit it was, listening all by himself to these clamorous evening cicadas and gazing at the wild carnations in the evening light.

"I can but pass a summer's day in weeping.
Is that your pretext, O insects, for weeping too?"
Presently it was dark, and great swarms of fireflies were wheeling about. "Fireflies before the pavilion of evening" -- this time it was a Chinese verse that came to him.

"The firefly knows that night has come, and I-
My thoughts do not distinguish night from day."
The Seventh Month came, and no one seemed in a mood to honor the meeting of the stars. There was no music and there were no guests. Deep in the night Genji got up and pushed a door open. The garden below the gallery was heavy with dew. He went out.

"They meet, these stars, in a world beyond the clouds.
My tears but join the dews of the garden of parting."
Already at the beginning of the Eighth Month the autumn winds were lonely. Genji was busy with preparations for the memorial services. How swiftly the months had gone by! Everyone went through fasting and penance and the Paradise Mandala was dedicated. Chujo as usual brought holy water for Genji's vesper devotions. He took up her fan, on which she had written a poem:

"This day, we are told, announces an end to mourning.
How can it be, when there is no end to tears?"
He wrote beside it:

"The days are numbered for him who yet must mourn.
And are they numbered, the tears that yet remain?"
Early in the Ninth Month came the chrysanthemum festival. As always, the festive bouquets were wrapped in cotton to catch the magic dew.

"On other mornings we took the elixir together.
This morning lonely sleeves are wet with dew."
The Tenth Month was as always a time of gloomy winter showers. Looking up into the evening sky, he whispered to himself: "The rains are as the rains of other years." He envied the wild geese overhead, for they were going home.

"O wizard flying off through boundless heavens,
Find her whom I see not even in my dreams."
The days and months went by, and he remained inconsolable.

Presently the world was buzzing with preparations for the harvest festival and the Gosechi dances. Yugiri brought two of his little boys, already in court service, to see their grandfather. They were very nearly the same age, and very pretty indeed. With them were several of their uncles, spruce and elegant in blue Gosechi prints, a very grand escort indeed for two little boys. At the sight of them all, so caught up in the festive gaiety, Genji thought of memorable occurrences on ancient festival days.

"Our lads go off to have their Day of Light.
For me it is as if there were no sun."
And so he had made his way through the year, and the time had come to leave the world behind. He gave his attendants, after their several ranks, gifts to remember him by. He tried to avoid grand farewells, but they knew what was happening, and the end of the year was a time of infinite sadness. Among his papers were letters which he had put aside over the years but which he would not wish others to see. Now, as he got his affairs in order, he would come upon them and burn them. There was a bundle of letters from Murasaki among those he had received at Suma from his various ladies. Though a great many years had passed, the ink was as fresh as if it had been set down yesterday. They seemed meant to last a thousand years. But they had been for him, and he was finished with them. He asked two or three women who were among his closest confidantes to see to destroying them. The handwriting of the dead always has the power to move us, and these were not ordinary letters. He was blinded by the tears that fell to mingle with the ink until presently he was unable to make out what was written.

"I seek to follow the tracks of a lady now gone
To another world. Alas, I lose my way."
Not wanting to display his weakness, he pushed them aside.

The women were permitted glimpses of this and that letter, and the little they saw was enough to bring the old grief back anew. Murasaki's sorrow at being those few miles from him now seemed to remove all bounds to their own sorrow. Seeking to control a flow of tears that must seem hopelessly exaggerated, Genji glanced at one of the more affectionate notes and wrote in the margin:

"I gather sea grasses no more, nor look upon them.
Now they are smoke, to join her in distant heavens."
And so he consigned them to flames.

In the Twelfth Month the clanging of croziers as the holy name was invoked was more moving than in other years, for Genji knew that he would not again be present at the ceremony. These prayers for longevity -- he did not think that they would please the Blessed One. There had been a heavy fall of snow, which was now blowing into drifts. The repast in honor of the officiant was elaborate and Genji's gifts were even more lavish than usual. The holy man had often presided over services at court and at Rokujo. Genji was sorry to see that his hair was touched with gray. As always, there were numerous princes and high courtiers in the congregation. The plum trees, just coming into bloom, were lovely in the snow. There should have been music, but Genji feared that this year music would make him weep. Poems were read, in keeping with the time and place.

There was this poem as Genji offered a cup of wine to his guest of honor:

"Put blossoms in your caps today. Who knows
That there will still be life when spring comes round?"
This was the reply:

"I pray that these blossoms may last a thousand springs.
For me the years are as the deepening snowdrifts."
There were many others, but I neglected to set them down.

It was Genji's first appearance in public. He was handsomer than ever, indeed almost unbelievably handsome. For no very good reason, the holy man was in tears.

Genji was more and more despondent as the New Year approached.

Niou scampered about exorcising devils, that the New Year might begin auspiciously.

"It takes a lot of noise to get rid of them. Do you have any ideas?"

Everything about the scene, and especially the thought that he must say goodbye to the child, made Genji fear that he would soon be weeping again.

"I have not taken account of the days and months.
The end of the year -- the end of a life as well?"
The festivities must be more joyous than ever, he said, and his gifts to all the princes and officials, high and low -- or so one is told -- quite shattered precedent.

 

 

Chapter 42

His Perfumed Highness


The shining Genji was dead, and there was no one quite like him. It would be irreverent to speak of the Reizei emperor. Niou, the third son of the present emperor, and Kaoru, the young son of Genji's Third Princess, had grown up in the same house and were both thought by the world to be uncommonly handsome, but somehow they did not shine with the same radiance. They were but sensitive, cultivated young men, and the fact that they were rather more loudly acclaimed than Genji had been at their age was very probably because they had been so close to him. They were in any event very well thought of indeed. Niou had been reared by Murasaki, her favorite among Genji's grandchildren, and still had her Nijo house for his private residence. If the crown prince was because of his position the most revered of the royal children, Niou was his parents' favorite. They would have liked to have him with them in the palace, but he found life more comfortable in the house of the childhood memories. Upon his initiation he was appointed minister of war.

The First Princess, his sister, lived in the east wing of Murasaki's southeast quarter at Rokujo. It was exactly as it had been at Murasaki's death, and everything about it called up memories. The Second Prince had rooms in the main hall of the same quarter and spent much of his spare time there. The Plum Court was his palace residence. He was married to Yugiri's second daughter and was of such high character and repute that he was widely expected to become crown prince when the next reign began.

Yugiri had numerous daughters. The oldest was married to the crown prince and had no rival for his affections. It had been generally assumed that the younger daughters would be married to royal princes in turn. The Akashi empress, Yugiri's sister, had put in a good word for them. Niou, however, had thoughts of his own. He was a headstrong young man who did exactly what he wanted to do. Yugiri told himself that there were after all no laws in these matters, meanwhile making sure that his daughters had every advantage and letting it be known that princes who came paying court would not be turned away. Princes and high courtiers who flattered themselves that they were among the eligible had very exciting reports about the sixth daughter.

Genji,s various ladies tearfully left Rokujo for the dwellings that would be their last. Genji had given the lady of the orange blossoms the east lodge at Nijo. Kaoru's mother lived in her own Sanjo mansion. With the Akashi empress now in residence at the palace, Rokujo had become a quiet and rather lonely place. Yugiri had observed -- it had been true long ago and it was still true -- how quickly the mansions of the great fall into ruin. Enormous expense and attention went into them, and one could almost see the beginning of the process when their eminent masters were dead, and so they became the most poignant reminders of evanescence. He did not want anything of the sort to happen at Rokujo. He was determined that there would be life in the mansion and the streets around it while he himself was still alive. He therefore installed Kashiwagi's widow, the Second Princess, in the northeast quarter, where he had lived as the foster son of the lady of the orange blossoms. He was very precise and impartial in his habits, spending alternate nights there and at his Sanjo residence, where Kumoinokari lived.

Genji had polished the Nijo house to perfection, and then the southeast quarter at Rokujo had become the jeweled pavilion, the center of life and excitement. Now it was as if they had been meant all along for one among his ladies and for her grandchildren. There it was that the Akashi lady ministered to the needs of the empress's children. Making no changes in the ordering of the two households, Yugiri treated Genji's several ladies as if he were the son of them all. His strongest regret was that Murasaki had not lived to see evidences of his esteem. After all these years he still grieved for her.

And the whole world still mourned Genji. It was as if a light had gone out. For his ladies, for his grandchildren, for others who had been close to him, the sadness was of course more immediate and intense, and they were constantly being reminded of Murasaki too. It is true, they all thought: the cherry blossoms of spring are loved because they bloom so briefly.

Genji had asked the Reizei emperor to watch over Kaoru. The emperor was faithful to the trust, and his empress, Akikonomu, sad that she had no children of her own, found her greatest pleasure in being of service to him. His initiation ceremonies, when he was fourteen, were held in the Reizei Palace. In the Second Month he was made a chamberlain and in the autumn Captain of the Right Guards. This rapid promotion was at the behest of the Reizei emperor, who seemed to have his own reasons for haste. So it was that Kaoru was a man of importance at a very early age. He was given rooms in the Reizei Palace and the Reizei emperor made it his personal business to see that all the ladies-in-waiting and even the maids and page girls were the prettiest and ablest to be had. Similar attention went into fitting the rooms, which would not have offended the sensibilities of the most refined and demanding princess. Indeed, the Reizei emperor and his empress forwent the services of the most accomplished women in their own retinue, that Kaoru might be more elegantly served. They wanted him to be happy at Reizei and could not have been more attentive to his needs if he had been their son. The Reizei emperor had only one child, a princess by a daughter of Tono Chujo. There was of course nothing that he was not ready and eager to do for her. Perhaps it was because his love for Akikonomu had deepened over the years that he was equally solicitous of Kaoru. There were some, indeed, who did not quite understand this partiality.

Kaoru's mother had quite given herself up to her devotions. She spared herself no expense in arranging the monthly invocation of the holy name and the semiannual reading of the Lotus Sutra and all the other prescribed rites. Her son's visits were her chief pleasure. Sometimes he almost seemed more like a father than a son -- a fact which he was aware of and though rather sad. He was a constant companion of both the reigning emperor and the retired emperor, and was much sought after by the crown prince and other princes too, until he sometimes wished that he could be in two places at once. From his childhood there had been things, chance remarks, brief snatches of an overheard conversation, that had upset him and made him wish that there were someone to whom he could go for an explanation. There was no one. His mother would be distressed at any hint that he had even these vague suspicions. He could only brood in solitude and ask what missteps in a former life might explain the painful doubts with which he had grown up -- and wish that he had the clairvoyance of a Prince Rahula, who instinctively knew the truth about his own birth.

"Whom might I ask? Why must it be
That I do not know the beginning or the end?"
But of course there was no one he could go to for an answer.

These doubts were with him most persistently when he was unwell. His mother, taking the nun's habit when still in the flush of girlhood -- had it been from a real and thorough conversion? He suspected rather that some horrible surprise had overtaken her, something that had shaken her to the roots of her being. People must surely have heard about it in the course of everyday events, and for some reason had felt constrained to keep it from him.

His mother was at her devotions, morning and night, but he thought it unlikely that the efforts of a weak and vacillating woman could transform the dew upon the lotus into the bright jewel of the law. A woman labors under five hindrances, after all. He wanted somehow to help her towards a new start in another life.

He thought too of the gentleman who had died so young. His soul must still be wandering lost, unable to free itself of regrets for this world. How he wished that they could meet -- there would be other lives in which it might be possible.

His own initiation ceremonies interested him not in the least, but he had to go through with them. Suddenly he found himself a rather conspicuous young man, indeed the cynosure of all eyes. This new eminence only made him withdraw more resolutely into himself.

The emperor favored him because they were so closely related, but a quite genuine regard had perhaps more to do with the matter. As for the empress, her children had grown up with him and he still seemed almost one of them. She remembered how Genji had sighed at the unlikelihood that he would live to see this child of his late years grown into a man, and felt that Genji's worries had added to her own responsibilities. Yugiri was more attentive to Kaoru than to his own sons.

The shining Genji had been his father's favorite child, and there had been jealousy. He had not had the backing of powerful maternal relatives, but, blessed with a cool head and mature judgment, he had seen the advantages of keeping his radiance somewhat dimmed, and so had made his way safely through a crisis that might have been disastrous for the whole nation. So it had been too with preparations for the world to come: everything in its proper time, he had said, going about the matter carefully and unobtrusively. Kaoru had received too much attention while still a boy, and it may have been charged against him that he was not sufficiently aware of his limitations. Something about him did make people think of avatars and suspect that perhaps a special bounty of grace set him apart from the ordinary run of men. There was nothing in his face or manner, to be sure, that brought people up short, but there was a compelling gentleness that was unique and suggested limitless depths.

And there was the fragrance he gave off, quite unlike anything else in this world. Let him make the slightest motion and it had a mysterious power to trail behind him like a "hundred-pace incense." One did not expect young aristocrats to affect the plain and certainly not the shabby. The elegance that is the result of a careful toilet was the proper thing. Kaoru, however, wished often enough that he might be free of this particular mark of distinction. He could not hide. Let him step behind something in hopes of going unobserved, and that scent would announce his presence. He used no perfume, nor did he scent his robes, but somehow a fragrance that had been sealed deep inside a Chinese chest would emerge the more ravishing for his presence. He would brush a spray of plum blossoms below the veranda and the spring rain dripping from it would become a perfume for others who passed. The masterless purple trousers would reject their own perfume for his.

Niou was his rival in everything and especially in the competition to be pleasantly scented. The blending of perfumes would become his work for days on end. In the spring he would gaze inquiringly up at the blossoming plum, and in the autumn he would neglect the maiden flower of which poets have made so much and the _hagi_ beloved of the stag, and instead keep beside him, all withered and unsightly, the chrysanthemum "heedless of age" and purple trousers, also sadly faded, and the burnet that has so little to recommend it in the first place. Perfumes were central to his pursuit of good taste. There were those who accused him of a certain preciosity. Genji, they said, had managed to avoid seeming uneven.

Kaoru was always in Niou's apartments, and music echoed through the halls and galleries as their rivalry moved on to flute and koto. They were rivals but they were also the best of friends. Everyone called them (sometimes it was a little tiresome) "his perfumed highness" and "the fragrant captain." No father of a pretty and nubile daughter was unaware of their existence or lost an opportunity to remind them that there were young ladies to be had. Niou would get off notes to such of them as seemed worthy of his attention and gather pertinent information about them, but no lady could thus far have been said to excite him unduly. Or rather, there was one: the Reizei princess, who aroused thoughts of eventual marriage. Her maternal grandfather had been a very important man, and she was reputed to be something of a treasure. Women who had been briefly in her service would add to his store of information, until presently he was very excited indeed.

Kaoru was a different sort of young man. He already knew what an empty, purposeless world it is, and was reluctant to commit himself any more firmly than seemed quite necessary. He did not want the final renunciation to be difficult. Some thought him rather ostentatiously enlightened in his disdain for amorous things, and it seemed wholly unlikely that he would ever urge himself upon a lady against her wishes.

He held the Third Rank and a seat on the council, still keeping his guards commission, when he was only nineteen. The esteem of the emperor and empress had already made him an extraordinary sort of commoner; but the old doubts persisted, and with them a strain of melancholy that kept him from losing himself in romantic dalliance. Nothing seemed capable of penetrating his reserve. To some, his precocious maturity seemed a little daunting.

He had rooms in the Reizei Palace of the princess who so interested Niou and had no trouble gathering intelligence about her. All of it suggested that she was a very unusual lady, indeed a lady in whom, were he interested in marriage himself, he might find the most fascinating possibilities. In all else completely open and unreserved, the Reizei emperor chose to surround his daughter with stern barriers. Kaoru thought this not at all unreasonable of him, and made no effort to force his way through. He was a very prudent young man who did not choose to risk unpleasantness for himself or for a lady.

Because he was so universally admired, ladies were not on the whole disposed to ignore his notes. Indeed, the response was usually immediate, and so he had in the course of time had numerous little affairs, all of them very fleeting. He always managed to seem interested but not fascinated. Perversely, any suggestion that he was not wholly indifferent had a most heady effect, and so his mother's Sanjo mansion swarmed with comely young serving women. His aloofness did not please them, of course, but the prospect of removing themselves from his presence was far worse. Numbers of ladies whom one would have thought too good for domestic service had come to put their trust in a rather improbable relationship. He was not very cooperative, perhaps, but there was no denying that he was a courteous gentleman of more than ordinary good looks. Ladies who had had a glimpse of him seemed to make careers of deceiving themselves.

It would be his first duty for so long as his royal mother lived, he often said, to be her servant and protector.

Though Yugiri went on thinking how fine it would be to offer a daughter to Niou and another to Kaoru, he kept his own counsel. Marriage to a near relative is not usually held to be very interesting, but he did not think he would find more desirable sons-in-law if he searched through the whole court. His sixth daughter, a grandchild of Koremitsu, was more beautiful than any of Kumoinokari's daughters, and she had outdistanced them too in the polite accomplishments. He was determined to make up for the fact that the world seemed to look down upon her because of her mother, and so he had made her the ward of the Second Princess, Kashiwagi's widow, lonely and bored with no children of her own. A casual hint to Niou or Kaoru was not likely to go unnoticed, he thought -- for she was a young lady of remarkable endowments. He had chosen not to keep her behind the deepest of curtains, but had encouraged her to maintain a bright and lively salon, echoes of which were certain to reach the ear of an alert young gentleman.

The victory banquet following the New Year's archery meet was to be at Rokujo this year. The preparations were elaborate, for it was assumed that the royal princes would all attend. And indeed those among them who had come of age did accept the invitation. Niou was the handsomest of the empress's sons, all of whom were handsome. Hitachi, the Fourth Prince, was the son of a lesser concubine, and it may have been for that reason that people thought him rather ill favored. The Left Guards won easily, as usual, and the meet was over early in the day. Starting back for Rokujo, Yugiri invited Niou, Hitachi, and the Fifth Prince, also a son of the empress, to ride with him. Kaoru, who had been on the losing side, was making a quiet departure when Yugiri asked him to join them. It was a large procession, including numbers of high courtiers and several of Yugiri's sons -- a guards officer, a councillor of the middle order, a moderator of the first order -- that set off for Rokujo. The way was a long one, made more beautiful by flurries of snow. Soon the high, clear tone of a flute was echoing through Rokujo, that place of delights for the four seasons, outdoing, one sometimes thought, all the many paradises.

As protocol required, the victorious guards officers were assigned places facing south in the main hall, and the princes and important civil officials sat opposite them facing north. Cups were filled and the party became noisier, and several guards officers danced "The One I Seek". Their long, flowing sleeves brought the scent of plum blossoms in from the veranda, and as always it took on a kind of mysterious depth as it drifted past Kaoru.

"The darkness may try to keep us from seeing," said one of the women lucky enough to have a good view of the proceedings, "but it can't keep the scent away. And I must say there is nothing quite like it."

Yugiri was thinking how difficult it would be to find fault with Kaoru's looks and manners.

"And now you must sing it for us," he said. "Remember that you are a host and not a guest, and it is your duty to be entertaining."

Kaoru obeyed, but not as if to join in the roistering. "Where dwell the gods" -- they were the grandest words of his song, but what went before had the same quiet dignity.

 

 

Chapter 43

The Rose Plum


Kobai, the oldest surviving son of the late Tono Chujo, was now Lord Inspector. He was an energetic, clever, open man who from his boyhood had shown great promise. He had reached considerable eminence, of course, and was well thought of and a great favorite with the emperor. Upon his first wife's death he married Makibashira, daughter of Higekuro, the chancellor. It was she who had such strong regrets for the cypress pillar when her mother left her father's house. Her grandfather had arranged for her to marry Prince Hotaru, who had left her a widow. The inspector favored her with clandestine attentions after Prince Hotaru's death, and would seem to have concluded that it was a sufficiently distinguished liaison to be made public. Having been left with two children, both daughters, he prayed to the gods native and foreign that his second wife bear him a son. The prayer was soon granted. Makibashira had brought with her a daughter by Prince Hotaru.

Kobai was scrupulously impartial in his treatment of the three girls, but malicious, troublemaking women are to be found in most important households and his was no exception. There were unpleasant incidents, most of which, however, Makibashira, a cheerful, amiable lady, managed to smooth over so that no one was left feeling aggrieved. She did not let the princess's claims influence her unduly, and it was on the whole a harmonious household over which she presided.

In rapid succession there were initiation ceremonies for the three girls. Kobai built a spacious new hall, a beam span wider in either direction than most. To his older daughter he assigned the south rooms, to his younger the west, and to the prince's daughter the east. The outsider is likely to pity the fatherless daughter among stepsisters but the princess had come into a good inheritance from both sides of her family and was able to indulge her tastes and interests quite as she wished, on festive occasions and at ordinary times as well.

Young ladies who enjoy such advantages are certain to be noticed, and as each of the girls reached maturity she was noticed by even the emperor and the crown prince, who sent inquiries. The empress so dominated court life, however, that Kobai was uncertain how to reply. Presently he was able to persuade himself that a refusal to face competition is the worst possible thing for a young lady's prospects. Yugiri's daughter, already married to the crown prince, would be the most formidable of competition, but the superior man did not let such difficulties control his life. An attractive young lady should not be wasted at home. So he gave his older daughter to the crown prince. She was seventeen or eighteen, very pretty and vivacious.

The second girl had, it was reported, a graver, deeper sort of beauty. Kobai was most reluctant to give her in marriage to a commoner. Might Prince Niou perhaps be interested?

Niou was fond of joking with Kobai's young son when the two of them were at court together. The boy had artistic talents and a countenance that suggested considerable intellectual endowments as well.

"Tell your father," said Niou, "that I am annoyed with him for keeping the rest of the family out of sight. You are surely not its most interesting member?"

The boy passed the remark on, and Kobai was all smiles. There were times when it was good to have a daughter or two.

"It might not be a bad idea, you know. The competition at court is fierce, and a pretty daughter could do worse than marry one of the younger princes. The idea is rather exciting, now that I give it a little thought."

This happened while he was getting his older daughter ready for presentation at court. He had been reminding the god of Kasuga that empresses were supposed to come from the Fujiwara family. It was the god's own promise, and Tono Chujo had been badly used in the days when the Reizei emperor was preparing to name his consort. Perhaps something might be done now to make amends.

Court gossip had it that the older daughter was doing well in the competition for the crown prince's affection.
Knowing how strange and difficult court life can be, Kobai sent Makibashira to be with her. Makibashira was a most admirable guardian and adviser, but Kobai was bored without her, and the younger daughter was very much at loose ends. Prince Hotaru's daughter did not choose, in this difficult time, to stand on her dignity, and the two girls often spent the night together, passing the time at music and more frivolous pursuits. Kobai's daughter accepted the other as her mentor and they got on very well together. The princess was an extremely retiring young lady, not completely open even with her own mother. It was indeed a degree of reserve that attracted unfavorable comment, though it stopped short of positive eccentricity. She was, as a matter of fact, a rather charming girl in her way, far better favored, certainly, than most.

Kobai was feeling guilty about his stepdaughter, left out of all the excitement.

"You must make certain decisions," he said to Makibashira. "I will do everything for her that I would do for one of my own daughters."

"She seems to be completely without the hopes and plans one expects a young girl to have," said Makibashira, brushing away a tear. "I certainly would not want to insist upon them. I suppose I must call it fate and keep her with me. She will have problems when I am gone, I am afraid, but perhaps people won't laugh at her if she becomes a nun." And she added that in spite of everything the girl had a great deal to recommend her.

Kobai was determined to be a good father, and he wished that the girl would cooperate at least to the extent of letting him see her.

"It is not kind of you to insist upon hiding yourself." He had taken to stealing up to her curtains and searching for a hole or a gap, but he always went away disappointed.

"I want to be father and mother to you," he continued, having posted himself firmly before her curtains, "and I am hurt that you should treat me like a stranger."

Her answers, in very soft tones, suggested great elegance, as indeed did everything about her. He wanted more than ever to see her. He was not prepared to admit that his own daughters were not the finest young ladies in the land, but he suspected that the princess might outshine them. The world was too wide and varied, that was the trouble. A man might think he had a peerless daughter, and somewhere a lovelier lady was almost certain to appear. Yes, he really must have a look at the princess.

"It has been a month and more since I last had the pleasure of hearing you play. Things have been in such a frightful stir. The girl in the west rooms is absolutely mad about the lute, you know. Do you think she has possibilities? The lute should be left alone unless it is played well. Give her a lesson or two, please, if you have nothing better to do. I am not the man I once was, and I never had regular lessons, but I was a passable musician in my day. I can still tell good from bad on almost any instrument. You are very parsimonious with your playing, but I do occasionally catch an echo, and it brings back old memories. Lord Yugiri is still with us, of course, to keep the Rokujo tradition alive. Then there is his brother, the middle councillor, and there is Prince Niou. I am sure that they could have held their own against the best of the old masters. I am told that they are very serious about their music, though they may not have quite Yugiri's confident touch. Each time I hear your own lute I think how much it resembles his. People are always saying that the most important thing is tact and forbearance in the use of the left hand. That is important, of course, but a misplaced bridge can be a disaster, and for a lady a gentle touch with the right hand is very important too. Come, now, let me hear you play. A lute, someone!"

Her women were on the whole much less reticent than she, though one of them, very young and from a very good family, had annoyed him by withdrawing to a distant corner.

"Just see my lady, will you, way off over there. Who has she been led to think she is?"

His son came in, wearing casual court dress, more becoming, Kobai thought, than full regalia.

He gave the boy a message for the daughter at court. "I cannot be with you this evening. You must do without me. Perhaps you can say that I am not feeling well." That business out of the way, he smiled and turned to other business. "Bring your flute with you one of these days. It may be what your sister here needs to encourage her. Do you ever play for His Majesty? And do you please him, in your infantile way?"

He set the boy to a strain in the _sojo_ mode, which he managed very commendably.

"Good, very good. I can see that you have profited from our little musicales. And now you must join him," he said to the princess.

She played with obvious reluctance and declined to use a plectrum, but the brief duo was very pleasing indeed. Kobai whistled an accompaniment, rich and full.

He looked out at a rose plum in full bloom just below this east veranda.

"Magnificent. Am I right in thinking that Prince Niou is living in the palace these days? Take him a branch -- the one who knows best knows best. How well I remember the days when Genji was young. They called him'the shining one.' It would have been when he was a guards commander, and I was a page, as you are now. I was lucky enough to attract his attention, and I never shall forget the pleasure it gave me. They talk about Prince Niou and his good friend Kaoru, and indeed they have become very fine young gentlemen. I may have been heard to say that they are not like Genji, really not like him at all, but that is because for me there can never be another Genji. I find myself choking up at the thought that I once stood there beside him. And I was never so very close to him. For those that were it must seem as if something had gone very wrong, that they should be here without him." His voice had become somewhat husky. Seeking to control himself, he broke off a plum branch and, handing it to the boy, pushed him towards the door. "Prince Niou is the only one left who reminds me of him. When the Blessed One died his disciples thought they saw something of his radiance in Prince Ananda, and ventured to hope that he had come back. For me Prince Niou is the light in all the darkness."

Full of youthful good spirits once more, he dashed off a poem on a bit of scarlet paper and folded it inside a sheet of notepaper the boy chanced to have with him.

"A purposeful breeze wafts forth the scent of our plum.
Will not the warbler be first to heed the summons?"
The boy rushed off to the palace, delighted at the prospect of seeing Niou, whom he found emerging from the empress's audience chamber. Niou singled him out among the throngs in her anterooms.

"Why did you have to run off in such a hurry last night? How long have you been here this evening?"

"I was sorry I had to go. I came earl y this evening because they said you might still be here." He spoke as one man to another.

"You must come and see me at Nijo sometime. It is a more comfortable sort of place, and it seems to attract young people, I don't really know why."

The stir had subsided. Sensing an intimate tete-a-tete, the throngs were withdrawing.

"So my brother, the crown prince, is letting you have a little time of your own for a change? It used to be that he had to have you with him every moment of the day. Does it make you a little jealous, that your sister is occupying so much of his attention?"

"You are not to think I wanted it that way. If it had been you, now- Confidently he took a seat beside the prince.

"They insist on treating me like a child. If that is their view of me, there is not much that I can do about it. Yet I cannot help being annoyed. Perhaps you might remind another sister, the one whose rooms face east, I am told, that we come from the same worn-out old family, and so perhaps we might be friends."

It was the boy's opportunity to present the plum branch.

Niou smiled. "I am glad it is not a peace offering." He was delighted with it. The scent and color and the distribution of the blossoms surpassed anything he had seen in the palace gardens.

"I've heard it said that the rose plum puts everything into its color and lets the white plum have all the perfume, but here we have color and perfume all in the same blossoms."

The plum blossom had always been among his favorites. The boy was delighted to have brought such pleasure.

"You are on duty this evening, I believe? Why don't you stay here with me?"

And so the boy was not after all able to call on the crown prince. The scent of the plum blossoms was rather overwhelmed by the scent from Niou's robes. Lying beside him, the boy thought he had never met a more charming gentleman.

"And my cousin, the mistress of your plums? Was she not invited to come into the crown prince's service?"

"I don't think I've ever heard anyone mention it -- but I did hear my father say that the one who knows best knows best."

Niou's informants had apprised him of the fact that Kobai was more concerned about his own daughter than Prince Hotaru's. Since she did not happen to be Niou's favorite, he did not immediately answer Kobai's poem.

Early the next morning he did have a poem ready for the boy to take with him. It was not perhaps a very warm one.

"If I were one who followed inviting scents
Perhaps I might be summoned by the wind."
"Do not let yourself become involved in talks with the aged," he said more than once to the boy. "Have a quiet talk with someone nearer your own age."

These remarks had the effect of making the boy feel responsible for his royal sister. His father's daughters were more open with him and seemed more like sisters, and his childish view of the princess was almost worshipful. Yes, he must find her a good husband. He wished well for all his sisters, and the tasteful gaiety of the crown prince's household made him think that the royal one among them had had very bad luck. How good it would be to see her at Niou's side! The branch of plum blossoms had produced most encouraging hints.

He delivered Niou's poem to his father.

"Not very friendly, I must say. But it is amusing to see what a prim and proper face he is putting on for us. I suppose he is aware that Yugiri and all the rest of us think him a little too much of a ladies' man. The primness does not accord very well with his talents in that direction."

If he was annoyed he quickly recovered, and today again got off a friendly note:

"Ever fragrant, the royal sleeves touch the blossoms
And bring them into higher and higher repute.
"I must ask to be forgiven if I seem frivolous."

Perhaps, thought Niou, it was worth taking seriously. He answered:

"Were I to follow the fragrance of the blossoms,
Might I not be accused of wantonness?"
Kobai thought it a bit stiff, when things had been going so well.

Makibashira came home from court. "The boy seems to have spent a night at the palace not long ago. When he left the next morning everyone was admiring the marvelous perfume.'Aha,' said the crown prince,'he has been with my brother Niou.' The crown prince is very quick in these things. And that, he said, was why he was being neglected himself. We all thought it very amusing. Had you written to Prince Niou? Somehow it didn't seem as if you had."

"I had indeed. He has always been fond of plum blossoms, and the rose plum is so unusually fine this year that I could not let the opportunity pass. I broke off a branch and sent it to him. He gives off such an extraordinary scent himself. I doubt that you could find in all the wardrobes of all the grand ladies a robe with a finer scent burnt into it. With Lord Kaoru it all comes naturally. He seems to have no interest at all in perfumes. It is very curious, really -- what do you suppose he has been up to in other lives? One plum blossom may go by the same name as another, but it's the roots that make all the difference. Prince Niou was kind enough to praise this one of ours, and I must say that it deserves to be praised." So the plum became his excuse for discussing Niou.

Prince Hotaru's daughter was old enough to know what was expected of young ladies, and she took careful note of what went on around her. She had evidently concluded with some firmness that marriage was not for her. Men are easily swayed by power and prestige, and Kobai's daughters, with their influential father behind them, had already had many earnest proposals. The princess had lived a quiet, withdrawn sort of life by comparison. But Niou seemed to have decided that she was the one for him. Kobai's son, now among his regular attendants, was kept busy delivering secret notes.

Kobai had hopes of his own and watched for evidence that they had been noticed. Indeed he was already making plans.

Makibashira thought him rather pathetic. "He has it all wrong. This stream of letters might have some point if the prince were even a little interested."

Niou was spurred to new efforts by the silence with which his notes were greeted. Makibashira occasionally sought to coax an answer from her daughter. Niou's prospects were bright and a girl could certainly do worse. But the princess found it hard to believe that he was serious. He was known to be keeping up numerous clandestine liaisons, and his trips to Uji did not seem merely frivolous.

Makibashira got off a quiet letter from time to time. A prince was, after all, a prince.

 

 

Chapter 44

Bamboo River


The story I am about to tell wanders rather far from Genji and his family. I had it unsolicited from certain obscure women who lived out their years in Higekuro's house. It may not seem entirely in keeping with the story of Murasaki, but the women themselves say that there are numerous inaccuracies in the accounts we have had of Genji's descendants, and put the blame on women so old that they have become forgetful. I would not presume to say who is right.

Tamakizura, now a widow, had three sons and two daughters. Higekuro had had the highest ambitions for them, and had waited eagerly for them to grow up; and then, suddenly, he was dead. Tamakazura was lost without him. He had been impatient to see his children in court service and now of course his plans had come to nothing. People go streaming off in the direction of power and prestige, and though the treasures and manors from Higekuro's great days had not been dispersed his house was now still and silent.

Tamakazura came from a large and influential clan, but on such levels people tend to be remote, and Higekuro had been a difficult man, somewhat too open in his likes and dislikes. She found that her brothers kept their distance. Genji's children, on the other hand, continued to treat her as if she were one of them. Only the empress, Genji's daughter, had received more careful attention in his will, and Yugiri was as friendly and considerate as a brother could possibly have been. He lost no opportunity to call on her or to write to her.

The sons went through their initiation ceremonies. Tamakazura wished very much that her husband were still alive, but no one doubted that they would make respectable careers for themselves all the same. The daughters were the problem. Higekuro had petitioned the emperor to take them into court service, and when the emperor was reminded that sufficient time had elapsed for them to have come of age he sent repeatedly to remind Tamakazura of her husband's wishes. The empress was in a position of such unrivaled influence, however, that the other ladies, waiting far down the line for an occasional sidelong glance, were having a difficult time of it. And on the other hand Tamakazura would not wish it to seem that she did not think her daughters up to the competition.

There were friendly inquiries from the Reizei emperor too. He reminded her that she had long ago disappointed him.

"Perhaps you think me too old to be in the running, but if you were to let me have one of them she would be like a daughter to me."

Tamakazura hesitated. She had been fated, it seemed, and the matter had always puzzled her, to hurt and disappoint the Reizei emperor. Certainly she had not wanted to. She felt awed and humbled now, and perhaps she was being given a chance to make amends.

Her daughters had acquired a numerous band of suitors. The young lieutenant, son of Yugiri and Kumoinokari, was his father's favorite, a very fine lad indeed. He was among the more earnest of the suitors. Tamakazura could not refuse him and his brothers the freedom of her house, for there were close connections on both sides of the family They had their allies among the serving women and had no trouble making representations. Indeed, they had become rather a nuisance, hovering about the house day and night.

There were letters too from Kumoinokari.

"He is still young and not at all important," said Yugiri himself, "but he does have his good points. Have you perhaps noticed them?"

Tamakazura would not be satisfied with an ordinary marriage for the older girl, but for the younger -- well, she asked modest respectability and not much more. She was beginning to be a little afraid of the lieutenant. There were ominous rumblings to the effect that he would make off with one of the girls if he could not have her otherwise. Though his suit was certainly not beneath consideration, it would not help the prospects of one daughter if the other were to be abducted.

"I do not like it at all," she said to her women. "You must be very careful."

These instructions made it difficult for them to go on delivering his notes.

Kaoru, now fourteen or fifteen, had for some time been so close to the Reizei emperor that they might have been father and son. He was sober and mature for his years, a fine young man for whom everyone expected a brilliant future. Tamakazura would have been happy to list him among the suitors. Her house was very near the Sanjo house where he lived with his mother, and one or another of her sons was always inviting him over for a musical evening. Because of the interesting young ladies known to be in residence, he always found other young men on the premises. They tended to seem foppish and none had his good looks or confident elegance. The lieutenant, Yugiri's son, was of course always loitering about, his good looks dimmed by Kaoru's. Perhaps because of his nearness to Genji, Kaoru was held in universally high esteem. Tamakazura's young attendants thought him splendid. Tamakazura agreed that he was a most agreeable young man and often received him for a friendly talk.

"Your father was so good to me. The sense of loss is still overpowering, and I find myself looking for keepsakes. There is your brother, the minister, of course, but he is such an important man that I cannot see him unless I have a very good reason."

She treated him like a brother and it was in that mood that he came visiting. She knew that, unlike other young men, he would do nothing rash or frivolous. His rectitude was such, indeed, that some of the younger women thought him a little prudish. He did not take at all well to their teasing.

Early in the New Year Kobai came calling. He was Tamakazura's brother, now Lord Inspector, and it was he who had delighted them long before with his rendition of "Takasago." With him were, among others, a son of the late Higekuro who was full brother to Makibashira, now Kobai's wife. Yugiri also came calling, a very handsome man in grand ministerial procession, all six of his sons among his attendants. They were all of them excellent young gentlemen and their careers were progressing more briskly than those of most of their colleagues. No cause for self-pity here, one would have said -- and yet the lieutenant seemed moody and withdrawn. The indications were as always that he was his father's favorite.

Tamakazura received Yugiri from behind curtains. His easy, casual manner took her back to an earlier day.

"The trouble is that there has to be an explanation for every visit I make Visits to the palace are an exception, of course, for I must make them; but the most informal call is so hemmed in by ceremony that it hardly seems worth the trouble. I cannot tell you how often I have wanted to come for a talk of old times and have had to reconsider. Please send for these youngsters of mine whenever they can be of service. They have instructions to keep reminding you of their availability."

"I am as you see me, a recluse quite cut off from the world. Your very great kindness somehow makes me all the more aware of how good your father was to me." She spoke circumspectly of the messages that had come from the Reizei Palace. "I have been telling myself that a lady who goes to court without strong allies is asking for trouble."

"I have had reports that the emperor too has been in communication with you. I scarcely know what to advise. The Reizei emperor is no longer on the throne, of course, and one may say that his great day is over. Yet the years have done nothing at all to his remarkable looks. I count over the list of my own daughters and ask whether one of them might not qualify, and have reluctantly decided not to enter them in such grand competition. You know of course that he has a daughter of his own, and one must always consider her mother's feelings. Indeed, I have heard that people have been frightened off by exactly that question."

"Oh, but I may assure you that I am interested in the proposal because she approves very warmly. She has little to occupy her, she has said, and it would be a great pleasure to help the Reizei emperor make a young lady feel at home."

Tamakazura's house was now thronging with New Year callers. Yugiri went off to the Sanjo house of the Third Princess, Kaoru's mother. She had no reason to feel neglected, for courtiers who had enjoyed the patronage of her father and brother found it impossible to pass her by. Tamakazura's three sons, a guards captain, a moderator, and a chamberlain, went with Yugiri, who presided over an even grander procession than before.

Kaoru called on Tamakazura that evening. The other young gentlemen having left -- who could have found serious fault with any of them? -- it was as if everything had been arranged to set off his good looks. Yes, he was unique, said the susceptible young women.

"Oh, that Kaoru. Put him beside our young lady here and you would really have something."

It may have sounded just a little cheeky, but he was young and certainly he was very handsome, and his smallest motion sent forth that extraordinary fragrance. A discerning lady, however deeply cloistered, had to recognize his superiority.

Tamakazura was in her chapel and invited him to join her. He went up the east stairway and took a place just outside the blinds. The plum at the eaves was sending forth its first buds and the warbler was still not quite able to get through its song without faltering. Something about his manner made the women want to joke with him, but his replies were rather brusque.

A woman named Saisho offered a poem:

"Come, young buds -- a smile is what we need,
To tell us that, taken in hand, you would be more fragrant."
Thinking it good for an impromptu poem, he answered:

"A barren blossomless tree I have heard it called.
At heart it bursts even now into richest bloom.
"Stretch out a hand if you wish to be sure."

"Lovely the color, lovelier yet the fragrance." And it was indeed as if she meant to find out for herself.

Tamakazura had come forward from the recesses of the chapel. "What horrid young creatures you are," she said gently. "Do you not know that you are in the presence of the most proper of young gentlemen?"

Kaoru knew very well that they called him "Lord Proper," and he was not at all proud of the title.

The chamberlain, Tamakazura's youngest son, was not yet on the regular court rosters and had no New Year calls to make. Refreshments were served on trays of delicate sandalwood. Tamakazura was thinking that though Yugiri looked more and more like Genji as the years went by, Kaoru did not really look like him at all. Yet there was an undeniable nobility in his manner and bearing. Perhaps the young Genji had been like him. It was the sort of thought that always reduced her to pensive silence.

The women were chattering about the remarkable fragrance he had left behind.

No, Kaoru did not really like being Lord Proper. Late in the month the plum blossoms were at their best. Thinking it a good time to show them all that they had misjudged him, he went off to visit the apartments of the young chamberlain, Tamakazura's son. Coming in through the garden gate, he saw that another young gentleman had preceded him. Also in casual court dress, the other did not want to be seen, but Kaoru recognized and hailed him. It was Yugiri's son the lieutenant, very frequently to be found on the premises. Exciting sounds of lute and Chinese koto were coming from the west rooms. Kaoru was feeling somewhat uncomfortable and somewhat guilty as well. The uninvited guest was not his favorite role.

"Come," he said, when there was a pause in the music. "Be my guide. I am a complete stranger."

Side by side under the plum at the west gallery, they serenaded the ladies with "A Branch of Plum." As if to invite this yet fresher perfume inside, someone pushed open a corner door and there was a most skillful accompaniment on a Japanese koto. Astonished and pleased that a lady should be so adept at a _ryo_ key, they repeated the song. The lute too was delightfully fresh and clear. It seemed to be a house given over to elegant pursuits. Kaoru was less diffident than usual.

A Japanese koto was pushed towards him from under the blinds. Each of the visitors deferred to the other so insistently that the issue was finally resolved by Tamakazura, who sent out to Kaoru through her son:

"I have heard that your playing resembles that of my father, the late chancellor, and would like nothing better than to hear it. The warbler has favored us this evening. Can you not be persuaded to do as well?"

He would look rather silly biting his finger like a bashful stripling. Though without enthusiasm, he played a short strain on the koto, from which he coaxed an admirably rich tone.

Tamakazura had not been close to her father, Tono Chujo, but she missed him, and trivial little incidents were always reminding her of him. And how very much Kaoru did remind her of her late brother Kashiwagi. She could almost have sworn that it was his koto she was listening to. She was in tears -- perhaps they come more easily as one grows older.

The lieutenant continued the concert with "This House." He had a fine voice and he was in very good form this evening. The concert had a gay informality that would not have been possible had there been elderly and demanding connoisseurs in the assembly. Everyone wanted to take part in it, and the music flowed on and on. The chamberlain seemed to resemble his father, Higekuro. He preferred wine to music, at which he was not very good.

"Come, now. Silence is not permitted. Something cheerful and congratulatory."

And so, with someone to help him, he sang "Bamboo River." Though immature and somewhat awkward, it was a commendable enough performance.

A cup was pushed towards Kaoru from under the blinds. He was in no hurry to take it.

"I have heard it said that people talk too much when they drink too much. Is that what you have in mind?"

She had a New Year's gift for him, a robe and cloak from her own wardrobe, most alluringly scented.

"More and more purposeful," he said, making as if to return it through her son. "There were all those other parties for the carolers," he added, deftly turning aside their efforts to keep him on.

He always got all the attention, thought the lieutenant, looking glumly after him, in an even blacker mood than usual. This is the poem with which, sighing deeply, he made his departure:

"Everyone is thinking of the blossoms,
And I am left alone in springtime darkness."
This reply came from one of the women behind the curtains:

"There is a time and place for everything.
The plum is not uniquely worthy of notice."
The young chamberlain had a note from Kaoru the next morning. "I fear that I may have been too noisy last night. Was everyone disgusted with me?" And there was a poem in an easy, discursive style, obviously meant for young ladies:

"Deep down in the bamboo river we sang of
Did you catch an echo of deep intentions?"
It was taken to the main hall, where all the women read it.

"What lovely handwriting," said Tamakazura, who hoped that her children might be induced to improve their own scrawls. "Name me another young gentleman who has such a wide variety of talents and accomplishments. He lost his father when he was very young and his mother left him to rear himself, and look at him, if you will. There must be reasons for it all."

The chamberlain's reply was in a very erratic hand indeed. "We did not really believe that excuse about the carolers.

"A word about a river and off you ran,
And left us to make what we would of unseemly haste."
Kaoru came visiting again, as if to demonstrate his "deep intentions," and it was as the lieutenant had said: he got all the attention. For his part, the chamberlain was happy that they should be so close, he and Kaoru, and only hoped that they could be closer.

It was now the Third Month. The cherries were in bud and then suddenly the sky was a storm of blossoms and falling petals. Young ladies who lived a secluded life were not likely to be charged with indiscretion if at this glorious time of the year they took their places out near the veranda. Tamakazura's daughters were perhaps eighteen or nineteen, beautiful and good-natured girls. The older sister had regular, elegant features and a sort of gay spontaneity which one wanted to see taken into the royal family itself. She was wearing a white cloak lined with red and a robe of russet with a yellow lining. It was a charming combination that went beautifully with the season, and there was a flair even in her way of quietly tucking her skirts about her that made other girls feel rather dowdy. The younger sister had chosen a light robe of pink, and the soft flow of her hair put one in mind of a willow tree. She was a tall, proud beauty with a face that suggested a meditative turn. Yet there were those who said that if an ability to catch and hold the eye was the important thing, then the older sister was the great beauty of the day.

They were seated at a Go board, their long hair trailing behind them. Their brother the chamberlain was seated near them, prepared if needed to offer his services as referee.

His brothers came in.

"How very fond they do seem to be of the child. They are prepared to submit their destinies to his mature judgment."

Faced with this stern masculinity, the serving women brought themselves to attention.

"I am so busy at the office," said the oldest brother, "that I have quite abdicated my prerogatives here at home to our young lord chamberlain."

"But my duties, I may assure you, are far more arduous," said the second. "I am scarcely ever at home, and I have been pushed quite out of things."

The young ladies were charming as they took a shy recess from their game.

"I often think when I am at work," said the oldest brother, dabbing at his eyes, "how good it would be if Father were still with us." He was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and very handsome and well mannered. He wanted somehow to pursue his father's plans for the sisters.

Sending one of the women down into the garden, a veritable cherry orchard, he had her break off an especially fine branch.

"Where else do you find blossoms like these?" said one of the sisters, taking it up in her hand.

"When you were children you quarreled over that cherry. Father said it belonged to you" -- and he nodded to his older sister-"and Mother said it belonged to _you_, and no one said it belonged to me. I did not exactly cry myself to sleep but I did feel slighted. It is a very old tree and it somehow makes me aware of how old I am getting myself. And I think of all the people who once looked at it and are no longer living." By turns jocular and melancholy, the brothers paid a more leisurely visit than usual. The older brothers were married and had things to attend to, but today the cherry blossoms seemed important.

Tamakazura did not look old enough to have such fine sons. Indeed she still seemed in the first blush of maidenhood, not at all different from the girl the Reizei emperor had known. It was nostalgic affection, no doubt, that had led him to ask for one of her daughters.

Her sons did not think the prospect very exciting. "Present and immediate influence is what matters, and his great day is over. He is still very youthful and handsome, of course -- indeed, it is hard to take your eyes from him. But it is the same with music and birds and flowers. Every thing has its day, its time to be noticed. The crown prince, now -- "

"Yes, I had thought of him," said Tamakazura. "But Yugiri's daughter dominates him so completely. A lady who enters the competition without very careful preparation and very strong backing is sure to find herself in trouble. If your father were still alive -- no one could take responsibility for the distant future, of course, but he could at least see that we were off to a good start." In sum, the prospect was discouraging.

When their brothers had left, the ladies turned again to the Go board. They now made the disputed cherry tree their stakes.

"Best two of three," said someone.

They came out to the veranda as evening approached. The blinds were raised and each of them had an ardent cheering section. Yugiri's son the lieutenant had come again to visit the youngest son of the house. The latter was off with his brothers, however, and his rooms were quiet. Finding an open gallery door, the lieutenant peered cautiously inside. An enchanting sight greeted him, like a revelation of the Blessed One himself (and it was rather sad that he should be so dazzled). An evening mist somewhat obscured the scene, but he thought that she in the red-lined robe of white, the "cherry" as it is called, must be the one who so interested him. Lovely, vivacious -- she would be "a memento when they have fallen." He must not let another man have her. The young attendants were also very beautiful in the evening light.

The lady on the right was the victor. "Give a loud Korean cheer," said one of her supporters, and indeed they were rather noisy in their rejoicing. "It leaned to the west to show that it was ours all along, and you people refused to accept the facts."

Though not entirely sure what was happening, the lieutenant would have liked to join them. Instead he withdrew, for it would not do to let them know that they had been observed in this happy abandon. Thereafter he was often to be seen lurking about the premises, hoping for another such opportunity.

The blossoms had been good for an afternoon, and now the stiff winds of evening were tearing at them.

Said the lady who had been the loser:

"They did not choose to come when I summoned them, and yet I trmble to see them go away."

And her woman Saisho, comfortingly:

"A gust of wind, and promptly they are gone.
My grief is not intense at the loss of such weaklings."
And the victorious lady:

"These flowers must fall. It is the way of the world.
But do not demean the tree that came to me."
And Tayu, one of her women:

"You have given yourselves to us, and now you fall
At the water's edge. Come drifting to us as foam."
A little page girl who had been cheering for the victor went down into the garden and gathered an armful of fallen branches.

"The winds have sent them falling to the ground,
But I shall pick them up, for they are ours."
And little Nareki, a supporter of the lady who had lost:

"We have not sleeves that cover all the vast heavens.
We yet may wish to keep these fragrant petals.
"Be ambitious, my ladies!"

The days passed uneventfully. Tamakazura fretted and came to no decision, and there continued to be importunings from the Reizei emperor.

An extremely friendly letter came from his consort, Tamakazura's sister. "You are behaving as if we were nothing to each other. His Majesty is saying most unjustly that I seek to block his proposal. It is not pleasant of him even if he is joking. Do please make up your mind and let her come to us immediately."

Perhaps it had all been fated, thought Tamakazura -- but she almost wished that her sister would dispel the uncertainty by coming out in opposition. She sighed and turned to the business of getting the girl ready, and seeing too that all the women were properly dressed and groomed.

The lieutenant was in despair. He went to his mother, Kumoinokari, who got off an earnest letter in his behalf. "I write to you from the darkness that obscures a mother's heart. No doubt I am being unreasonable -- but perhaps you will understand and be generous."

Tamakazura sighed and set about an answer. It was a difficult situation. "I am in an agony of indecision, and these constant letters from the Reizei emperor do not help at all. I only wish -- and it is, I think, the solution least likely to be criticized -- that someone could persuade your son to be patient. If he really cares, then someday he will perhaps see that his wishes are very important to me."

It might have been read as an oblique suggestion that she would let him have her second daughter once the Reizei question had been settled. She did not want to make simultaneous arrangements for the two girls. That would have seemed pretentious, and besides, the lieutenant was still very young and rather obscure. He was not prepared to accept the suggestion that he transfer his affections, however, and the image of his lady at the Go board refused to leave him. He longed to see her again, and was in despair at the thought that there might not be another opportunity.

He was in the habit of taking his complaints to Tamakazura's son the chamberlain. One day he came upon the boy reading a letter from Kaoru. Immediately guessing its nature, he took it from the heap of papers in which the chamberlain sought to hide it. Not wanting to exaggerate the importance of a rather conventional complaint about an unkind lady, the chamberlain smiled and let him read it.

"The days go by, quite heedless of my longing.
Already we come to the end of a bitter spring."
It was a very quiet sort of protest compared to the lieutenant's overwrought strainings, a fact which the women were quick to point out. Chagrined, he could think of little to say, and shortly he withdrew to the room of a woman named Chujo, who always listened to him with sympathy. There seemed little for him to do but sigh at the refusal of the world to let him have his way. The chamberlain strolled past on his way to consult with Tamakazura about a reply to Kaoru's letter, and the sighs and complaints now rose to a level that taxed Chujo's patience. She fell silent. The usual jokes refused to come.

"It was a dream that I long to dream again," he said, having informed her that he had been among the spectators at the Go match. "What do I have to live for? Not a great deal. Not a great deal is left to me. It is as they say: a person even longs for the pain."

She did genuinely pity him, but there was nothing she could say. Hints from Tamakazura that he might one day be comforted did not seem to bring immediate comfort; and so the conclusion must be that the glimpse he had had of the older sister -- and she certainly was very beautiful -- had changed him for life.

Chujo assumed the offensive. "You are evidently asking me to plead your case. You do not see, I gather, what a rogue and a scoundrel you would seem if I did. A little more and I will no longer be able to feel sorry for you. I must be forever on my guard, and it is exhausting."

"This is the end. I do not care what you think of me, and I do not care what happens to me. I did hate to see her lose that game, though. You should have smuggled me inside where she could see me. I would have given signals and kept her from losing. Ah, what a wretched fate is mine! Everything is against me and yet I go on hating to lose. The one thing I cannot overcome is a hatred of losing."

Chujo had to laugh.

"A nod from you is all it takes to win?
This somehow seems at odds with reality."
It confirmed his impression of a certain want of sympathy.

"Pity me yet once more and lead me to her,
Assured that life and death are in your hands."
Laughing and weeping, they talked the night away.

The next day was the first of the Fourth Month. All his brothers set off in court finery, and he spent the day brooding in his room. His mother

ed to weep. Yugiri, though sympathetic, was more resigned and sensible. It was quite proper, he said, that Tamakazura should respect the Reizei emperor's wishes.

"I doubt that I would have been refused if I had really pleaded your case. I am sorry."

As he so often did, the boy replied with a sad poem:

"Spring went off with the blossoms that left the trees.
I wander lost under trees in mournful leaf."
His agents, among the more important women in attendance upon Tamakazura and her daughters, had not given up. "I do feel sorry for him," said Chujo. "He says that he is teetering between life and death, and he may just possibly mean it."

His parents had interceded for him, and Tamakazura had thought of consoling him, inconsolable though he held himself to be, with another daughter. She began to fear that he would make difficulties for the older daughter. Higekuro had said that she should not go to a commoner of however high rank. She was going to a former emperor and even so Tamakazura was not happy. In upon her worries came another letter, delivered by one of the lieutenant's sentimental allies.

Tamakazura had a quick answer:

"At last I understand. This mournful mien
Conceals a facile delight with showy blossoms."
"That is not kind, my lady."

But she had too much on her mind to think of revising it.

The older girl was presented at the Reizei Palace on the ninth of the month. Yugiri provided carriages and a large escort. Kumoinokari was somewhat resentful, but did not like to think that her correspondence with Tamakazura, suddenly interesting and flourishing because of the lieutenant's tribulations, must now be at an end. She sent splendid robes for the ladies-in-waiting and otherwise helped with the arrangements.

"I was mustered into the service of a remarkably shiftless young man," she wrote, "and I should certainly have consulted your convenience more thoroughly. Yet I think that you for your part might have kept me better informed."

It was a gentle and circumspect protest, and Tamakazura had to admit that it was well taken.

Yugiri also wrote. "Something has come up that requires me to be in retreat just when I ought to be with you. I am sending sons to do whatever odd jobs need to be done. Please make such use of them as you can." He dispatched several sons, including two guards officers. She was most grateful.

Kobai also sent carriages. He was her brother and his wife was her stepdaughter and so relations should have been doubly close. In fact, they were rather distant. One of Makibashira's brothers came, however, to join Tamakazura's sons in the escort. How sad it was for Tamakazura, everyone said, that her husband was no longer living.

From Yugiri's son the lieutenant there came through the usual agent the usual bombast: "My life is at an end. I am resigned and yet I am sad. Say that you are sorry. Say only that, and I shall manage to struggle on for a little while yet, I think."

She found the two sisters together, looking very dejected. They had been inseparable, thinking even a closed door an intolerable barrier; and now they must part. Dressed for her presentation at the Reizei Palace, the older sister was very beautiful. It may have been that she was thinking sadly of the plans her father had had for her. She thought the note rather implausible, coming from someone who still had two parents living, and very splendid parents, too. Yet perhaps he was not merely gesturing and posing.

"Tell him this," she said, jotting down a poem at the end of his note:

"When all is evanescence we all are sad,
And whose affairs does'sad' most aptly describe?"
"An unsettling sort of note," she added, "giving certain hints of what 'sad' may possibly mean."

He shed tears of ecstasy at having something in the lady's own hand -- for his intermediary had chosen not to recopy it. "Do you think that if I die for love...?" he sent back. She did not think it a very well-chosen allusion, and what followed was embarrassing, in view of the fact that she had not expected the woman to pass on her words verbatim:

"How true. We live, we die, not as we ask,
And I must die without that one word'sad.'
"I would hurry to my grave if I thought I might have it there."

She had only the prettiest and most graceful of attendants. The ceremonies were as elaborate as if she were being presented to the reigning emperor. It was late in the night when the procession, having first looked in on Tamakazura's sister, proceeded to the Reizei emperor's apartments. Akikonomu and the ladies-in-waiting had all grown old in his service, and now there was a beautiful lady at her youthful best. No one was surprised that the emperor doted upon her and that she was soon the most conspicuous lady in the Reizei household. The Reizei emperor behaved like any other husband, and that, people said, was quite as it should be. He had hoped to see a little of Tamakazura and was disappointed that she withdrew after a brief conversation.

Kaoru was his constant companion, almost the favorite that Genji had once been. He was on good terms with everyone in the house, including, of course, the new lady. He would have liked to know exactly how friendly she was. One still, quiet evening when he was out strolling with her brother the chamberlain, they came to a pine tree before what he judged to be her curtains. Hanging from it was a very fine wisteria. With mossy rocks for their seats, they sat down beside the brook.

There may have been guarded resentment in the poem which Kaoru recited as he looked up at it:

"These blossoms, were they more within our reach,
Might seem to be of finer hue than the pine."
The boy understood immediately, and wished it to be known that he had not approved of the match.

"It is the lavender of all such flowers,
And yet it is not as I wish it were."
He was an honest, warmhearted boy, and he was genuinely sorry that Kaoru had been disappointed -- not that Kaoru's disappointment could have been described as bitter.

Yugiri's son the lieutenant, on the other hand, seemed so completely unhinged that one half expected violence. Some of the older girl's suitors were beginning to take notice of the younger. It was the turn which Tamakazura, in response to Kumoinokari's petitions, had hoped his own inclinations might take, but he had fallen silent. Though the Reizei emperor was on the best of terms with all of Yugiri's sons, the lieutenant seldom came visiting, and when he did he looked very unhappy and did not stay long.

And so Higekuro's very strongly expressed wishes had come to nothing. Wanting an explanation, the emperor summoned Tamakazura's son the captain.

"He is very cross with us," said the captain to Tamakazura, and it was evident that he too was much put out. "I did not keep my feelings to myself, you may remember. I said that people would be very surprised. You did not agree, and I found it very difficult to argue with you. Now we seem to have succeeded in alienating an emperor, not at all a wise thing to do."

"Once again I do not entirely agree with you," replied Tamakazura calmly. "I thought the matter over carefully, and the Reizei emperor was so insistent that I had to feel sorry for him. Your sister would have had a very difficult time at court without your father to help her. She is much better off where she is, of that I feel very sure. I do not remember that you or anyone else tried very hard to dissuade me, and now my brother and all of you are saying that I made a horrible mistake. It is not fair -- and we must accept what has happened as fate."

"The fate of which you speak is not something we see here before us, and how are we to describe it to the emperor? You seem to worry a great deal about the empress and to forget that your own sister is one of the Reizei ladies. And the arrangements you congratulate yourself upon having made for my sister -- I doubt that they will prove workable. But that is all right. I shall do what I can for her. There have been precedents enough for sending a lady to court when other ladies are already there, so many of them, indeed, as to argue that cheerful attendance upon an emperor has from very ancient times been thought its own justification. If there is unpleasantness at the Reizei Palace and my good aunt is displeased with us, I doubt that we will find many people rushing to our support."

Tamakazura's sons were not making things easier for her.

The Reizei emperor seemed more pleased with his new lady as the months went by. In the Seventh Month she became pregnant. No one thought it strange that so pretty and charming a lady should have been plagued by suitors or that the Reizei emperor should keep her always at his side, a companion in music and other diversions. Kaoru, also a constant companion, often heard her play, and his feelings as he listened were far from simple. The Reizei emperor was especially fond of the Japanese koto upon which Chujo had played "A Branch of Plum."

The New Year came, and there was caroling. Numbers of young courtiers had fine voices, and from this select group only the best received the royal appointment as carolers. Kaoru was named master of one of the two choruses and Yugiri's son the lieutenant was among the musicians. There was a bright, cloudless moon, almost at full, as they left the main palace for the Reizei Palace. Tamakazura's sister and daughter were both in the main hall, where a retinue of princes and high courtiers surrounded the Reizei emperor. Looking them over, one was tempted to conclude that only Yugiri and Higekuro had succeeded in producing really fine sons. The carolers seemed to feel that the Reizei Palace was even more of a challenge than the main palace. The lieutenant was very tense and fidgety at the thought that his lady was in the audience. The test on such occasions is the verve with which a young man wears the rather ordinary rosette in his cap. They all looked very dashing and they sang most commendably. As the lieutenant stepped ceremoniously to the royal staircase and sang "Bamboo River," he was so assailed by memories that he was perilously near choking and losing his place. The Reizei emperor went with them to Akikonomu's apartments. As the night wore on, the moon was immodestly bright, brighter, it almost seemed, than the noonday sun. A too keen awareness of his audience was making the lieutenant feel somewhat unsteady on his feet. He wished that the wine cups would not come quite so unfailingly in his direction.

Exhausted from the night of caroling, which had taken him back and forth across the city, Kaoru was resting when a summons came from the Reizei Palace.

"Sleep is not permitted? " But though he grumbled he set off once more.

The Reizei emperor wanted to know how the carolers had been received at the main palace.

"Isn't it fine that you were chosen over all the old men to lead one of the choruses."

He was humming "The Delight of Ten Thousand Springs" as he started for his new lady's apartments. Kaoru went with him. Her relatives had come in large numbers to enjoy the caroling and everything was very bright and modish.

Kaoru was engaged in conversation at a gallery door.

"The moon was dazzling last night," he said, "but I doubt that moons and laurels account entirely for an appearance of giddiness on the lieutenant's part. It is just as bright up in the clouds where His Majesty lives, but the palace does not seem to have that effect on him at all."

The women were feeling sorry for the lieutenant. "The darkness was completely defeated," said one of them. "We thought the moonlight did better by you than by him."

A bit of paper was pushed from under the curtains.

"'Bamboo River,' not my favorite song,
But somewhat striking, its effect last night."
The tears that mounted to Kaoru's eyes may have seemed an exaggerated response to a rather ordinary poem, but they served to demonstrate that he had been fond of the lady.

"I looked to the bamboo river. It has run dry
And left an arid, barren world behind it."
This appearance of forlornness, they thought, only made him handsomer. He did not, like the lieutenant, indulge in a frenzy of grief, but he attracted sympathy.

"I shall leave you. I have said too much."

He did not want to go, but the Reizei emperor was calling him.

"Yugiri has told me that when your father was alive the music in the ladies' quarters went on all through the morning, long after the carolers had left. No one is up to that sort of thing any more. What an extraordinary range of talent he did bring together at Rokujo. The least little gathering there must have been better than anything anywhere else."

As if hoping to bring the good Rokujo days back, the emperor sent for instruments, a Chinese koto for his new lady, a lute for Kaoru, a Japanese koto for himself. He immediately struck up "This House." The new lady had been an uncertain musician, but he had been diligent with his lessons and she had proved eminently teachable. She had a good touch both as soloist and as accompanist, and indeed Kaoru thought her a lady with whom it would be difficult to find fault. He knew of course that she was very beautiful.

There were other such occasions. He managed without seeming querulous or familiar to let her know how she had disappointed him. I have not heard how she replied.

In the Fourth Month she bore a princess. It was not as happy an event as it would have been had the Reizei emperor still been on the throne, but the gifts from Yugiri and others were lavish. Tamakazura was forever taking the child up in her arms, but soon there were messages from the Reizei Palace suggesting that its father too would like to see it, and on about the fiftieth day mother and child went back to Reizei. Although, as we have seen, the Reizei emperor already had one daughter, he was delighted with the little princess, who certainly was very pretty. Some of the older princess's women were heard to remark that paternal affection could sometimes seem overdone.

The royal ladies did not themselves descend to vulgar invective, but there were unpleasant scenes among their serving women. It began to seem that the worst fears of Tamakazura's sons were coming true. Tamakazura was worried, for such incidents could bring cruel derision upon a lady. It did not seem likely that the Reizei emperor's affection would waver, but the resentment of ladies who had been with him for a very long time could make life very unpleasant for the new lady. There had moreover been suggestions that the present emperor was not happy. Perhaps, thought Tamakazura, casting about for a solution, she should resign her own position at the palace in favor of her younger daughter. It was not common practice to accept resignations in such cases and she had for some years sought unsuccessfully to resign. The emperor remembered Higekuro's wishes, however, and very old precedents were called in, and the resignation and the new appointment were presently ratified. The delay, Tamakazura was now inclined to believe, had occurred because the younger daughter's destinies must work themselves out.

In the matter of the new appointment there yet remained the sad case of the lieutenant. Kumoinokari had supported his suit for the hand of the older daughter. Tamakazura had hinted in reply that she might let him have the younger. What might his feelings be now? She had one of her sons make tactful inquiry of Yugiri.

"There have been representations from the emperor which have left us feeling somewhat uncertain. We would not wish to seem unduly ambitious."

"It is only natural that the arrangements you have made for your older sister should not please the emperor. And now he proposes a court appointment for the younger, and one does not dismiss such an honor lightly. I suggest that you accept it, and with the least possible delay."

Sighing that her husband's death had left her and her daughter so unprotected, Tamakazura decided that she must now see whether the empress would approve of the appointment.

Everything was in order, and the calm, dignified efficiency with which the younger sister, very handsome and very elegant, acquitted herself of her duties soon made the emperor forget his dissatisfaction.

Tamakazura thought that the time had come to enter a nunnery, but her sons disagreed. "You will not be able to concentrate on your prayers until our sisters are somewhat more settled."

Occasionally she paid a quiet visit at court, but because the Reizei emperor still seemed uncomfortably fond of her she did not visit his palace

when there were important matters to be discussed. She continued to reprove herself for her behavior long ago, and she had given him a daughter at a risk of seeming too ambitious. Any suggestion, even in jest, that she was now being coquettish would be more than she could bear. She did not explain the reasons for her diffidence, and so the Reizei daughter concluded that her old view of the situation had been correct. Her father had been fond of her but her mother had not. Even in such trivial matters as the contest for the cherry tree her mother had sided with her sister. The Reizei emperor let it be known that he too was resentful. Tamakazura's conduct was not at all hard to understand, he said. A mother who has given a young daughter to a hoary old man prefers to keep her distance. He also let it be known that his affection for his new lady was if anything stronger.

After a few years, to everyone's astonishment, a prince was born. What a fortunate lady, people said. So many of the Reizei ladies were still childless after all these years. The Reizei emperor was of course overjoyed, and only wished that he had had a son before he abdicated. There was so much less now that he could do for the child. He had doted upon one princess and then a second, and now he had a little prince, to delight him beyond measure. Tamakazura's sister, the mother of the older princess, thought he was being a little silly, and she was no longer as tolerant of her niece as she once had been. There were little incidents and presently there was evidence that the two ladies were on rather chilly terms. Whatever her rank, it is always the senior lady in such instances who attracts the larger measure of sympathy. So it was at the Reizei Palace. Everyone, high and low, took the part of the great lady who had been with the Reizei emperor for so long. No opportunity was lost to show the younger lady in an unfavorable light.

"We told you so," said her brothers, making life yet more difficult for Tamakazura.

"So many girls," sighed that dowager, "live happy, inconspicuous lives, and no one criticizes them. Only a girl who seems to have been born lucky should think of going into the royal service.

The old suitors were meanwhile rising in the world. Several of them would make quite acceptable bridegrooms. Then an obscure cham berlain, Kaoru now had a guards commission and a seat on the council. One rather wearied, indeed, of hearing about "his perfumed highness" and "the fragrant captain." He continued to be a very serious and proper young man and stories were common of the princesses and ministers' daughters whom he had been offered and had chosen not to notice.

"He did not amount to a great deal then," sighed Tamakazura, "and look at him now."

Yugiri's young son had been promoted from lieutenant to captain. He too was much admired.

"He is so good-looking," whispered one of the cattier women. "He would have been a much better catch than an old emperor surrounded by nasty women."

There was, alas, some truth in it.

The lieutenant, now captain, had lost none of his old ardor. He went on feeling sorry for himself, and though he was now married to a daughter of the Minister of the Left, he was not a very attentive husband. He was often heard declaiming or setting down in writing certain thoughts about a "sash of Hitachi." Not everyone caught the reference.

Tamakazura's older daughter, exhausted by the complications of life at the Reizei Palace, was now spending most of her time at home, a great disappointment to Tamakazura. The younger daughter was meanwhile doing beautifully. She was a cheerful, intelligent girl, and she presided over a distinguished salon.

The Minister of the Left died. Yugiri was promoted to Minister of the Left and Kobai to Minister of the Right. Many others were on the promotion lists, including Kaoru, who became a councillor of the middle order. A young man did well to be born into that family, people said, if he wished to get ahead without delay.

In the course of the round of calls that followed the appointment, Kaoru called on Tamakazura. He made his formal greetings in the garden below her rooms.

"I see that you have not forgotten these weedy precincts. I am reminded of your late father's extraordinary kindness."

She had a pleasant voice, soft and gently modulated. And how very youthful she was, thought Kaoru. If she had aged like other women the Reizei emperor would by now have forgotten her. As it was, there were certain to be incidents.

"I do not much care about promotions, but I thought it would be a good excuse to show you that I am still about. When you say I have not forgotten, I suspect you are really saying that I have been very neglectful."

"I know that this is not the time for senile complaining, but I know too that it is not easy for you to visit me. There are very complicated matters that I really must discuss with you in person. My Reizei daughter is having a very unhappy time of it, so unhappy, indeed, that we cannot think what to do next. I was careful to discuss the matter with the Reizei empress and with my sister, and I was sure that I had their agreement. Now it seems that they both think me an impertinent upstart, and this, as you may imagine, does not please me. My grandchildren have stayed behind, but I asked that my daughter be allowed to come home for a rest. She really was having a most difficult time of it. She is here, and I gather that I am being criticized for that too, and indeed that the Reizei emperor is unhappy. Do you think you might possibly speak to him, not as if you were making a great point of it, in the course of a conversation? I had such high hopes for her, and I did so want her to be on good terms with all of them. I must ask myself whether I should not have paid more attention to my very modest place in the world." She was trying not to weep.

"You take it too seriously. We all know that life in the royal service is not easy. The Reizei emperor is living in quiet retirement, we may tell ourselves, away from all the noise and bother, and his ladies should be sensible and forbearing. But it is too much to ask that they divest themselves of pride and the competitive instinct. What seems like nothing at all to us on the outside may seem intolerable effrontery to them. Royal ladies, empresses and all the others, are unbelievably sensitive, a fact which you were surely aware of when you made your plans." She could not have accused him of equivocation. "The best thing would be to forget the whole problem. It would not do, I think, for me to intercede between the Reizei emperor and one of his ladies."

She smiled. "I have entertained you with a list of complaints and you have treated it as it deserves."

It was hard to believe that anyone so quietly and calmly youthful should be upset about the problems of a married daughter. Probably the daughter was very much like her. Certainly his Uji princess was. Just such qualities had drawn him to her.

The younger sister had come home from the palace and the house wore that happy air of being lived in. Easy, companionable warmth seemed to come to him through the blinds. The dowager could see that although he was very much in control of himself he was also very much on his mettle, and again she thought what a genuinely satisfactory son-in-law he would make.

Kobai's mansion was immediately to the east. Young courtiers had gathered in large numbers to help with the grand ministerial banquet. Niou had declined Kobai's invitation to be present, although he had attended the banquet given by the Minister of the Left after the archery meet and the banquet after the wrestling matches, and it had been hoped that he would lend his radiance to this occasion as well. Kobai was thinking about the arrangements he must make for his much-loved daughters, and Niou did not for some reason seem interested. Kobai and his wife also had their eye on Kaoru, a young gentleman in whom it would be difficult to find a flaw.

The festivities next door, the rumbling of carriages and the shouting of outrunners, brought memories of Higekuro's day of glory. Tamakazura's house was quiet by comparison, and sunk in memories.

"Remember how people talked when Kobai started visiting her and Prince Hotaru was hardly in his grave. Well, it lasted, as you see, and the talk has come to seem rather beside the point. You never can tell. Which sort of lady do you think we should offer as a model?"

Yugiri's son, newly promoted to captain, came calling that evening, on his way home from the banquet. He knew that the Reizei daughter was at home and he was on unusually good behavior.

"It may be said that I am beginning to matter just a little, perhaps." He brushed away a tear that may have seemed a trifle forced. "I am no happier for that fact. The months and years will not take away the knowledge that my deepest wish was refused."

He was at the very best age, some twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old.

"What a tiresome boy," said Tamakazura, also in tears. "Things have come too easily, and so you care nothing about rank and promotion. If my husband were still alive my own boys might be permitted that sort of luxury."

They were in fact doing rather well. The oldest was a guards commander and the second a moderator, though it pained her that they did not yet have seats on the council. The youngest, until recently a chamberlain, was now a guards captain. He too was doing well enough, but other boys his age were doing better.

Yugiri's son, the new captain, had many plausible and persuasive things to say.

 

 

Chapter 45

The Lady at the Bridge


There was in those years a prince of the blood, an old man, left behind by the times. His mother was of the finest lineage. There had once been talk of seeking a favored position for him; but there were disturbances and a new alignment of forces, at the end of which his prospects were in ruins. His supporters, embittered by this turn of events, were less than steadfast: they made their various excuses and left him. And so in his public life and in his private, he was quite alone, blocked at every turn. His wife, the daughter of a former minister, had fits of bleakest depression at the thought of her parents and their plans for her, now of course in ruins. Her consolation was that she and her husband were close as husbands and wives seldom are. Their confidence in each other was complete.

But here too there was a shadow: the years went by and they had no children. If only there were a pretty little child to break the loneliness and boredom, the prince would think -- and sometimes give voice to his thoughts. And then, surprisingly, a very pretty daughter was in fact born to them. She was the delight of their lives. Years passed, and there were signs that the princess was again with child. The prince hoped that this time he would be favored with a son, but again the child was a daughter. Though the birth was easy enough, the princess fell desperately ill soon afterwards, and was dead before many days had passed. The prince was numb with grief. The vulgar world had long had no place for him, he said, and frequently it had seemed quite unbearable; and the bond that had held him to it had been the beauty and the gentleness of his wife. How could he go on alone? And there were his daughters. How could he, alone, rear them in a manner that would not be a scandal? -- for he was not, after all, a commoner. His conclusion was that he must take the tonsure. Yet he hesitated. Once he was gone, there would be no one to see to the safety of his daughters.

So the years went by. The princesses grew up, each with her own grace and beauty. It was difficult to find fault with them, they gave him what pleasure he had. The passing years offered him no opportunity to carry out his resolve.

The serving women muttered to themselves that the younger girl's very birth had been a mistake, and were not as diligent as they might have been in caring for her. With the prince it was a different matter. His wife, scarcely in control of her senses, had been especially tormented by thoughts of this new babe. She had left behind a single request: "Think of her as a keepsake, and be good to her."

The prince himself was not without resentment at the child, that her birth should so swiftly have severed their bond from a former life, his and his princess's.

"But such was the bond that it was," he said. "And she worried about the girl to the very end."

The result was that if anything he doted upon the child to excess. One almost sensed in her fragile beauty a sinister omen.

The older girl was comely and of a gentle disposition, elegant in face and in manner, with a suggestion behind the elegance of hidden depths. In quiet grace, indeed, she was the superior of the two. And so the prince favored each as each in her special way demanded. There were numerous matters which he was not able to order as he wished, however, and his household only grew sadder and lonelier as time went by. His attendants, unable to bear the uncertainty of their prospects, took their leave one and two at a time. In the confusion surrounding the birth of the younger girl, there had not been time to select a really suitable nurse for her. No more dedicated than one would have expected in the circumstances, the nurse first chosen abandoned her ward when the girl was still an infant. Thereafter the prince himself took charge of her upbringing.

Much care had gone into the planning of his garden. Though the ponds and hillocks were as they had always been, the prince gazed listlessly out upon a garden returning to nature. His stewards being of a not very diligent sort, there was no one to fight off the decay. The garden was rank with weeds, and creeping ferns took over the eaves as if the house belonged to them. The freshness of the cherry blossoms in spring, the tints of the autumn leaves, had been a consolation in loneliness while he had had his wife with him. Now the beauties of the passing seasons only made him lonelier. It became his compelling duty to see that the chapel was properly appointed, and he spent his days and nights in religious observances. Even his affection for his daughters, because it was a bond with this world, made him strangely fretful. He had to set it down as a mark against him for some misdeed in a former life, the fact that he was not up to following his inclinations and renouncing the world. The possibility that he might bow to custom and remarry seemed more and more remote. Time went by and thoughts of marriage left him. He had become a saint who still wore the robes of this world. His wife was dead and it was unthinkable that anyone should replace her.

"Enough of this, Your Highness," said the people around him. "We understand, please believe us, why your grief was what it was when our lady left you. But time passes, grief should not go on forever. Can you not bring yourself to do as others do? And look at this house, if you will, with no one to watch over it. If there were someone, anyone, for us to look to, it would not be the ruin it is."

So they argued, and he was informed of numerous possible matches; but he would not listen. When he was not at his prayers, his daughters were his companions. They were growing up and they occupied themselves with music and Go, and word games, and other profitless pastimes. Each had her own individual ways, he was beginning to notice. The older girl was composed and meditative, quick to learn but with a tendency toward moodiness. The younger, though also quiet and reserved, was distinguished by a certain shy and childlike gaiety.

One warm spring day he sat looking out over the garden. Mallards were swimming about on the pond, wing to wing, chattering happily to each other. It was a sight which in earlier years would scarcely have caught the prince's eye, but now he felt something like jealousy toward these mindless creatures, each steadfast to its mate.

He had the girls go over a music lesson, and very appealing they were too, as they bent their small figures to the work. The sound of the instruments was enough to bring tears to his eyes. Softly, he recited a verse, brushing away a tear as he did so.

"She has left behind her mate, and these nestlings too.
Why have they lingered in this uncertain world?"
He was an extremely handsome man. Emaciation from years of abstinence only added to the courtliness of his bearing. He had put on a figured robe for the music lesson. Somewhat rumpled, casually thrown over his shoulders, it seemed to emphasize by its very carelessness the nobility of the wearer.

Oigimi, the older girl, quietly took out an inkstone and seemed about to write a few lines on it.

"Come now. You know better than to write on an inkstone." He pushed a sheet of paper towards her.

"I know now, as I see it leave the nest,
How uncertain is the lot of the waterfowl."
It was not a masterpiece, but in the circumstances it was very touching. The hand showed promise even though the characters were separated one from another in a still childish fashion.

"And now it is your turn," he said to Nakanokimi, the younger.

More of a child than her sister, she took longer with her verse:

"Unsheltered by the wing of the grieving father,
The nestling would surely have perished in the nest."
It saddened him to see the princesses, their robes shabby and wrinkled, no one to take care of them, bored and without hope of relief from boredom -- but they were utterly charming on such occasions, each in her own way. He read from the holy text in his hand, sometimes interrupting with a poem. To the older girl he had taught the lute, to the younger the thirteen-stringed koto. When they played duets, of which they were fond, he thought them very satisfactory pupils, if still somewhat immature.

He had early lost his father, the old emperor, and his mother as well. Without the sort of resolute backing necessary for a youth in his position, he tended to neglect serious Chinese studies. Practical matters of state and career were yet further beyond his grasp. He was of an elegance extraordinary even for one of his birth, with a soft gentility that approached the womanish; and so the treasures from his ancestors, the fields left by his grandfather the minister, which at the outset had seemed inexhaustible, had presently disappeared, he could not have said where. Only his mansion and its furnishings -- fine and numerous, to be sure -- remained. The last of his retainers had left him, and the last of those with whom he might find companionship. To relieve the tedium he would summon eminent musicians from the palace and lose himself in impractical pursuits. In the course of time he became as skilled a musician as his teachers.

He was the Eighth Prince, a younger brother of the shining Genji. During the years when the Reizei emperor was crown prince, the mother of the reigning emperor had sought in that conspiratorial way of hers to have the Eighth Prince named crown prince, replacing Reizei. The world seemed hers to rule as she wished, and the Eighth Prince was very much at the center of it. Unfortunately his success irritated the opposing faction. The day came when Genji and presently Yugiri had the upper hand, and he was without supporters. He had over the years become an ascetic in any case, and he now resigned himself to living the life of the sage and hermit.

There came yet another disaster. As if fate had not been unkind enough already, his mansion was destroyed by fire. Having no other suitable house in the city, he moved to Uji, some miles to the southeast, where he happened to own a tastefully appointed mountain villa. He had renounced the world, it was true, and yet leaving the capital was a painful wrench indeed. With fishing weirs near at hand to heighten the roar of the river, the situation at Uji was hardly favorable to quiet study. But whit mustI e must be. With the flowering trees of spring and the leaves of autumn and the flow of the river to bring repose, he lost himself more than ever in solitary meditation. There was one thought even so that never left his mind: how much better it would be, even in these remote mountains, if his wife were with him!

"She who was with me, the roof above are smoke.
And why must I alone remain behind?"
So much was the past still with him that life scarcely seemed worth living.

Mountain upon mountain separated his dwelling from the larger world. Rough people of the lower classes, woodcutters and the like, sometimes came by to do chores for him. There were no other callers. The gloom continued day after day, as stubborn and clinging as "the morning mist on the peaks."

There happened to be in those Uji mountains an abbot, a most saintly man. Though famous for his learning, he seldom took part in public rites. He heard in the course of time that there was a prince living nearby, a man who was teaching himself the mysteries of the Good Law. Thinking this a most admirable undertaking, he made bold to visit the prince, who upon subsequent interviews was led deeper into the texts he had studied over the years. The prince became more immediately aware of what was meant by the transience and uselessness of the material world.

"In spirit," he confessed, quite one with the holy man, "I have perhaps found my place upon the lotus of the clear pond; but I have not yet made my last farewells to the world because I cannot bring myself to leave my daughters behind."

The abbot was an intimate of the Reizei emperor and had been his preceptor as well. One day, visiting the city, he called upon the Reizei emperor to answer any questions that might have come to him since their last meeting.

"Your honored brother," he said, bringing the Eighth Prince into the conversation, "has pursued his studies so diligently that he has been favored with the most remarkable insights. Only a bond from a former life can account for such dedication. Indeed, the depth of his understanding makes me want to call him a saint who has not yet left the world."

"He has not taken the tonsure? But I remember now -- the young people do call him'the saint who is still one of us.'"

Kaoru chanced to be present at the interview. He listened intently. No one knew better than he the futility of this world, and yet he passed useless days, his devotions hardly so frequent or intense as to attract public notice. The heart of a man who, though still in this world, was in all other respects a saint -- to what might it be likened?

The abbot continued:" He has long wanted to cut his last ties with the world, but a trifling matter made it difficult for him to carry out his resolve. Now he has two motherless children whom he cannot bring himself to leave behind. They are the burden he must bear."

The abbot himself had not entirely given up the pleasures of the world: he had a good ear for music. "And when their highnesses deign to play a duet," he said, "they bid fair to outdo the music of the river, and put one in mind of the blessed musicians above."

The Reizei emperor smiled at this rather fusty way of stating the matter. "You would not expect girl s who have had a saint for their principal companion to have such accomplishments. How pleasant to know about them -- and what an uncommonly good father he must be! I am sure that the thought of having to leave them is pure torment. It is always possible that I will live longer than he, and if I do perhaps I may ask to be given responsibility for them.

He was himself the tenth son of the family, younger than his brother at Uji. There was the example of the Suzaku emperor, who had left his young daughter in Genji's charge. Something similar might be arranged, he thought. He would have companions to relieve the monotony of his days.

Kaoru was less interested in the daughters than in the father. Quite entranced with what he had heard, he longed to see for himself that figure so wrapped in the serenity of religion.

"I have every intention of calling on him and asking him to be my master," he said as the abbot left. "Might I ask you to find out, unobtrusively, of course, how he would greet the possibility?"

"And tell him, please," said the Reizei emperor, "that I have been much affected by your description of his holy retreat." And he wrote down a verse to be delivered to the Eighth Prince.

"Wearily, my soul goes off to your mountains,
And cloud upon circling cloud holds my person back?"
With the royal messenger in the lead, the abbot set off for Uji, thinking to visit the Eighth Prince on his way back to the monastery. The prince so seldom heard from anyone that he was overjoyed at these tidings. He ordered wine for his guests and side dishes peculiar to the region.

This was the poem he sent back to his brother:

"I am not as free as I seem. From the gloom of the world
I retreat only briefly to the Hill of Gloom."
He declined to call himself one of the truly enlightened. The vulgar world still called up regrets and resentments, thought the Reizei emperor, much moved.

The abbot also spoke of Kaoru, who, he said, was of a strongly religious bent. "He asked me most earnestly to tell you about him: to tell you that he has longed since childhood to give himself up to study of the scriptures; that he has been kept busy with inconsequential affairs, public and private, and has been unable to leave the world; that since these affairs are trivial in any case and no one could call his career a brilliant one, he could hardly expect people to notice if he were to lock himself up in prayers and meditation; that he has had an unfortunate way of letting himself be distracted. And when he had entrusted me with all this, he added that, having heard through me of your own revered person, he could

"When there has been a great misfortune," said the prince, "when the whole world seems hostile -- that is when most people come to think it a flimsy F facade, and wish to have no more of it. I can only marvel that a young man for whom everything lies ahead, who has had everything his way, should start thinking of other worlds. In my own case, it often seems to me, the powers deliberately arranged matters to give my mind such a turn, and so I came to religion as if it were the natural thing. I have managed to find a certain amount of peace, I suppose; but when I think of the short time I have left and of how slowly my preparations creep forward, I know that what I have learned comes to nothing and that in the end it will still be nothing. No, I am afraid I would be a scandalously bad teacher. Let him think of me as a fellow seeker after truth, a very humble one."

Kaoru and the prince exchanged letters and presently Kaoru paid his first visit.

It was an even sadder place than the abbot's description had led him to expect. The house itself was like a grass hut put up for a few days' shelter, and as for the furnishings, everything even remotely suggesting luxury had been dispensed with. There were mountain villages that had their own quiet charm; but here the tumult of the waters and the wailing of the wind must make it impossible to have a moment free of sad thoughts. He could see why a man on the way to enlightenment might seek out such a place as a means of cutting his ties with the world. But what of the daughters? Did they not have the usual fondness for delicate, ladylike things?

A sliding partition seemed to separate the chapel from their rooms. A youth of more amorous inclinations would have approached and made himself known, curious to see what his reception would be. Kaoru was not above feeling a certain excitement at being so near; but a show of interest would have betrayed his whole purpose, which was to be free of just such thoughts, here in distant mountains. The smallest hint of frivolity would have denied the reason for the visit.

Deeply moved by the saintly figure before him, he offered the warmest avowals of friendship. His visits were frequent thereafter. Nowhere did he find evidence of shallowness in the discourses to which he was treated; nor was there a suggestion of pompousness in the prince's explanations of the scriptures and of his profoundly significant reasons, even though he had stopped short of taking the tonsure, for living in the mountains.

The world was full of saintly and learned men, but the stiff, forbidding bishops and patriarchs who were such repositories of virtue had little time of their own, and he found it far from easy to approach them with his questions. Then there were lesser disciples of the Buddha. They were to be admired for observing the discipline, it was true; but they tended to be vulgar and obsequious in their manner and rustic in their speech, and they could be familiar to the point of rudeness. Since Kaoru was busy with official duties in the daytime, it was in the quiet of the evening, in the intimacy of his private chambers, that he liked to have company. Such people would not do.

Now he had found a man who combined great elegance with a reticence that certainly was not obsequious, and who, even when he was discussing the Good Law, was adept at bringing plain, familiar similes into his discourse. He was not, perhaps, among the completely enlightened, but people of birth and culture have their own insights into the nature of things. After repeated visits Kaoru came to feel that he wanted to be always at the prince's side, and he would be overtaken by intense longing when official duties kept him away for a time.

Impressed by Kaoru's devotion, the Reizei emperor sent messages; and so the Uji house, silent and forgotten by the world, came to have visitors again. Sometimes the Reizei emperor sent lavish gifts and supplies. In pleasant matters having to do with the seasons and the festivals and in practical matters as well, Kaoru missed no chance to be of service.

Three years went by. It was the end of autumn, and the time had come for the quarterly reading of the scriptures. The roar of the fish weirs was more than a man could bear, said the Eighth Prince as he set off for the abbot's monastery, there to spend a week in retreat.

The princesses were lonelier than ever. It had been weighing on Kaoru's mind that too much time had passed since his last visit. One night as a late moon was coming over the hills he set out for Uji, his guard as unobtrusive as possible, his caparison of the simplest. He could go on horseback and did not have to worry about a boat, since the prince's villa was on the near side of the Uji River. As he came into the mountains the mist was so heavy and the underbrush so thick that he could hardly make out the path; and as he pushed his way through thickets the rough wind would throw showers of dew upon him from a turmoil of falling leaves. He was very cold, and, though he had no one to blame but himself, he had to admit that he was also very wet. This was not the sort of journey he was accustomed to. It was sobering and at the same time exciting.

"From leaves that cannot withstand the mountain wind
The dew is falling. My tears fall yet more freely."
He forbade his outrunners to raise their usual cries, for the woodcutters in these mountains could be troublesome. Brushing through a wattle fence, crossing a rivulet that meandered down from nowhere, he tried as best he could to silence the hoofs of his colt. But he could not keep that extraordinary fragrance from wandering off on the wind, and more than one family awoke in surprise at "the scent of an unknown master."

As he drew near the Uji house, he could hear the plucking of he did not know what instrument, unimaginably still and lonely. He had heard from the abbot that the prince liked to practice with his daughters, but somehow had not found occasion to hear that famous koto. This would be his chance. Making his way into the grounds, he knew that he had been listening to a lute, tuned to the _ojiki_ mode. There was nothing unusual about the melody. Perhaps the strangeness of the setting had made it seem different. The sound was cool and clean, especially when a string was plucked from beneath. The lute fell silent and there were a few quiet strokes on a koto. He would have liked to listen on, but he was challenged by a man with a somewhat threatening manner, one of the guards, it would seem.

The man immediately recognized him and explained that, for certain reasons, the prince had gone into seclusion in a mountain monastery. He would be informed immediately of the visit.

"Please do not bother," said Kaoru. "It would be a pity to interrupt his retreat when it will be over soon in any case. But do tell the ladies that I have arrived, sodden as you see me, and must go back with my mission unaccomplished; and if they are sorry for me that will be my reward."

The rough face broke into a smile. "They will be informed."

But as he turned to depart, Kaoru called him back. "No, wait a minute. For years I have been fascinated by stories I have heard of their playing, and this is my chance. Will there be somewhere that I might hide and listen for a while? If I were to rush in on them they would of course stop, and that would be the last thing I would want."

His face and manner were such as to quell even the most untamed of rustics. "This is how it is. They are at it morning and night when there is no one around to hear. But let someone come from the city even if he is in rags, and they won't let you have a twang of it. No one's supposed to know they even exist. That's how His Highness wants it."

Kaoru smiled. "Now there is an odd sort of secret for you. The whole world knows that two specimens of the rarest beauty are hidden here. But come. Show me the way. I have all the best intentions. That is the way I am, I assure you." His manner was grave and courteous. "It is hard to believe that they can be less than perfect."

"Suppose they find out, sir. I might be in trouble."

Nonetheless he led Kaoru to a secluded wing fenced off by wattled bamboo and the guards to the west veranda, where he saw to their needs as best he could.

A gate seemed to lead to the princesses' rooms. Kaoru pushed it open a little. The blind had been half raised to give a view of the moon, more beautiful for the mist. A young girl, tiny and delicate, her soft robe somewhat rumpled, sat shivering at the veranda. With her was an older woman similarly dressed. The princesses were farther inside. Half hidden by a pillar, one had a lute before her and sat toying with the plectrum. Just then the moon burst forth in all its brilliance.

"Well, now," she said. "This does quite as well as a fan for bringing out the moon." The upraised face was bright and lively.

The other, leaning against an armrest, had a koto before her. "I have heard that you summon the sun with one of those objects, but you seem to have ideas of your own on how to use it." She was smiling, a melancholy, contemplative sort of smile.

"I may be asking too much, I admit, but you have to admit that lutes and moons are related."

It was a charming scene, utterly unlike what Kaoru had imagined from afar. He had often enough heard the young women of his household reading from old romances. They were always coming upon such scenes, and he had thought them the most unadulterated nonsense. And here, hidden away from the world, was a scene as affecting as any in a romance. He was dangerously near losing control of himself. The mist had deepened until he could barely make out the figures of the princesses. Summon it forth again, he whispered -- but a woman had come from within to tell them of the caller. The blind was lowered and everyone withdrew to the rear of the house. There was nothing confused, nothing disorderly about the withdrawal, so calm and quiet that he caught not even a rustling of silk. Elegance and grace could at times push admiration to the point of envy.

He slipped out and sent someone back to the city for a carriage.

"I was sorry to find the prince away," he said to the man who had been so helpful, "but I have drawn some consolation from what you have been so good as to let me see. Might I ask you to tell them that I am here, and to add that I am thoroughly drenched?"

The ladies were in an agony of embarrassment. They had not dreamed that anyone would be looking in at them -- and had he even overheard that silly conversation? Now that they thought of it, there had been a peculiar fragrance on the wind; but the hour was late and they had not paid much attention. Could anything be more embarrassing? Impatient at the woman assigned to deliver his message -- she did not seem to have the experience for the task -- Kaoru decided that there was a time for boldness and a time for reserve; and the mist was in his favor. He advanced to the blind that bed been raised earlier and knelt deferentially before it. The countrified maids had not the first notion of what to say to him. Indeed they seemed incapable of so ordinary a courtesy as inviting him to sit down.

"You must see how uncomfortable I am," he said quietly. "I have come over steep mountains. You cannot believe, surely, that a man with improper intentions would have gone to the trouble. This is not the reward I expected. But I take some comfort in the thought that if I submit to the drenching time after time your ladies may come to understand."

They were young and incapable of a proper answer. They seemed to wither and crumple. It was taking a great deal of time to summon a more experienced woman from the inner chambers. The prolonged silence, Oigimi feared, might make it seem that they were being coy.

"We know nothing, nothing. How can we pretend otherwise?" It was an elegantly modulated voice, but so soft that he could scarcely make it out.

"One of the more trying mannerisms of this world, I have always thought, is for people who know its cruelties to pretend that they do not. Even you are guilty of the fault, which I find more annoying than I can tell you. Your honored father has gained deep insights into the nature of things. You have lived here with him. I should have thought that you would have gained similar insights, and that they might now demonstrate their worth by making you see the intensity of my feelings and the difficulty with which I contain them. You cannot believe, surely, that I am the usual sort of adventurer. I fear that I am of a rather inflexible nature and refuse to wander in that direction even when others try to lead me. These facts are general knowledge and will perhaps have reached your ears. If I had your permission to tell you of my silent days, if I could hope to have you come forward and seek some relief from your solitude -- I cannot describe the pleasure it would give me."

Oigimi, too shy to answer, deferred to an older woman who had at length been brought from her room.

There was nothing reticent about _her_. "Oh no! You've left him out there all by himself! Bring him in this minute. I simply do not understand young people." The princesses must have found this as trying as the silence. "You see how it is, sir. His Highness has decided to live as if he did not belong to the human race. No one comes calling these days, not even people you'd think would never forget what they owe him. And here you are, good enough to come and see us. I may be stupid and insensitive, but I know when to be grateful. So do my ladies. But they are so shy."

Kaoru was somewhat taken aback. Yet the woman's manner suggested considerable polish and experience, and her voice was not unpleasant.

"I had been feeling rather unhappy," he said, "and your words cheer me enormously. It is good to be told that they understand."

He had come inside. Through the curtains, the old woman could make him out in the dawn light. It was as she had been told: he had discarded every pretense of finery and come in rough travel garb, and he was drenched. A most extraordinary fragrance -- it hardly seemed of this world -- filled the air.

"I would not want you to think me forward," she said, and there were tears in her voice; "but I have hoped over the years that the day might come when I could tell you a little, the smallest bit, of a sad story of long ago." Her voice was trembling. "In among my other prayers I have put a prayer that the day might come, and now it seems that the prayer has been answered. How I have longed for this moment! But see what is happening. I am all choked up before I have come to the first word."

He had heard, and it had been his experience, that old people weep easily. This, however, was no ordinary display of feeling.

"I have fought my way here so many times and not known that a perceptive lady like yourself was in residence. Come, this is your chance. Do not leave anything out."

"This is my chance, and there may not be another. When you are my age you can't be sure that you will last the night. Well, let me talk. Let me tell you that this old hag is still among the living. I have heard somewhere that Kojiju, the one who waited upon your revered mother -- I have heard that she is dead. So it goes. Most of the people I was fond of are dead, the people who were young when I was young. And after I had outlived them all, certain family ties brought me back from the far provinces, and I have been in the service of my ladies these five or six years. None of this, I am sure, will have come to your attention. But you may have heard of the young gentleman who was a guards captain when he died. I am told that his brother is now a grand councillor. It hardly seems possible that we have had time to dry our tears, and yet I count on my fingers and I see that there really have been years enough for you to be the fine young gentleman you are. They seem like a dream, all those years.

"My mother was his nurse. I was privileged myself to wait upon him. I did not matter, of course, but he sometimes told me secrets he kept from others, let slip things he could not keep to himself. And as he lay dying he called me to his side and left a will, I suppose you might call it. There were things in it I knew I must tell you of someday. But no more. You will ask why, having said this much, I do not go on. Well, there may after all be another chance and I can tell you everything. These youngsters are of the opinion that I have said too much already, and they are right." She was a loquacious old person obviously, but now she fell silent.

It was like a story in a dream, like the unprompted recital of a medium in a trance. It was too odd -- and at the same time it touched upon events of which he had long wanted to know more. But this was not the time. She was right. Too many eyes were watching. And it would not do to surrender on the spot and waste a whole night on an ancient story.

"I do not understand everything you have said, I fear, and yet your talk of old times does call up fond thoughts. I shall come again and ask you to tell me the rest of the story. You see how I am dressed, and if the mist clears before I leave I will disgrace myself in front of the ladies. I would like to stay longer but do not see how I can."

As he stood up to leave, the bell of the monastery sounded in the distance. The mist was heavy.
The sadness of these lives poured in upon him, of the isolation enforced by heavy mountain mists. They were lives into which the whole gamut of sorrows had entered, he thought, and he thought too that he understood why they preferred to live in seclusion.

"How very sad.

"In the dawn I cannot see the path I took
To find Oyama of the Pines in mist."
He turned away, and yet hesitated. Even ladies who saw the great gentlemen of the capital every day would have found him remarkable, and he quite dazzled these rustic maids. Oigimi, knowing that it would be too much to ask one of them to deliver it for her, offered a reply, her voice soft and shy as before, and with a hint of a sigh in it.

"Our mountain path, enshrouded whatever the season,
Is now closed off by the deeper mist of autumn."
The scene itself need not have detained him, but these evidences of loneliness made him reluctant to leave. Presently, uncomfortable at the thought of being seen in broad daylight, he went to the west veranda, where a place had been prepared for him, and looked out over the river.

"To have spoken so few words and to have had so few in return," he said as he left the princesses' wing of the house, "makes it certain that I shall have much to think about. Perhaps when we are better acquainted I can tell you of it. In the meantime, I shall say only that if you think me no different from most young men, and you do seem to, then your judgment in such matters is not what I would have hoped it to be."

His men had become expert at presiding over the weirs. "Listen to all the shouting," said one of them. "And they don't seem to be exactly boasting over what they've caught. The fish are not cooperating."

Strange, battered little boats, piled high with brush and wattles, made their way up and down the river, each boatman pursuing his own sad, small livelihood at the uncertain mercy of the waters. "It is the same with all of us," thought Kaoru to himself. "Am I to boast that I am safe from the flood, calm and secure in a jeweled mansion?"

Asking for brush and ink, he got off a note to Oigimi: "It is not hard to guess the sad thoughts that must be yours.

"Wet are my sleeves as the oars that work these shallows,
For my heart knows the heart of the lady at the bridge."
He sent it in through the guard of the night before. Red from the cold, the man presently returned with an answer. The princess was not proud of the paper, perfumed in a very undistinguished way, but speed seemed the first consideration.

"I have wet sleeves, and indeed my whole being is at the mercy of the waters.

"With sodden sleeves the boatman plies the river.
So too these sleeves of mine, at morn, at night."
The writing was confident and dignified. He had not been able to detect a flaw in the lady. But here were these people rushing him on, telling him that his carriage had arrived from the city.

He called the guard aside. "I shall most certainly come again when His Highness has finished his retreat." Changing to court dress that had come with the carriage, he gave his wet traveling clothes to the man.

The old woman's remarks were very much on his mind after his return to the city, and the princesses were still before his eyes, more beautiful and reposed than he would have thought possible.

"And so," he thought, "Uji will not, after all, be my renunciation of the world."

He sent off a letter, taking care that every detail distinguished it from an ordinary love note: the paper was white and thick and firmly rectangular, the brush strong yet pliant, the ink shaded with great subtlety.

"It seems a great pity," he wrote, "that my visit was such a short one, and that I held back so much I would have liked to say; but the last thing I wanted was to be thought forward. I believe I mentioned a hope that in the future I might appear freely before you. I have made note of the day on which your honored father's retreat is to end, and I hope that by then the gloomy mists will have dissipated."

The letter showed great restraint and avoided any suggestion of romantic intent. The guards officer who was his messenger was instructed to seek out the old woman and give it to her along with certain gifts. He remembered how the watchman had shivered as he made the rounds, and sent lavish gifts for him too, food in cypress boxes and the like.

The following day he dispatched a messenger to the temple to which the prince had withdrawn. "I have no doubt," said the letter that accompanied numerous bolts of cotton and silk, "that the priests will be badly treated by the autumn tempests, and that you will want to leave offerings."

The prince was making preparations to depart, his retreat having ended the evening before. He gave silk and cotton cloth as well as vestments to the priests who had been of service.

The garments of which that watchman had been the recipient -- a most elegant hunting robe and a fine singlet of white brocade -- were further remarkable for their softness and fragrance. Alas, the man could not change the fact that he had not been born for such finery. It was the same everywhere he went: no one could resist praising him or chiding him for the fragrance. He came to regret just a little that he had accepted the gift. It restricted his movements, for he dreaded the astonishment each new encounter produced. If only he could have the robes without the odor-but no amount of scrubbing would take it away. The gift had, after all, been from a gentleman renowned for just that fragrance.

Kaoru was much pleased at the graceful and unassuming answer he had had from Oigimi.

"What is this?" said her father, shown a copy of Kaoru's letter. "Such a chilly reception cannot have at all the effect we want. You must bring yourselves to see that he is different from the triflers the world seems to produce these days. I have no doubt that his thoughts have turned to you because I once chanced to hint at a hope that he would watch over you after my death." He too got off a letter, his thanks for the stream of gifts that had flooded the monastery.

Kaoru began to think of another visit. He thought too of Niou, always mooning over the possibility of finding a great beauty lost away in the mountains. Well, he had a story that would interest his friend.

One quiet evening he went calling. In the course of the usual court gossip, he mentioned the prince at Uji, and went on to describe in some detail what had taken place in the autumn dawn.

He was not disappointed. "A masterpiece!" said Niou.

He added yet further exciting details.

"But what of the letter? You said there was a letter, and you haven't shown it to me. That is not kind of you. You know that I would hold nothing back if I were in your place."

"Oh, to be sure. All those letters you've had from all those ladies and you have not shown me the smallest scrap. But I know that something of this sort is not for the weak and obscure of the world to have all to themselves. I would like to take you for a look sometime, I most definitely would; but it is out of the question. I could not think of taking such an important man to such a place. We who are not too burdened with glory are in the happier position. We have our affairs as we want to have them. But think: there must be _hundreds of beauties hidden away from us all.

There they are, poor dears, cut off from the world, hidden behind this and that mountain, waiting for us to find them. As a matter of fact, I had for a number of years known of princesses off in the Uji mountains, but the thought of them had only made me shudder. A man knows, after all, the effect of saintliness on women. But if the sun sets them off as the moon did, then it would be hard to ask for more."

By the time he had finished, his companion was honestly jealous. Kaoru was not one to be drawn to any ordinary woman. There must be something truly remarkable here. Niou longed to have a look for himself.

"Do, please, investigate further," he said, openly impatient with his rank, which made such expeditions difficult.

And he had not even seen the ladies, thought Kaoru, smiling to himself. "Come, now. Women aren't worth the trouble. I must be serious: I had reasons for wanting to get my mind off of my own affairs, and I especially wanted to avoid the sort of frivolity that so excites you. And if my feelings were to pull me against my resolve -- you cannot tell me, can you, that any good would come of it."

"Fine!" Niou said, laughing. "Another sermon. Let us all fall silent and hear what our saint has to say. But no. I think we have had enough."

It was with longing and dismay that Kaoru thought of the events the old woman's story had hinted at. He had never been very strongly drawn even to women of uncommon charm and talent, and now they interested him still less.

On about the fifth or sixth day of the Tenth Month he paid his next visit to Uji. He must make it a point to have a look at the weirs, said his men. It was the season when they were at their most interesting.

He would prefer not to, he replied. "A fly having a look at the fish -- a pretty picture."

To present as austere a figure as possible, he rode in a carriage faced with palmetto fronds, such as a woman might use, and ordered a cloak and trousers of coarse, unfigured material.

Delighted to see him, the prince arranged a most tasteful banquet from dishes for which the region was known. In the evening, under the lamps, they listened to a discourse on some of the more difficult passages in scriptures they had been over together. The abbot was among those invited down from the monastery. Sleep was out of the question. The roar of the waters and the whipping of leaves and branches in the violent river winds, which in lesser degree might have moved one to a pleasant awareness of the season, invited gloom and even despair. Dawn would be approaching, thought Kaoru, and the koto strain he had heard that other morning came back to him.

He guided the conversation to the delights of koto and lute. "On my last visit, as the morning mist was rolling in, I was lucky enough to hear a short melody, a most extraordinary one. It was over in a few seconds, and since then I have not been able to think of anything except how I might hear more."

"The hues and the scents of the world are nothing to me now," said the prince, "and I have forgotten all the music I ever knew." Even so he sent a woman for the instruments. "No, I am afraid it will not be right. But perhaps -- if I had someone to follow, a little might come back?" He pressed a lute upon Kaoru.

"Can it be," said Kaoru, tuning the instrument, "that this is the one I heard the other morning? I had thought that there must be something rather special about the instrument itself, but now I see that there is another explanation for that remarkable music." He addressed himself to the lute, but in a manner somewhat bemused.

"You must not make sport of us, sir. Where can music likely to catch your ear have come from? You speak of the impossible."

The prince's koto had a clearness and strength that were almost chilling. Perhaps it borrowed overtones from "the wind in the mountain pines." He pretended to falter and forget, and pushed the instrument away when he had finished the first strain. The brief performance had suggested great subtlety and discernment.

"Sometimes, without warning, I do hear in the distance a strain such as to make me think that one of my daughters has acquired some notion of what real music is; but they have had little training, and it has been a very long time since I last made much effort to teach them. As the mood takes them, they play a tune or two, and they have only the river to accompany them. It is most unlikely that their twanging would be of any interest to a musician like you. But suppose," he called to them, "you were to have a try at it."

"It was bad enough to be overheard when we thought we were alone."

"I would disgrace myself."

And so he was rebuffed by both his daughters. He did not give up easily, but, to Kaoru's great disappointment, they would have nothing of the proposal.

The prince was deeply shamed that his daughters should thus announce themselves as rustic wenches, out of touch with the ways of the world.

"They have lived in such seclusion that their very existence is a secret. I have wished it to be so; but now, when I think how little time I have left, when I think that I may be gone tomorrow, I find that resignation eludes me. They have their whole lives yet to live, and might they not end their years as drifters and beggars? A fear of that possibility will be the one bond holding me to the world when my time comes."

"It would not be honest of me to enter into a firm commitment," said Kaoru, deeply moved; "but you are not to think, because I say so, that I am in the least cool or indifferent to what you have said. Though I cannot be sure that I will survive you for very long, I mean to be true to every syllable I have spoken."

"You are very kind, very kind indeed."

When the prince had withdrawn for matins, Kaoru summoned the old woman. Her name was Bennokimi, and the Eighth Prince had her in constant attendance upon his daughters. Though in her late fifties, she was still favored with the graces of a considerably younger woman. Her tears

wing liberally, she told him of what an unhappy life "the young captain," Kashiwagi, had led, of how he had fallen ill and presently wasted away to nothing.

It would have been a very affecting tale of long ago even if it had been about a stranger. Haunted and bewildered through the years, longing to know the facts of his birth, Kaoru had prayed that he might one day have a clear explanation. Was it in answer to his prayers that now, without warning, there had come a chance to hear of these old matters, as if in a sad dream? He too was in tears.

"It is hard to believe -- and I must admit that it is a little alarming too

that someone who remembers those days should still be with us. I suppose people have been spreading the news to the world -- and I have had not a whisper of it."

"No one knew except Kojiju and myself. Neither of us breathed a word to anyone. As you can see, I do not matter; but it was my honor to be always with him, and I began to guess what was happening. Then sometimes -- not often, of course -- when his feelings were too much for him, one or the other of us would be entrusted with a message. I do not think it would be proper to go into the details. As he lay dying, he left the testament I have spoken of. I have had it with me all these years -- I am no one, and where was I to leave it? I have not been as diligent with my prayers as I might have been, but I have asked the Blessed One for a chance to let you know of it; and now I think I have a sign that he is here with us. But the testament: I must show it to you. How can I burn it now? I have not known from one day to the next when I might die, and I have worried about letting it fall into other hands. When you began to visit His Highness I felt somewhat better again. There might be a chance to speak to you. I was not merely praying for the impossible, and so I decided that I must keep what he had left with me. Some power stronger than we has brought us together." Weeping openly now, she told of the illicit affair and of his birth, as the details came back to her.

"In the confusion after the young master's death, my mother too fell ill and died; and so I wore double mourning. A not very nice man who had had his eye on me took advantage of it all and led me off to the West Country, and I lost all touch with the city. He too died, and after ten years and more I was back in the city again, back from a different world. I have for a very long time had the honor to be acquainted indirectly with the sister of my young master, the lady who is a consort of the Reizei emperor, and it would have been natural for me to go into her service. But there were those old complications, and there were other reasons too. Because of the relationship on my father's side of the family I have been familiar with His Highness's household since I was a child, and at my age I am no longer up to facing the world. And so I have become the rotted stump you see, buried away in the mountains. When did Kojiju die? I wonder. There aren't many left of the ones who were young when I was young. The last of them all; it isn't easy to be the last one, but here I am."

Another dawn was breaking.

"We do not seem to have come to the end of this old story of yours," said Kaoru. "Go on with it, please, when we have found a more comfortable place and no one is listening. I do remember Kojiju slightly. I must have been four or five when she came down with consumption and died, rather suddenly I am most grateful to you. If it hadn't been for you I would have carried the sin to my grave."

The old woman handed him a cloth pouch in which several mildewed bits of paper had been rolled into a tight ball.

"Take these and destroy them. When the young master knew he was dying, he got them together and gave them to me. I told myself I would give them to Kojiju when next I saw her and ask her to be sure that they got to her lady. I never saw her again. And so I had my personal sorrow and the other too, the knowledge that I had not done my duty."

With an attempt at casualness, he put the papers away. He was deeply troubled. Had she told him this unsolicited story, as is the way with the old, because it seemed to her an interesting piece of gossip? She had assured him over and over again that no one else had heard it, and yet-could he really believe her?

After a light breakfast he took his leave of the prince. "Yesterday was a holiday because the emperor was in retreat, but today he will be with us again. And then I must call on the Reizei princess, who is not well, and there will be other things to keep me busy. But I will come again soon, before the autumn leaves have fallen."

"For me, your visits are a light to dispel in some measure the shadows of these mountains."

Back in the city, Kaoru took out the pouch the old woman had given him. The heavy Chinese brocade bore the inscription "For My Lady." It was tied with a delicate thread and sealed with Kashiwagi's name. Trembling, Kaoru opened it. Inside were multi-hued bits of paper, on which, among other things, were five or six answers by his mother to notes from Kashiwagi.

And, on five or six sheets of thick white paper, apparently in Kashiwagi's own hand, like the strange tracks of some bird, was a longer letter: "I am very ill, indeed I am dying. It is impossible to get so much as a note to you, and my longing to see you only increases. Another thing adds to the sorrow: the news that you have withdrawn from the world.

" Sad are you, who have turned away from the world,

But sadder still my soul, taking leave of you. I have heard with strange pleasure of the birth of the child. We need not worry about him, for he will be reared in security. And yet-

"Had we but life, we could watch it, ever taller,
The seedling pine unseen among the rocks."
The writing, fevered and in disarray, went to the very edge of the paper. The letter was addressed to Kojiju.

The pouch had become a dwelling place for worms and smelled strongly of mildew; and yet the writing, in such compromising detail, was as clear as if it had been set down the day before. It would have been a disaster if the letter had fallen into the hands of outsiders, he thought, half in sorrow and half in alarm. He was so haunted by this strange affair, stranger than any the future could possibly bring, that he could not persuade himself to set out for court. Instead he went to visit his mother. Youthful and serene, she had a sutra in her hand, which she put shyly out of sight upon his arrival. He must keep the secret to himself, he thought. It would be cruel to let her know of his own new knowledge. His mind jumped from detail to detail of the story he had heard.

 

 

Chapter 46

Beneath the Oak


On about the twentieth of the Second Month, Niou made a pilgrimage to Hatsuse. Perhaps the pleasant thought of stopping in Uji on the return from Hatsuse made him seek now to honor a vow he had made some years before. The fact that he should be so interested in a place the name of which tended to call up unpleasant associations suggested a certain frivolity. Large numbers of the highest-ranking officials were in his retinue, and as for officials of lower ranks, scarcely any were left in the city. On the far bank of the river Uji stood a large and beautifully appointed villa which Yugiri, Minister of the Right, had inherited from his father, Genji. Yugiri ordered that it be put in readiness for the prince's visit. Protocol demanded that he go himself to receive Niou on the return journey from Hatsuse, but he begged to be excused. Certain occurrences had required him to consult soothsayers, who had replied that he must spend some time in retreat and abstinence Niou was vaguely displeased; but when he heard that Kaoru would be meeting him he decided that this breach of etiquette was in fact a piece of good luck. He need feel no reticence about sending Kaoru to look into the situation on the opposite bank of the Uji, where the Eighth Prince lived. There was, in any case, something too solemn about Yugiri, a stiffness that invited an answering stiffness in Niou himself.
Several of Yugiri's sons were in Kaoru's retinue: a moderator of the first order, a chamberlain, a captain, and two lesser guards officers. Because he was the favorite of his royal parents, Niou's prestige and popularity were enormous; and for even the humblest and least influential of Genji's retainers he was "our prince." The apartments in which he and his attendants meant to rest were fitted out with the greatest care, in a manner that put the advantages of the setting to the best possible use.
The gaming boards were brought out, Go and backgammon and _tagi_ and the rest, and the men settled down for trials of strength as fancy took them. Not used to travel and persuaded by something more than fatigue, Niou decided that it would be a pleasant spot for a night's lodging. After resting for a time, he had instruments brought out. It was late afternoon. As so often happens far away from the noisy world, the accompaniment of the water seemed to give the music a clearer, higher sound.

The Eighth Prince's villa was across the river, a stone's throw away. The sound came over on the breeze to make him think of old days at court.

"What a remarkable flutist that is," said the prince to himself. "Who might it be? Genji played an interesting flute, a most charming flute; but this is somehow different. It puts me in mind of the music we used to hear at the old chancellor's, bold and clear, and maybe just a little haughty. It has been a very long time indeed since I myself took part in such a concert. The months and the years have gone by like waking dead!"

Pity for his daughters swept over him. If there were only a way to get them out of these mountains! Kaoru was exactly what he hoped a son-inlaw might be, but Kaoru seemed rather wanting in amorous urges. How could he think of handing his daughters over to trifling young men of the sort the world seemed to produce these days? The worries chased each other through his mind, and the spring night, endless for someone lost in melancholy thought, went on and on. Beyond the river, the travelers were enjoying themselves quite without reserve, and for them, in their fuddlement, the spring night was all too quick to end. It seemed a pity, thought Niou, to start for home so soon.

The high sky with fingers of mist trailing across it, the cherries coming into bloom and already shedding their blossoms, "the willows by the river," their reflections now bowing and now soaring as the wind caught them -- it was a novel sight for the visitor from the city, and one he was reluctant to leave.

Kaoru was thinking what a pity it would be not to call on the Eighth Prince. Could he avoid all these inquiring eyes and row across the river? Would he be thought guilty of indiscretion? As he was debating the problem, a poem was delivered from the prince:

"Parting the mist, a sound comes in on the wind,
But waves of white, far out on the stream, roll between us."
The writing, a strong, masculine hand, was most distinguished.

Well, thought Niou -- from precisely the place that had been on his mind. He himself would send an answering poem:

"On far shore and near, the waves may keep us apart.
Come in all the same, 0 breeze of the river Uji!"
Kaoru set out to deliver it. In attendance upon him were men known to be particularly fond of music. Summoning up all their artistry, the company played "The River Music" as they were rowed across. The landing that had been put out from the river pavilion of the prince's villa, and indeed the villa itself, seemed in the best of taste, again quite in harmony with the setting. Cleaned and newly appointed in preparation for a distinguished visit, it was a house of a very different sort from the one in which they had passed the night. The furnishings, screens of wattled bamboo and the like, simple and yet in very good taste, were right for a mountain dwelling. Unostentatiously, the Eighth Prince brought out antique kotos and lutes of remarkable timbre. The guests, tuning their instruments to the _ichikotsu_ mode, played "Cherry-Blossom Girl," and when they had finished they pressed their host to favor them with something on that famous seven-stringed koto of his. He was diffident, and only joined in with a short strain from time to time. Perhaps because it was a style they were not used to, the young men found that it had a somewhat remote sound to it, a certain depth and mystery, strangely moving.

As for the repast to which they were treated, it was most tasteful in an old-fashioned way, exactly what the setting asked for, and much superior to what they would have expected. There were in the neighborhood numbers of elderly people who, though not of royal blood, came from gentle families, and some who were distant relatives of the emperor himself. They had long wondered what the prince would do if such an occasion were to arise, and as many of them as were able came to help; and the guests found that their cups were being kept full by attendants who, though not perhaps dressed in the latest fashions, could hardly have been called rustic. No doubt there were a number of youngsters whose hearts were less than calm at the thought of ladies' apartments. Matters were even worse for Niou. How constricting it was, to be of a rank that forbade lighthearted adventures! Unable to contain himself, he broke off a fine branch of cherry blossoms and, an elegantly attired page boy for his messenger, sent it across the river with a poem:

"I have come, the mountain cherries at their best,
To break off sprays of blossom for my cap."
And it would seem that he added: "Then stayed the night, enamored of the fields."

What could they send by way of answer? The princesses were at a loss. But they must send something, that much was sure, said the old women. This was hardly the occasion for a really formal poem, and it would be rude to wait too long. Finally Oigimi composed a reply and had Nakanokimi set it down for her:

"It is true that you have fought your way through the mountain tangles, and yet

"For sprays to break, the springtime wanderer pauses
Before the rustic fence, and wanders on."
The hand was subtle and delicate.

And so music answered music across the river. It was as Niou had requested, the wind did not propose to keep them apart. Presently Kobai arrived, upon order of the emperor; and with great crowds milling about Niou made a noisy departure. His attendants looked back again, and he promised himself that he would find an excuse for another visit. The view was magical, with the blossoms at their best and layers of mist trailing among them. Many were the poems in Chinese and in Japanese that the occasion produced, but I did not trouble myself to ask about them.

Niou was unhappy. In the confusion he had not been able to convey the sort of message he had wished to. He sent frequent letters thereafter, not bothering to ask the mediation of Kaoru.

"You really should answer," said the Eighth Prince. "But be careful not to sound too serious. That would only excite him. He has his pleasureloving ways, and you are a pleasure he is not likely to forgo."

Though with this caveat, he encouraged replies. It was Nakanokimi who set them down. Oigimi was much too cautious and deliberate to let herself become involved in the least significant of such exchanges.

The prince, ever deeper in melancholy, found the long, uneventful spring days harder to get through than other days. The beauty and grace of his daughters, more striking as the years went by, had the perverse effect of intensifying the melancholy. If they were plain little things, he said to himself, then it might not matter so much to leave them in these mountains. His mind ran the circle of worries and ran it again, day and night. Oigimi was now twenty-five, Nakanokimi twenty-three.

It was a dangerous year for him. He was more assiduous than ever in his devotions. Because his heart was no longer in this world, because he was intent on leaving it behind as soon as possible, the way down the cool, serene path seemed clear. But there was one obstacle, worry about the future of his daughters.

"When he puts himself into his studies," said the people around him, "his will power is extraordinary. But don't you suppose he'll weaken when the final test comes? Don't you suppose his worries about our ladies will be too much for him?"

If only there were _someone_, he thought -- someone not perhaps up to the standard he had always set, but still, after his fashion, of a rank and character that would not be demeaning, and someone who would undertake in all sincerity to look after the princesses -- then he would be inclined to give his tacit blessing. If even one of the girl s could find a secure place in the world, he could without misgivings leave the other innoer charge. But thus far no one had come forward with what could be described as serious intentions. Occasionally, on some pretext, there would be a suggestive letter, and occasionally too some fellow, in the lightness of his young heart, stopping on his way to or from a temple, would show signs of interest. But there was always something insulting about these advances, some hint that the man looked down upon ladies left to waste away in the mountains. The prince would not permit the most casual sort of reply.

And now came Niou, who said that he could not rest until he had made the acquaintance of the princesses. Was this ardor a sign of a bond from a former life?

In the autumn Kaoru was promoted to councillor of the middle order. The distinction of his manner and appearance was more pronounced as he rose in rank and office, and the thoughts that tormented him made similar gains. They were more tenacious than when the doubts about his birth had still been vague and unformed. As he tried to imagine how it had been in those days, so long ago now, when his father had sickened and died, he wanted to lose himself in prayers and rites of atonement. He had been strongly drawn to the old woman at Uji, and he tried circumspectly to let her know of his feelings.

It was now the Seventh Month. He had been away from Uji, he thought, for a very long while.

Autumn had not yet come to the city, but by the time he reached Mount Otowa the breeze was cool, and in the vicinity of Mount Oyama autumn was already at the tips of the branches. The shifting mountain scenery delighted him more and more as he approached Uji.

The prince greeted him with unusual warmth, and talked on and on of the melancholy thoughts that were so much with him.

"If you should find reasonable occasion, after I am gone," he said, guiding the conversation to the problem of his daughters, "do please come and see them from time to time. Put them on your list, if you will, of the people you do not mean to forget."

"You may remember that you have already brought the matter up once or twice before, and you have my word that I shall not forget. Not that you can expect a great deal of me, I am afraid. All my impulses are to run away from the world, and it does not seem to have very strong hopes for me in any case. No, I do not hold a great deal in reserve. But for as long as I live, my determination will not waver."

The prince was much relieved. A late moon, breaking through the clouds with a soft, clean radiance, seemed about to touch the western hills. Having said his prayers, to which the scene lent an especial dignity, he turned to talk of old times.

"How is it at court these days? On autumn nights people used to gather in His Majesty's chambers. There was always something a little too good, a little ostentatious -- or it so seemed to me -- about the way the famous musicians lent their presence to this group and the next one. What was really worth notice was the way His Majesty's favorites and the ladies of the bedchamber and the rest would be chatting away as pleasantly as you could wish, and all the while you knew that they were in savage competition. And then, as quiet came over the palace, you would have the real music, leaking out from their several rooms. Each strain seemed to be pleading its own special cause.

"Women are the problem, good for a moment of pleasure, offering nothing of substance. They are the seeds of turmoil, and it is not hard to see why we are told that their sins are heavy. I wonder if you have ever tried to imagine what a worry a child is for its father. A son is no problem. But a daughter -- there is a limit to worrying, after all, and the sensible thing would be to recognize the hopeless for what it is. But fathers will go on worrying."

He spoke as if in generalities; but could there be any doubt that he was really speaking of himself and his daughters?

"I have told you of my feelings about the world," said Kaoru. "One result of them has been that I have not mastered a single art worthy of the name. But music -- yes, I know how useless it is, and still I have had a hard time giving it up. I do have a good precedent, after all. You will remember that music made one of the apostles jump up and dance."

He had been longing, he continued, to have more of the music of which he had caught that one tantalizing snatch. The prince thought this might be the occasion for a sort of introduction. He went to the princesses' rooms. There came a soft strain on a koto, and that was all. The light, impromptu melody, here where it was always quiet and where now there was not one other human sound, with the sky beginning to take on the colors of dawn, quite entranced Kaoru. But the princesses could not be persuaded to give more.

"Well," said their father, going to the altar, "I have done what I can to bring you together. You have years ahead of you, and I must leave the rest to you.

"I go, this hut of grass will dry and fall.
But this solemn undertaking must last forever.
"Something tells me that we will not meet again." He was in tears. "You must think me an insufferable complainer."

"Your'hut of grass' has sealed a pledge eternal.
It will not fall, though ages come and go.
"The wrestling meet will keep me busy for a while, but I will see you again when it is out of the way."

The prince having withdrawn to his prayers, Kaoru called Bennokimi to another room and asked for details of the story she had told. The dawn moon flooded the room, setting him off through the blinds to most wonderful effect. Silently, the princesses withdrew behind deeper curtains. Yet he did seem to be unlike most young men. His way of speaking was quiet and altogether serious. Oigimi occasionally came forth with an answer. Kaoru thought of his friend Niou and the rapidity with which he had been drawn to the princesses. Why must he himself be so different? Their father had as good as offered them to him; and why did he not rush forward to claim them? It was not as if he found the thought of having one of them for his wife quite out of the question. That they were ladies of discernment and sensibility they had shown well enough in tests such as this evening's, and in exchanges having to do with the flowers of spring and the leaves of autumn and other such matters. In a sense, indeed, he thought of them as already in his possession. It would be a cruel wrench if fate should give them to others.

He started back before daylight, his thoughts on the prince and his apparent conviction that death was near. When the round of court duties was over, thought Kaoru, he would come again.

Niou was hoping that the autumn leaves might be his excuse for another visit to Uji. He continued to write to the princesses. Thinking these advances no cause for concern, they were able to answer from time to time in appropriately casual terms.

With the deepening of autumn, the prince's gloom also deepened. Concluding that he must withdraw to some quiet refuge where nothing would upset his devotions, he left behind various admonitions.

"Parting is the way of the world. It cannot be avoided: but the grief is easier to bear when you have a companion to share it with. I must leave it to your imagination -- for I cannot tell you -- how hard it is for me to go off without you, knowing that you are alone. But it would not do to wander lost in the next world because of ties with this one. Even while I have been here with you, I have as good as run away from the world; and it is not for me to say how it should be when I am gone. But please remember that I am not the only one. You have your mother to think of too. Please do nothing that might reflect on her name. Men who are not worthy of you will try to lure you out of these mountains, but you are not to yield to their blandishments. Resign yourselves to the fact that it was not meant to be -- that you are different from other people and were meant to be alone -- and live out your lives here at Uji. Once you have made up your minds to it, the years will go smoothly by. It is good for a woman, even more than for a man, to be away from the world and its slanders."

The princesses were beyond thinking about the future. It was beyond them, indeed, to think how they would live if they were to survive their father by so much as a day. These gloomy and ominous instructions left them in the cruelest uncertainty. He had in effect renounced the world already, but for them, so long beside him, to be informed thus suddenly of a final parting -- it was not from intentional cruelty that he had done it, of course, and yet in such cases a certain resentment is inevitable.

On the evening before his departure he inspected the premises with unusual care, walking here, stopping there. He had thought of this Uji villa as the most temporary of dwellings, and so the years had gone by. Everything about him suggesting freedom from worldly taints, he turned to his devotions, and thoughts of the future slipped in among them from time to time. His daughters were so very much alone -- how could they possibly manage after his death?

He summoned the older women of the household.

"Do what you can for them, as a last favor to me. The world does not pay much attention when an ordinary house goes to ruin. It happens every day. I don't suppose people pay so very much attention when it happens to one like ours. But if fate seems to have decided that the collapse is final, a man does feel ashamed, and wonders how he can face his ancestors. Sadness, loneliness -- they are what life brings. But when a house is kept in a manner that becomes its rank, the appearances it maintains, the feelings it has for itself, bring their own consolation. Everyone wants luxury and excitement; but you must never, even if everything fails -- you must never, I beg of you, let them make unsuitable marriages."

As the moonlight faded in the dawn, he went to take leave of his daughters. "Do not be lonely when I am gone. Be happy, find ways to occupy yourselves. One does not get everything in this world. Do not fret over what has to be."

He looked back and looked back again as he started up the path to the monastery.

The girls were lonely indeed, despite these admonitions. What would the one do if the other were to go away? The world offers no security in any case; and what could they possibly do for themselves if they were separated? Smiling over this small matter, sighing over that rather more troublesome detail, they had always been together.

It was the morning of the day when the prince's meditations were to end. He would be coming home. But in the evening a message came instead: "I have been indisposed since this morning. A cold, perhaps-whatever it is, I am having it looked after. I long more than ever to see you.

The princesses were in consternation. How serious would it be? They hastened to send quilted winter garments. Two and three days passed, and there was no sign of improvement. A messenger came back. The ailment was not of a striking nature, he reported. The prince was generally indisposed. If there should be even the slightest improvement he would brave the discomfort and return home.

The abbot, in constant attendance, sought to sever the last ties with this world. "It may seem like the commonest sort of ailment," he said, "but it could be your last. Why must you go on worrying about your daughters? Each of us has his own destiny, and it does no good to worry about others." He said that the prince was not to leave the temple under any circumstances.

It was about the twentieth of the Eighth Month, a time when the autumn skies are conducive to melancholy in any case. For the princesses, lost in their own sad thoughts, there was no release from the morning and evening mists. The moon was bright in the early-morning sky, the surface of the river was clear and luminous. The shutters facing the mountain were raised. As the princesses gazed out, the sound of the monastery bell came down to them faintly -- and, they said, another dawn was upon them.

But then came a messenger, blinded with tears. The prince had died in the night.

Not for a moment had the princesses stopped thinking of him; but this was too much of a shock, it left them dazed. At such times tears refuse to come. Prostrate, they could only wait for the shock to pass. A death is sad when, as is the commoner case, the survivors have a chance to make proper farewells. For the princesses, who did not have their father with them, the sense of loss was even more intense. Their laments would not have seemed excessive if they had wailed to the very heavens. Reluctant to accept the thought of surviving their father by a day, they asked what they were to do now. But he had gone a road that all must take, and weeping did nothing to change that cruel fact.

As had been promised over the years, the abbot arranged for the funeral. The princesses sent word that they would like to see their father again, even in death. And what would be accomplished? replied the holy man. He had trained their father to acceptance of the fact that he would not see them again, and now it was their turn. They must train their hearts to a freedom from binding regrets. As he told of their father's days in the monastery, they found his wisdom somewhat distasteful.

It had long been their father's most fervent wish to take the tonsure, but in the absence of someone to look after his daughters he had been unable to turn his back on them. Day after day, so long as he had lived, this inability had been at the same time the solace of a sad life and the bond that tied him to a world he wished to leave. Neither to him who had now gone the inevitable road nor to them who must remain behind had fulfillment come.

Kaoru was overcome with grief and regret. There were so many things left to talk about if only they might have another quiet evening together. Thoughts about the impermanence of things chased one another through his mind, and he made no attempt to stop the flow of tears. The prince had said, it was true, that they might not meet again; but Kaoru had so accustomed himself over the years to the mutability of this world, to the way morning has of becoming evening, that thoughts "yesterday, today" had not come to him. He sent long and detailed letters to the abbot and the princesses. Having received no other such message, the princesses, though still benumbed with grief, knew once again what kindness they had known over the years. The loss of a father is never easy, thought Kaoru, and it must be very cruel indeed for two ladies quite alone in the world. He had had the foresight to send the abbot offerings and provisions for the services, and he also saw, through the old woman, that there were ample offerings at the Uji villa.

The rest of the month was one long night for the princesses, and so the Ninth Month came. The mountain scenery seemed more capable than ever of summoning the showers that dampen one's sleeves, and sometimes, lost in their tears, they could almost imagine that the tumbling leaves and the roaring water and the cascade of tears had become one single flow.

Near distraction themselves, their women thought to dislodge them even a little from their grief. "Please, my ladies. If this goes on you will soon be in your own graves. Our lives are short enough in any case."

Priests were charged with memorial services at the villa as well as at the monastery. With holy images to remind them of the dead prince, the women who had withdrawn into deepest mourning kept constant vigil.

Niou too sent messages, but they were not of a sort that the princesses could bring themselves to answer.

"My friend gets different treatment," he said, much chagrined. "Why am I the one they will have nothing to do with?"

He had thought that Uji with the autumn leaves at their best might feed his poetic urges, but now, regretfully, he had to conclude that the time was inappropriate. He did send a long letter. The initial period of mourning was over, he thought, and there must be an end to grief and a pause in tears. Dispatching his letter on an evening of chilly showers, he had this to say, among many other things:

"How is it in yon hills where the hart calls out

On such an eve, and dew forms on the _hagi_? I cannot think how on an evening like this you can be indifferent to melancholy like mine. Autumn brings an unusual sadness over Onoe Moor."

"He is right," said Oigimi, urging her sister on. "We do let these notes pile up, and I'm sure he thinks us very rude and unfeeling. Do get something off to him."

Enduring the days since her father's death, thought Nakanokimi, had she once considered taking up brush again? How cruel those days had been! Her eyes clouded over, and she pushed the inkstone away.

"I cannot do it," she said, weeping quietly. "I have come this far, you say, and sorrow has to end? No -- the very thought of it makes me hate myself."

Oigimi understood, and urged her no further.

The messenger had left the city at dusk and arrived after dark. How could they send him back at this hour? They told him he must stay the night. But no: he was going back, he said, and he hurried to get ready.

Though no more in control of herself than her sister, Oigimi wished to detain him no longer, and composed a stanza for him to take back:

"A mist of tears blots out this mountain village,
And at its rustic fence, the call of the deer."
Scarcely able to make out the ink, dark in the night, against dark paper, she wrote with no thought for the niceties. She folded her note into a plain cover and sent it out to the man.

It was a black, gusty night. He was uneasy as he made his way through the wilds of Kohata; but Niou did not pick men Who were noted for their timidity. He spurred his horse on, not allowing it to pause even for the densest bamboo thickets, and reached Niou's mansion in remarkably quick time. Seeing how wet he was, Niou gave him a special bounty for his services.

The hand, a strange one, was more mature than the one he was used to, and suggestive of a deeper mind. Which princess would be which? he wondered, gazing and gazing at the note. It was well past time for him to be in bed.

They could see why he would wish to wait up until an answer came, whispered the women, but here he was still mooning over it. The sender must be someone who interested him greatly. There was a touch of asperity in these remarks, as of people who wished they were in bed themselves.

The morning mists were still heavy as he arose to prepare his answer:

"The call of the hart whose mate has strayed away

In the morning mist -- are there those whom it leaves unmoved? My own wails are no less piercing."

"He is likely to be a nuisance if he thinks we understand too well," said Oigimi, always withdrawn and cautious in these matters. "Before Father died we had him to protect us. We did not want to outlive him, but here we are. He thought of us to the last, and now we must think of him. The slightest little misstep would hurt him." She would not permit an answer. Yet she did not take the view of Niou that she did of most men. His writing and choice of words, even at their most casual, had an elegance and originality which seemed to her, though she had not had letters from many men, truly superior. But to answer even such subtle letters was inappropriate for a lady in her situation. If the world disagreed, she had no answer: she would live out her life as a rustic spinster, and the world need not think about her.

Kaoru's letters, on the other hand, were of such an earnest nature that she answered them freely. He came calling one day, even before the period of deepest mourning was over. Approaching the lower part of the east room, where the princesses were still in mourning, he summoned Bennokimi. Wanderers in darkness, they found this sudden burst of light quite blinding. Their own somber garments were too sharp a contrast. They were unable to send out an answer.

"Do they have to go on treating me like a stranger? Have they completely forgotten their father's last wishes? The most ordinary sort of conversation, now and then, would be such a pleasure. I have not mastered the methods of suitors and it does not seem at all natural to have to use a messenger."

"We have lived on, as you see," Oigimi finally managed to send back, "although I do not remember that anyone asked our wishes. It has been one long nightmare. I doubt if our wishes matter much more even now. Everything tells us to stay out of the light, and I must ask you not to ask the impossible."

"You are being much too conservative. If you were to come marching gaily out into the sunlight or the moonlight of your own free will, now-but you are only creating difficulties. Acquaint me with the smallest particle of what you are thinking and, who knows, I might have a small bit of comfort to offer."

"How nice," said the women of the house. "Here you are floundering and helpless, and here he is trying to help you."

Oigimi, despite her protestations, was recovering from her grief. She remembered his repeated kindnesses (though one might have said that any good friend would have done as much), and she remembered how, over the years, he had made his way through the high grasses to this distant moor. She moved a little nearer. In the gentlest and friendliest way possible, he told how he had felt for them in their grief, and how he had made certain promises to their father. There was nothing insistent in his manner, and she felt neither constraint nor apprehension. Yet he was not, after all, a real intimate; and now, to have him hear her voice -- and her thoughts were further confused by the memory of how, over the weeks, she had come to look to him vaguely for support -- no, it was still too painful. She was unable to speak. From what little he had heard he knew that she had scarcely begun to pull herself from her grief, and pity welled up afresh. It was a sad figure that he now caught a glimpse of through a gap in the curtains. It suggested all too poignantly the unrelieved gloom of her days; and he thought of the figure he had seen faintly in the autumn dawn.

As if to himself, he recited a verse:

"The reeds, so sparse and fragile, have changed their color,
To make me think of sleeves that now are black."
And she replied:

"Upon this sleeve, changed though its color be,
The dew finds refuge; there is no refuge for me.
'The thread from these dark robes of mourning' -- "
But she could not go on. Her voice wavered and broke in midsentence, and she withdrew deeper into the room.

He did not think it proper to call her back. Instead he found himself talking to the old woman. An improbable substitute, she still had many sad and affecting things to say about long ago and yesterday. She had been witness to it all, and he could not dismiss her as just another tiresome old crone.

"I was a mere boy when Lord Genji died," he said, "and that was my first real introduction to the sorrows of the world. And then as I grew up it seemed to me that rank and office and glory meant less than nothing. And the prince, who had found repose here at Uji -- when he was taken away so suddenly, I thought I had the last word about the futility of things. I wanted to get away from the world, leave it completely behind. You will think, perhaps, that I have found a good excuse when I say that your ladies are pulling me back again. But I do not want to recant a word of that last promise I made to him. Now there is your story from all those years ago, pulling in the other direction."

He was in tears, and the old woman was so shaken with sobs that she could not answer. He was so like his father! Memories of things long forgotten came back to her, flooding over more recent sorrows; but she was not up to telling of them.

She was the daughter of Kashiwagi's nurse, and her father, a moderator of the middle rank at his death, was an uncle of the princesses' mother. Back in the capital after her father's death and some years in the far provinces, she found that she had grown away from the family of her old master; and so, answering an inquiry from the Eighth Prince, she had taken service here. It could not have been said that she was a woman of unusual accomplishments, and she showed the effects of having been too much in the service of others; but the prince saw that she was not devoid of taste and made her a sort of governess to his daughters. Although she had been with them night and day over the years and had become their closest friend, this one ancient secret she had kept locked within herself. Kaoru found cause for doubt and shame even so: she might not have scattered the news lightheartedly to all comers, but unsolicited stories from old women were standard the world over; and, since his presence had the apparent effect of sending the princesses deep into their shells, he feared that she might have passed it on at least to them. He seemed to find here another reason for not letting them go.

He no longer wanted to spend the night. He thought, as he got ready to leave, how the prince had spoken of their last meeting as if it might indeed be their last, and how, confidently looking forward to the continued pleasure of the prince's company, he had dismissed the possibility. Was it not still the same autumn? Not so many days had passed, and the prince had vanished, no one could say where. Though his had always been the most austere of houses, quite without the usual conveniences, it had been clean and appointed in simple but good taste. The ritual utensils were as they had always been, but now the priests, bustling in and out of the house and busily screening themselves from one another, announced that the sacred images would be taken off to the monastery. Kaoru tried to imagine how it would now be for the princesses, left behind after even such excitement as the priests had offered was gone.

He interrupted these sad thoughts, on the urgings of an attendant who pointed out that it was very late, and got up to leave; and a flock of wild geese flew overhead.

"As I gaze at an autumn sky closed off by mists,

Why must these birds proclaim that the world is fleeting?"

Back in the city, he called on Niou. The conversation moved immediately to the Uji princesses. The time had come, thought Niou, sending off a warm to impossible. He was one of the better-known young gallants, and his intentions were clearly romantic. Could a note thrust from the underbrush in which they themselves lurked strike him as other than clumsy and comically out of date?

They worried and fretted, and their tears had no time to dry. And with what cruel speed the days went by! They had not thought that their father's life, fleeting though it must be, was a matter of "yesterday, today." He had taught them an awareness of evanescence, but it had been as if he were speaking of a general principle. They had not considered the possibility of outliving him by even hours or minutes. They looked back over the way they had come. It had, to be sure, had its uncertainties, but they had traveled it with serenity and without fear or shame or any thought that such a disaster might one day come. And now the wind was roaring, strangers were pounding to be admitted. The panic, the terror, the loneliness, worse each day, were almost beyond endurance.

In this season of snow and hail, the roar of the wind was as always and everywhere, and yet they felt for the first time that they knew the sadness of these mountains. Well, the saddest year was over, said some of their women, refusing to give up hope. Let the New Year bring an end to it all. The chances were not good, thought the princesses.

Because the prince had gone there for his retreats, an occasional messenger came down from the monastery and, rarely, there was a note from the abbot himself, making general inquiries about their health. He no longer had reason to call in person. Day by day the Uji villa was lonelier. It was the way of the world, but they were sad all the same. Occasionally one or two of the village rustics would look in on them. Such visits, beneath their notice while their father was alive, became breaks in the monotony. Mountain people would bring in firewood and nuts, and the abbot sent charcoal and other provisions.

"One is saddened to think that the generous flow of gifts may have ceased forever," said the note that came with them.

It was a timely reminder: their father had made it a practice to send the abbot cottons and silks against the winter cold. The princesses made haste to do as well.

Sometimes they would go to the veranda and watch in tears as priests and acolytes, now appearing among the drifts and now disappearing again, made their way up towards the monastery. Even though their father had quite renounced the world, callers would be more numerous if he were still with them. They might be lonely, but it would not be the final loneliness of knowing they would not see him again.

"For him, the mountain path has now been cut.
How can we look on the pine we watched as we waited?"
And Nakanokimi replied:

"Away in the hills, the snow departs from the pines
But comes again. Ah, would it were so with him!"
As if to mock her, the snow came again and again.

Kaoru paid his visit late in the year. The New Year would be too busy to allow the briefest of visits. With the snow so deep, it was unusual for the ladies to receive even an ordinary caller. That he, a ranking courtier, should have set out on such a journey as if he made one every day was the measure of his kindness. They were at greater pains than usual to receive him. They had taken out and dusted a brazier of a color gayer than this house of mourning had been used to. Their women chattered about how happy his visits had made the prince. Though shy, the princesses did not want to seem rude or unkind. They did at length essay to address him from behind screens. The conversation could hardly have been called lively or intimate, but Oigimi managed to put together, for her, an uncommon number of words. Kaoru was pleased and surprised. Perhaps the time had come, he thought, for a sally. (It would seem that the best of men are sometimes untrue to their resolves.)

"My friend Niou is irritated with me, and I have trouble understanding why. It is just possible that I let something slip, or it may be that he guessed it all -- he does not miss very much. In any event, he knows about your father's last request, and I have orders to tell you about him. Indeed, I have already told you, and you have not been very cooperative. And so he keeps complaining about what an incompetent messenger I am. The charge comes as something of a surprise, considering all I have done, and at the same time I have to admit that I have made myself his 'guide to your seashore.' Must you be so remote and haughty?

"It is true, I know, that the gossips have given him a certain name, but beneath the rakish exterior are depths that would surprise you. It is said that he prefers not to spend his time with women who come at his beck and call. Then there are women who take things as they are. What the world does is what the world does, they say, and they do not care a great deal whether they find husbands or not. If someone comes along who is neither entirely pleasing nor entirely repulsive, well, such is life. They make good wives, rather better than you might think. And then, as the poet said, the bank begins to give way, and what is left is a muddy Tatsuta. You must have heard of such cases -- the last of the old love gone down the stream.

"But there is another possibility. Supposing he finds someone who follows him because she agrees with him, because she cannot find it in her heart to do otherwise. I do not think that he would deal lightly with such a one. He would make his commitments and stand by them. I know, because I am in a position to tell you of things he has not let other people see. Give me the signal, and I will do everything I can to help you. I will dash back and forth between Uji and the city until my feet are stumps."

It had been an earnest discourse. Unable to think that it had reference to herself, Oigimi wondered whether it might now be her duty to take the place of her father. But she did not know what to say.

"Words fail me." Her reply to the discourse was a quiet laugh, which was not at all unpleasant. "This sort of thing is, well, rather suggestive, I'm sure you will admit, and does not simplify the hunt for an answer."

"Your own situation has nothing to do with the matter. Just take these tidings I bring through the snowdrifts as an older sister might be expected to. He is thinking not of you but of -- someone else. I have had vague reports that there have been letters, but there again it is hard to know the truth. Which of you was it that answered?"

Oigimi fell silent. This last question was more embarrassing than he could have intended it to be. It would have been nothing to answer Niou's letters, but she had not been up to the task, even in jest; and an answer to Kaoru's question was quite beyond her.

Presently she pushed a verse from under her curtains:

"Along the cliffs of these mountains, locked in snow,
Are the tracks of only one. That one is you."
"A sort of sophistry that does not greatly improve things.
"My pony breaks the ice of the mountain river
As I lead the way with tidings from him who follows.
'No such shallowness,' is it not apparent?"
More and more uncomfortable, she did not answer.

She was not remote to excess, he would have said, and on the other hand she had none of the coyness one was accustomed to in young women. A quiet, elegant lady, in sum -- as near his ideal as any lady he could remember having met. But whenever he became forward, however slightly, she feigned deafness. He turned to inconsequential talk of things long past.

His men were coughing nervously. It was late, the snow was deep, and the sky seemed to be clouding over again.

"I can see that you have not had an easy time of it," he said as he got up to leave. "It would please me enormously if I could prevail on you to leave Uji behind you. I can think of places that are far more convenient and just as quiet."

Some of the women overheard, and were delighted. How very pleasant if they could move to the city!

But Nakanokimi thought otherwise. It was not to be, she said.

Fruit and sweets, most tastefully arranged, were brought out for Kaoru, and, in equally good taste, there were wine and side dishes for his men. Kaoru thought of the watchman, the man he had made such a celebrity of with that perfume. Of unlovely mien, he was known as Wigbeard. To Kaoru he seemed an uncertain support for sorely tried ladies.

"I imagine that things have been lonely since His Highness died."

A scowl spread over the man's face, and soon he was weeping. "I had the honor of his protection for more than thirty years and now I have nowhere to go. I could wander off into the mountains, I suppose, but'the tree denies the fugitive its shelter.'" Tears did not improve the rough face.

Kaoru asked Wigbeard to open the prince's chapel. The dust lay thick, but the images, decorated as proudly as ever, gave evidence that the princesses had not been remiss with their devotions. The prayer dais had been taken away and the floor carefully dusted, cleaned of the marks it had left. Long ago, the prince had promised that they would be companions in prayer if Kaoru were to renounce the world.

"Beneath the oak I meant to search for shade.
Now it has gone, and all is vanity."
Numerous eyes were upon him as he stood leaning meditatively against a pillar. The young maidservants thought they had never seen anyone so handsome.

As it grew dark, his men sent to certain of his manors for fodder. Not having been warned, he was much discommoded by the noisy droves of country people the summonses brought, and tried to make it seem that he had come to see the old woman. They must be of similar service to the princesses in the future, he said as he left.

The New Year came, the skies were soft and bright, the ice melted along the banks of the pond. The princesses thought how strange it was that they should so long have survived their father. With a note saying that he had had them gathered in the melting snow, the abbot sent cress from the marshes and fern shoots from the mountain slopes. Country life did have its points, said the women as they cooked the greens and arranged them on pilgrims' trays. What fun it was, really, to watch the days and months go by with their changing grasses and trees.

They were easily amused, thought the princesses.

"If he were here to pluck these mountain ferns,
Then might we find in them a sign of spring."
And Nakanokimi:

"Without our father, how are we to praise
The cress that sends its shoots through banks of snow?"
Such were the trifles with which they passed their days. Neither Niou nor Kaoru missed an occasion for greetings. They came in such numbers, indeed, as to be something of a nuisance, and with my usual carelessness I failed to make note of them.

The cherry blossoms were now at their best. "Sprays of blossom for my cap" : Niou thought of Uji. As if to stir his appetites, the men who had been with him remarked upon the pity of it all, that such a pleasant house should have awaited them in vain.

He sent off a poem to the princesses:

"Last year along the way I saw those blossoms.
This year, no mist between, I mean to have them."
They thought it rather too broadly suggestive. Still, there was little excitement in their lives, and it would be a mistake not to give some slight notice to a poem that had its merits.

"Our house is robed in densest mists of black.
Who undertakes to guide you to its blossoms?"
It did little to assuage his discontent. Sometimes, when it was too much for him, he would descend upon Kaoru. Kaoru had bungled this, made a botch of that. Amused, Kaoru would answer quite as if he had been appointed the princesses' guardian. Occasionally he would take it upon himself to chide his friend for a certain want of steadfastness.

"But it won't go on forever. It's just that I haven't found anyone I really like."

Yugiri had for some time wanted to arrange a match between Niou and his daughter Rokunokimi. Niou did not seem interested. There was no mystery, no excitement in the proposal, and besides, Yugiri was so stiff and proper and unbending, so quick to raise a stir over each of Niou's venialities.

That year the Sanjo mansion of Kaoru's mother burned to the ground. She moved into Genji's Rokujo mansion. Kaoru was too busy for a visit to Uji. The solemn nature that set him apart from other youths urged that he wait until Oigimi was ready for him, despite the fact that he already thought her his own; and he would be satisfied if she took note of his fidelity to the promise he had made to her father. He would do nothing reckless, nothing likely to offend her.

It was a very hot summer. Suddenly one day the thought came to him that it would be pleasant there by the river. He left the city in the cool of morning, but by the time he reached the Uji villa the sun was blinding. He called Wigbeard to the west room that had been the prince's. The ladies seemed to be withdrawing to their own rooms from the room immediately to the east of the prince's that had been his chapel. Despite their precautions, for but a single thin partition separated the two rooms, he could hear, or rather sense, the withdrawal. In great excitement, he pulled aside the screen before the partition. He had earlier noticed a small hole beside the latch. Alas, there was a curtain beyond. But as he drew back the wind caught the blind at the front veranda.

"Pull them over, hold it down," said someone. "The whole world can see us."

It was a foolish suggestion, and Kaoru was delighted. The view was now clear. Several curtain frames, high and low, had been moved to the veranda. The princesses were leaving through open doors at the far side of the chapel. The first to enter his range of vision went to the veranda and looked out at his men, who were walking up and down in front of the house, taking the cool of the river breezes. She was wearing a dark-gray singlet and orange trousers. Unusual and surprisingly gay, the combination suggested subtle, careful taste. A scarf was flung loosely over her shoulders and the ends of a rosary hung from a sleeve. She was slender and graceful, and her hair, which would perhaps have fallen just short of the hem of a formal robe, was thick and lustrous, with no trace of disorder the whole of its length. Her profile was flawless, her skin fresh and unblemished, and there was pride and at the same time serenity in her manner. He thought of Niou's oldest sister. He had once had a glimpse of her, and the longing it had inspired came back afresh.

The other princess moved cautiously into view.

"That door is absolutely naked." She looked towards him, everything about her suggesting wariness and reserve. Something in the flow of her hair gave her even more dignity than he had seen in the other lady.

"There's a screen behind it," said a young serving woman unconcernedly. "And we won't give him time for a peek."

"But how awful if he _should_ see us." She looked guardedly back as she made her way to the far door, carrying herself with a pensive grace that few could have imitated. She wore a singlet and a lined robe of the same dark stuff as her sister's, set off in the same combination. Hers was a sadder, quieter beauty which he found even more compelling. Her hair was less luxuriant, perhaps from grief and neglect, and the ends were somewhat uneven. Yet it was very lovely, like a cluster of silken threads, and it had the iridescence of "rainbow tresses," or the wing of a halcyon. The hand in which she held a purple scroll was smaller and more delicate than her sister's. The younger princess knelt at the far door and looked back smiling. He thought her completely charming.

 

 

Chapter 47

Trefoil Knots


In the autumn, as the Uji princesses prepared for the anniversary of their father's death, the winds and waters which they had known over the years seemed colder and lonelier than ever. Kaoru and the abbot saw to the general plans. The princesses themselves, with the advice of their attendants, took care of the details, robes for the priests and decorations for the scriptures and the like. They seemed so fragile and sad as they went about the work that one wondered what they would possibly have done without this help from outside. Kaoru made it a point to visit them before the formal end of mourning, and the abbot came down from his monastery.
The riot of threads for decking out the sacred incense led one of the princesses to remark upon the stubborn way their own lives had of spinning on. Catching sight of a spool through a gap in the curtains, Kaoru recognized the allusion. "Join my tears as beads," he said softly. They found it very affecting, this suggestion that the sorrow of Lady Ise had been even as theirs; yet they were reluctant to answer. To show that they had caught the reference might seem pretentious. But an answering reference immediately came to them: they could not help thinking of Tsurayuki, whose heart had not been "that sort of thread," and who had likened it to a thread all the same as he sang the sadness of a parting that was not a bereavement. Old poems, they could see, had much to say about the unchanging human heart.

Kaoru wrote out the petition for memorial services, including the details of the scriptures to be read and the deities to be invoked, and while he had brush in hand he jotted down a verse:

"We knot these braids in trefoil. As braided threads
May our fates be joined, may we be together always."
Though she thought it out of place, Oigimi managed an answer:

"No way to thread my tears, so fast they flow;
As swiftly flows my life. Can such vows be?"
"But," he objected, "'if it cannot be so with us, what use is life?'"

She had somehow succeeded in diverting the conversation from the most important point, and she seemed reluctant to say more. And so he began to speak most warmly of his friend Niou: "I have been watching him very closely. He has had me worried, I must admit. He has a very strong competitive instinct, even when he does not have much at stake, and I was afraid your chilliness might have made it all a matter of pride for him. And so, I admit it, I've been uneasy. But I am sure that this time there is nothing to worry about. It is your turn to do something. Might you just possibly persuade yourself to be a little more friendly? You are not an insensitive lady, I know, and yet you do go on slamming the door. If he resents it, well, so do I. You couldn't be making things more difficult for me if you tried, and I have been very open with you and very willing to take you at your word. I think the time has come for a clear statement from you, one way or the other."

"How can you say such things? It was exactly because I did _not_ want to make things difficult for you that I let you come so near -- so near that people must think it very odd. I gather that your view of the matter is different, and I must confess that I am disappointed. I would have expected you to understand a little better. But of course I am at fault too. You have said that I am not an insensitive person, but someone of real sensitivity would by now have thought everything out, even in a mountain hut like this. I have always been slow in these matters. I gather that you are making a proposal. Very well: I shall make my answer as clear as I can. Before Father died, he had many things to say about my future, but not one of them touched even slightly on the sort of thing you suggest. He must have meant that I should be resigned to living out my days alone and away from the world; and so I fear I cannot give you the answer you want, at least so far as it concerns myself. But of course my sister will outlive me, and I have to think of her too. I could not bear to leave her in these mountains like a fallen tree. It would give me great pleasure if something could be arranged for her."

She fell silent, in great agitation. He regretted having spoken so sternly. For all her air of maturity, he should not have expected her to answer like a woman of the world.

He summoned Bennokimi.

"It was thoughts of the next life that first brought me here; and then, in those last sad days, he left a request with me. He asked me to look after his daughters in whatever way seemed best. I have tried; and now it comes as something of a surprise that they should be disregarding their own father's wishes. Do you understand it any better than I do? I am being pushed to the conclusion that he had hopes for them which they do not share. I know you will have heard about me, what an odd person I am, not much interested in the sort of things that seem to interest everyone else. And now, finally, I have found someone who does interest me, and I am inclined to believe that fate has had a hand in the matter; and I gather that the gossips already have us married. Well, if that is the case -- I know it will seem out of place for me to say so -- other things being equal, we might as well do as the prince wished us to, and indeed as everyone else does. It would not be the first case the world has seen of a princess married to a commoner.

" And I have spoken more than once about my friend Niou to your other lady. She simply refuses to believe me when I tell her she needn't worry about the sort of husband he is likely to make. I wonder if someone might just possibly be working to turn her against her father's wishes. You must tell me everything you know. "

His remarks were punctuated by many a brooding sigh.

There is a kind of cheeky domestic who, in such situations, assumes a knowing manner and encourages a man in what he wants to believe. Bennokimi was not such a one. She thought the match ideal, but she could not say so.

"My ladies are different from others I have served. Perhaps they were born different. They have never been much interested in the usual sort of thing. We who have been in their service -- even while their father was alive, we really had no tree to run to for shelter. Most of the other women decided fairly soon that there was no point in wasting their lives in the mountains, and they went away, wherever their family ties led them. Even people whose families had been close to the prince's for years and years -- they were not having an easy time of it, and most of them gave up and went away. And now that he is gone it is even worse. We wonder from one minute to the next who will be left. The ones who have stayed are always grumbling, and I am sure that my ladies are often hurt by the things they say. Back in the days when the prince was still with us, they say, well, he had his old-fashioned notions, and they had to be respected for what they were. My ladies were, after all, royal princesses, he was always saying, and there came a point at which a suitor had to be considered beneath them, and that was that; and so they stayed single. But now they are worse than single, they are completely alone in the world, and it would take a very cruel person to find fault if they were to do what everyone else does. And really, could anyone expect them to go through their lives as they are now? Even the monks who wander around gnawing pine needles -- even they have their different ways of doing things, without forgetting the Good Law. They cannot deny life itself, after all. I am just telling you what these women say. The older of my ladies refuses to listen to a word of it, at least as it has to do with her; but I gather she does hope that something can be found for her sister, some way to live an ordinary, respectable life. She has watched you climb over these mountains year after year and she knows that not many people would have assumed responsibility as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I really do think that she is ready to talk of the details, and all that matters is what you have in mind yourself. As for Prince Niou, she does not seem to think his letters serious enough to bother answering."

"I have told you of her father's last request. I was much moved by it, and I have vowed to go on seeing them. You might think that, from my point of view, either of your ladies would do as well as the other, and I really am very flattered that she should have such confidence in me. But you know, even a man who doesn't have much use for the things that excite most people will find himself drawn to a lady, and when that happens he does not suddenly go running after another -- though that would not be too difficult, I suppose, for the victim of a casual infatuation.

"But no. If only she would stop retreating and putting up walls between us. If only I could have her-here in front of me, to talk to about the little things that come and go. If so much did not have to be kept back.

"I am all by myself, and I always have been. I have no brother near enough my own age to talk to about the amusing things and the sad things that happen. You will say that I have a sister, but the things I really want to talk about are always an impossible jumble, and an empress is hardly the person to go to with them. You will think of my mother. It is true that she looks young enough to be my sister, but after all she is my mother. All the others seem so haughty and so far away. They quite intimidate me. And so I am by myself. The smallest little flirtation leaves me dumb and paralyzed; and when it seems that the time has come to show my feelings to someone I really care for, I am not up to the smallest gesture. I may be hurt, I may be furious, and there I stand like a post, knowing perfectly well how ridiculous I am.

"But let us talk of Niou. Don't you suppose that problem could be left to me? I promise that I will do no one any harm."

It would be far better than this lonely life, thought the old woman, wishing she could tell him to go ahead. But they were both so touchy. She thought it best to keep her own counsel.

Kaoru whiled away the time, thinking that he would like to stay the night and perhaps have the quiet talk of which he had spoken. For Oigimi the situation was next to intolerable. Though he had made it known only by indirection, his resentment seemed to be rising to an alarming pitch. The most trivial answer was almost more than she could muster. If only he would stay away from that one subject! In everything else he was a man of the most remarkable sympathy, a fact that only added to her agitation. She had someone open the doors to the chapel and stir the lamps, and withdrew behind a blind and a screen. There were also lights outside the chapel. He had them taken away -- they were very unsettling, he said, for they revealed him in shameful disorder -- and lay down near the screen. She had fruit and sweets brought to him, arranged in a tasteful yet casual manner. His men were offered wine and very tempting side dishes. They withdrew to a corridor, leaving the two alone for what they assumed would be a quiet, intimate conversation.

She was in great agitation, but in her manner there was something poignantly appealing that delighted and -- a pity that it should have been so -- excited him. To be so near, separated from her only by a screen, and to let the time go by with no perceptible sign that the goal was near -- it was altogether too stupid. Yet he managed an appearance of calm as he talked on of this amusing event and that melancholy one. There was much to interest her in what he said, but from behind her blinds she called to her women to come nearer. No doubt thinking that chaperones would be out of place, they pretended not to hear, and indeed withdrew yet further as they lay down to rest. There was no one to replenish the lamps before the holy images. Again she called out softly, and no one answered.

"I am not feeling at all well," she said finally, starting for an anteroom. "I think a little sleep might do me good. I hope you sleep well."

"Don't you suppose a man who has fought his way over mountains might feel even worse? But that's all right. Just having you here is enough. Don't go off and leave me."

He quietly pushed the screen aside. She was in precipitous flight through the door beyond.

"So this is what you mean by a friendly talk," she said angrily as he caught at her sleeve. Far from turning him away, her anger added to the fascination. "It is not at all what I would have expected."

"You seem determined not to understand what I mean by friendliness, and so I thought I would show you. Not what you would have expected -- and what, may I ask, _did_ you expect? Stop trembling. You have nothing to be afraid of. I am prepared to take my vow before the Blessed One here. I have done everything to avoid upsetting you. No one in the world can have dreamed what an eccentric affair this is. But I am an eccentric and a fool myself, and will no doubt continue to be so."

He stroked the hair that flowed in the wavering light. The softness and the luster were all that he could have asked for. Suppose someone with more active inclinations were to come upon this lonely, unprotected house -- there would be nothing to keep him from having his way. Had the visitor been anyone but himself, matters would by now have come to a showdown. His own want of decision suddenly revolted him. Yet here she was, weeping and wringing her hands, quite beside herself. He would have to wait until consent came of its own accord. Distressed at her distress, he sought to comfort her as best he could.

"I have allowed an almost indecent familiarity, and I have had no idea of what was going through your mind; and I may say that you have not shown a great deal of consideration, forcing me to display myself in these unbecoming colors. But I am at fault too. I am not up to what has to be done, and I am sorry for us both." It was too humiliating, that the lamplight should have caught her in somber, shabby gray.

"Yes, I have been inconsiderate, and I am ashamed and sorry. They give you a good excuse, those robes of mourning. But don't you think you might just possibly be making too much of them? You have seen something of me over the years, and I doubt if mourning gives you a right to act as if we had just been introduced. It is clever of you but not altogether convincing."

He told her of the many things he had found it so hard to keep to himself, beginning with that glimpse of the two princesses in the autumn dawn. She was in an agony of embarrassment. So he had had this store of secrets all along, and had managed to feign openness and indifference!

He now pulled a low curtain between them and the altar and lay down beside her. The smell of the holy incense, the particularly strong scent of anise, stabbed at his conscience, for he was more susceptible in matters of belief than most people. He told himself that it would be ill considered in the extreme, now of all times, when she was in mourning, to succumb to temptation; and he would be going against his own wishes if he failed to control himself. He must wait until she had come out of mourning. Then, difficult though she was, there would surely be some slight easing of the tensions.

Autumn nights are sad in the most ordinary of places. How much sadder in wailing mountain tempests, with the calls of insects sounding through the hedges. As he talked on of life's uncertain turns, she occasionally essayed an answer. He was touched and pleased. Her women, who had spread their bedclothes not far away, sensed that a happy arrangement had been struck up and withdrew to inner apartments. She thought of her father's admonitions. Strange and awful things can happen, she saw, to a lady who lives too long. It was as if she were adding her tears to the rushing torrent outside.

The dawn came on, bringing an end to nothing. His men were coughing and clearing their throats, there was a neighing of horses -- everything made him think of descriptions he had read of nights on the road. He slid back the door to the east, where dawn was in the sky, and the two of them looked out at the shifting colors. She had come out towards the veranda. The dew on the ferns at the shallow eaves was beginning to catch the light. They would have made a very striking pair, had anyone been there to see them.

"Do you know what _I_ would like? To be as we are now. To look out at the flowers and the moon, and be with you. To spend our days together, talking of things that do not matter."

His manner was so unassertive that her fears had finally left her. "And do you know what I would like? A little privacy. Here I am quite exposed, and a screen might bring us closer."

The sky was red, there was a whirring of wings close by as flocks of birds left their roosts. As if from deep in the night, the matin bells came to them faintly.

"Please go," she said with great earnestness. "It is almost daylight, and I do not want you to see me."

"You can't be telling me to push my way back through the morning mists? What would that suggest to people? No, make it look, if you will, as if we were among the proper married couples of the world, and we can go on being the curiosities we in fact seem to be. I promise you that I will do nothing to upset you; but perhaps I might trouble you to imagine, just a little, how genuine my feelings are."

"If what you say is true," she replied, her agitation growing as it became evident that he was in no hurry to leave, "then I am sure you will have your way in the future. But please, this morning, let me have _my_ way." She had to admit that there was little she could do.

"So you really are going to send me off into the dawn? Knowing that it is'new to me,' and that I am sure to lose my way?"

The crowing of a cock was like a summons back to the city.

"The things by which one knows the mountain village
Are brought together in these voices of dawn."
She replied:

"Deserted mountain depths where no birds sing,
I would have thought. But sorrow has come to visit."
Seeing her as far as the door to the inner apartments, he returned by the way he had come the evening before, and lay down; but he was not able to sleep. The memories and regrets were too strong. Had his emotions earlier been toward her as they were now, he would not have been as passive over the months. The prospect of going back to the city was too dreary to face.

Oigimi, in agony at the thought of what her women would have made of it all, found sleep as elusive. A very harsh trial it was, going through life with no one to turn to; and as if that huge uncertainty were not enough, there were these women with all their impossible suggestions. They as good as formed a queue, coming to her with proposals that had nothing to recommend them but the expediency of the moment; and if in a fit of inattention she were to accede to one of them, she would have shame and humiliation to look forward to. Kaoru did not at all displease her. The Eighth Prince had said more than once that if Kaoru should be inclined to ask her hand, he would not disapprove. But no. She wanted to go on as she was. It was her sister, now in the full bloom of youth, who must live a normal life. If the prince's thoughts in the matter could be applied to her sister, she herself would do everything she could by way of support. But who was to be her own support? She had only Kaoru, and, strangely, things might have been easier had she found herself in superficial dalliance with an ordinary man. They had known each other for rather a long time, and she might have been tempted to let him have his way. His obvious superiority and his aloofness, coupled with a very low view of herself, had left her prey to shyness. In timid retreat, it seemed, she would end her days.

She was near prostration, having spent most of the night weeping. She lay down in the far recesses of the room where her sister was sleeping. Nakanokimi was delighted, for she had been disturbed by that odd whispering among the women. She pulled back the coverlet and spread it over Oigimi. She caught the scent of her sister's robes. It was unmistakable, exactly the scent by which poor Wigbeard had been so sorely discommoded. Guessing what Oigimi would be going through, Nakanokimi pretended to be asleep.

Kaoru summoned Bennokimi and had a long talk with her. He permitted no suggestion of the romantic in the note he left for Oigimi.

She would happily have disappeared. There had been that silly little exchange about the trefoil knots. Would her sister think that she had meant by it to beckon him to within "two arms' lengths" ? Pleading illness, she spent the day alone

"But the services are almost on us," said the women, "and there is no one but you to tend to all these details. Why did you have to pick this particular moment to come down with something?"

Nakanokimi went on preparing the braids; but when it came to the rosettes of gold and silver thread, she had to admit incompetence. She did not even know where to begin. Then night came, and, under cover of darkness, Oigimi emerged, and the two sisters worked together on the intricacies of the rosettes.

A note came from Kaoru, but she sent back that she had been indisposed since morning. A most unseemly and childish way to behave, muttered her women.

And so they emerged from mourning. They had not wanted to think that they would outlive their father, and, so quickly, a whole year of months and days had passed. How strange, they sighed -- and their women had to sigh too -- how bleak and grim, that they should have lived on. But the robes of deepest mourning to which they had grown accustomed over the months were changed for lighter colors, and a freshness as of new life came over the house. Nakanokimi, at the best time of life, was the more immediately appealing of the two. Personally seeing to it that her hair was washed and brushed, Oigimi thought her so delightful that all the cares of these last months seemed to vanish. If only her hopes might be realized, if only Kaoru could be persuaded to look after the girl. Despite his evident reluctance, he was not, if pointed in the girl's direction, likely to find her a disappointment. There being no one else whom she could even consider, and therefore nothing more for her to do, she busied herself with ministering to her sister's needs, quite as if they were mother and daughter.

Kaoru paid a sudden visit. The Ninth Month, when the mourning robes toward which he had been so deferential would surely have been put away, still seemed an unacceptable distance in the future. He sent in word that he hoped as before to be favored with an interview. Oigimi sent back that she had not been well, and must ask to be excused.

He sent in again: "I had not been prepared for this obstinacy. And what sort of interpretation do you think your women are likely to put upon it?"

"You will understand, I am sure, that when a person comes out of mourning the grief floods back with more force than ever. I really must ask you to excuse me."

He called Bennokimi and went over the list of his complaints. Since he had all along seemed to the women their one hope in this impossible darkness, they had been telling one another how very nice it would be if he were to answer their prayers and set their lady up in a more becoming establishment. They had plotted ways of admitting him to her boudoir. Though not aware of the details, Oigimi had certain suspicions: given Kaoru's remarkable fondness for Bennokimi, and indeed their apparent fondness for each other, the old woman might have acquired sinister ideas, and because in old romances wellborn ladies _never_ threw themselves at men without benefit of intermediary, her women presented the weakest point in her defenses.

Kaoru was apparently embittered by her own reception of his overtures, and so perhaps the time had come to put her sister decisively forward as a substitute. He did not seem to be one who, properly introduced and encouraged, would incline toward unkindness even when he found himself in the presence of an ill-favored woman; and once he had had a glimpse of the beauty her sister was, he was sure to fall helplessly in love. No man, of course, would want to spring forward at the first gesture, quite as if he had been waiting for an invitation. This apparent reluctance was no doubt partly from a fear of being thought flighty and too susceptible.

Thus she turned the possibilities over in her mind. But would it not be a serious disservice to give Nakanokimi no hint of what she was thinking? In her sister's place, she could see she would be very much hurt indeed. So, in great detail, she offered her view of the matter.

"You will remember of course what Father said. We might be lonely for the rest of our lives, but we were not to demean ourselves and make ourselves ridiculous. We have a great deal to atone for, I think. It was we who kept him from making his peace at the end, and I have no reservations about a single word of his advice. And so loneliness does not worry me at all. But there are these noisy women, not giving me a minute's relief. They chatter on and on about my obstinacy. I must admit that they have a point. I must admit that it would be a tragedy for you to spend the rest of your days alone. If I could only do something for you, my dear -- if I only could make a decent match for you -- then I could tell myself I had done my duty, and it would not bother me in the least to be alone."

Nakanokimi replied with some bitterness. Whatever could her sister have in mind? "Do you really think Father was talking about you? No, I was the one he was worried about. I am the useless one, and he knew what a shambles I would make of things. You are missing the point completely: the point is that we will not be lonely as long as we have each other."

It was true, thought Oigimi, a wave of affection sweeping over her. "I'm sorry. I was upset and didn't think. These people say I am so difficult. That is the whole trouble." And she fell silent.

It was growing dark and Kaoru still had not left. Oigimi was more and more apprehensive. Bennokimi came in and talked on at great length of his perfectly understandable resentment. Oigimi did not answer. She could only sigh helplessly, and ask herself what possible recourse she had. If only she had someone to look to for advice! A father or a mother could have made a match for her, and she would have accepted it as the way of the world. She might have been unable herself to say yes or no, but that was the nature of things. She would have concealed the unfortunate facts from a world so ready to laugh. But these women -- they were old and thought themselves wise. Much pleased with each new discovery, they came to her one after another to tell her how fine a match it promised to be. Was she to take these opinions seriously? No, she was attended by crones, women with obsessions that made no allowance for her own feelings.

As good as clutching her by the hand and dragging her off, they would argue their various cases; and the result was that Oigimi withdrew into increasingly gloomy disaffection. Nakanokimi, with whom she was able to converse so freely on almost every subject, knew even less about this one than she, and, quietly uncomprehending, had no answer. A strange, sad fate ruled over her, Oigimi would conclude, turning away from the company.

Might she not change into robes a little more lively? pleaded her women. She was outraged -- it was as if they were intent on pushing her into the man's arms. And indeed what was to keep them from having their way? This tiny house, with everyone jammed in against everyone else, offered no better a hiding place than was granted the proverbial mountain pear. It had always been Kaoru's apparent intention to make no explicit overtures, inviting the mediation of this or that woman, but to proceed so quietly that people would scarcely know when he had begun. He had thought, and indeed said, that if she was unwilling he was prepared to wait indefinitely. But the old women were whispering noisily into one another's deaf ears. Perhaps they had been somewhat stupid from the outset, perhaps age had dulled their wits. Oigimi found it all very trying in either case.

She sought to communicate something of her distress to Bennokimi. "He _is_ different from other people, I suppose. Father always said so, and that is why we have become so dependent on him since Father died, and allowed him a familiarity that must seem almost improper. And now comes a turn I had not been prepared for. He seems very angry with me, and I cannot for the life of me see why. He must know that if I were in the least interested in the usual things I would most certainly not have tried

t him off. I have always been suspicious of them, and it is a disappointment that he should not seem to understand." She spoke with great hesitation.

"But there is my sister. It would be very sad if she were to waste the best part of her life. If I sometimes wish this house weren't quite so shabby and cramped, it is only because of her. He says he means to honor Father's wishes. Well, then, he should make no distinction between us. As far as I am concerned we share a single heart, whatever the outward appearances. I will do everything I possibly can. Do you suppose I might ask you to pass this on to him?"

"I have known your feelings all along," said Bennokimi, deeply moved, "and I have explained everything to him very carefully. But he says that a man does not shift his affections at will, and he has his friend Niou to think of; and he has offered to do what he can to arrange matters for my younger lady. I must say I think he is behaving very well. Even when they have parents working for them, two sisters cannot reasonably expect to make good matches at the same time; and here you have your chance. I may seem forward when I say so, but you _are_ alone in the world, and I worry a great deal about you. It is true that no one can predict what may happen years from now; but at the moment I think both of you have very lucky stars to thank. I certainly would not want to be understood as arguing that you should go against your father's last wishes. Surely he meant no more than that you should not make marriages unworthy of you. He so often said that if the young gentleman should prove willing and he himself might see one of you happily married, then he could die in peace. I have seen so many girl s, high and low, who have lost their parents and gone completely to ruin, married to the most impossible men. I wonder if there has been a time in my whole long life when it hasn't been happening somewhere, and no one has ever found it in his heart to poke fun at them. And here you are -- a man made to order, a man of the most extraordinary kindness and feeling, comes with a proposal anyone would jump at. If you send him off in the name of this Buddha of yours -- well, I doubt that you will be rewarded with assumption into the heavens. You will still have the world to live with."

She seemed prepared to talk on indefinitely. Angry and resentful, Oigimi lay with her face pressed against a pillow. Nakanokimi led her off to bed, with lengthy commiserations. Bennokimi's remarks had left her feeling threatened, but it was not a house in which she could make a great show of going into retreat. It was, indeed, a house that offered no refuge. Spreading a clean, soft quilt over Nakanokimi, she lay down some slight distance away, the weather still being warm.

Bennokimi told Kaoru of the conversation. What, he asked himself, could have turned a young girl so resolutely away from the world? Was it that she had learned too well from her saintly father the lesson of the futility of things? But they were kindred spirits, he and she, and he could most certainly not accuse her of impertinent trifling.

"And so I suppose from now on I will have trouble even getting permission to speak to her? Take me into her room, just this one evening."

Having made up her mind to help him, Bennokimi sent most of the other women off to bed. A few of them had been made partners in the conspiracy.
As the night drew on, a high wind set the badly fitted shutters to rattling. It was fortunate -- not as much stealth was needed as on a quieter night. She led him to the princesses' room. The two were sleeping together; but they always slept together, and she could hardly have separated them for this one night. Kaoru knew them well enough, she was sure, to tell one from the other.

But Oigimi, still awake, sensed his approach, and slipped out through the bed curtains. Poor Nakanokimi lay quietly sleeping. What was to be done? Oigimi was in consternation. If only the two of them could hide together -- but she was quaking with fear, and could not bring herself to go back. Then, in the dim light, a figure in a singlet pulled the curtains aside and came into the room quite as if he owned it. Whatever would her hapless sister think if she were to awaken? thought Oigimi, huddled in the cramped space between a screen and a shabby wall. Nakanokimi had rebelled at the very hint that there might be plans for her -- and how shocked and resentful she would be if it were to appear now that they had all plotted against her. Oigimi was quite beside herself. It had all happened because they had no one to protect them from a harsh world. Her sorrow and her longing for her father were so intense that it was as if he were here beside her now, exactly as he had made his last farewell in the evening twilight.

Thinking that the old woman had arranged it so, Kaoru was delighted to find a lady sleeping alone. Then he saw that it was not Oigimi. It was a fresher, more winsome, superficially more appealing young lady. Nakanokimi was awake now, and in utter terror. She had been no part of a plot against him, poor girl, it was clear; but pity for her was mixed with anger and resentment at the one who had fled. Nakanokimi was no stranger, of course, but he did not take much comfort from that fact. Mixed with the chagrin was a fear lest Oigimi think he had been less than serious. Well, he would let the night pass, and if it should prove his fate to marry Nakanokimi -- she was not, as he had noted, a stranger. Thus composing himself, he lay down beside her, and passed the night much as he had the earlier one with her sister.

Their plans had worked beautifully, said the old woman. But where might Nakanokimi be? It would be odd of her, to say the least, to spend the night with the other two.

"Well, wherever she is, I'm sure she knows what she's doing."

"Such a fine young gentleman, making our wrinkles go away just by glancing in our direction. He's exactly what every woman has always asked for. Why does she have to be so standoffish?"

"Oh, no reason, really. Something's been at her, as they say. She's hexed."

Some of the remarks that came from the toothless mouths were not entirely charitable.

They did not pass unchallenged. "Hexed! Now that's a nice thing to say, as good as asking for bad luck. No, I can tell you what it is. She had a strange bringing up, that's all, way off here in the hills with no one to tell her about things. Men scare her. You'll see -- she'll be friendly enough when she gets used to him. It's bound to happen."

"Let's hope it happens soon, and something good happens to us for a change."

So they talked on as they got ready for bed, and soon there were loud snores.

Though "the company" may not have had a great deal to do with the matter, it seemed to Kaoru that the autumn night had been quick to end.

He was beginning to wonder which of the princesses appealed to him more. If, at his departure, his desires were left unsatisfied, he had no one to blame but himself.

"Remember me," he said as he left Nakanokimi, "and do not deceive yourself that she is someone to imitate." And he vowed that they would meet again.

It had been like a strange dream. Mustering all his self-control, for he wanted to have another try at the icy one, he went back to the room assigned him the night before and lay down.

Bennokimi hurried to the princesses' room. "Very, very strange," she said, thinking Oigimi the one she saw there. "Where will my other lady be?"

Nakanokimi lay consumed with embarrassment. What could it all mean? She was angry, too, reading deep significance into her sister's remarks of the day before.

As the morning grew brighter, the cricket came from the wall.

Oigimi knew what her sister would be thinking, and the pity and the sorrow were too much for her. Neither sister was able to speak. So the last veil had been stripped away, thought Oigimi. One thing was clear: theirs was a world in which not a single unguarded moment was possible.

Bennokimi went to Kaoru's room and at length learned of the uncommon obstinacy of which he had been the victim. She was very sorry for him, and she thought he had a right to be angry.

"I have put up with it all because I have thought there might be hope. But after last night, I really feel as if I should jump in the river. The one thing that holds me back is the memory of their father and how he hated to leave them behind. Well, that is that. I shall not bother them again-not, of course, that I am likely to forget the insult. I gather that Niou is forging ahead without a glance to the left or the right. I can understand how a young lady in her place might feel. A man is a man, and she might as well aim for the highest. I think I shall not show myself again for all of you to laugh at. My only request is that you talk about this idiocy as little as possible."

Today there were no regretful looks backward. How sad, whispered the women, for both of them.

Oigimi too was asking herself what had happened. Supposing his anger now included her sister -- what were they to do? And how awful to have all these women with their wise airs, not one of them in fact understanding the slightest part of her confusion. The thoughts were still whirling through her head when a letter came from Kaoru. Surprisingly, she was pleased, more pleased, indeed, than usual. As if he did not know the season, he had attached a leafy branch only one sprig of which had turned crimson. Folded in an envelope, the note was quiet and laconic, and showed little trace of resentment.

"My mountain ladies have dyed it colors twain.
And which of the twain, please tell me, is the deeper?"
He apparently meant to pretend that nothing of moment had occurred. Uncertainty clutched at her once more; and here were these noisy women trying to goad her into a reply. She would have left it to her sister but for a fear that the poor girl was already at the limits of endurance. Finally, after many false starts, she sent back a verse:

"Whatever the'ladies' meant, the answer is clear:
The newer of these hues is far the deeper."
It had been jotted down with an appearance of unconcern, and it pleased him. He decided that his resentment was after all finite.

Two ladies with but a single heart, Bennokimi had told him -- there had been more than one hint that Oigimi meant him to have her sister in her place. His refusal to take the hint, it now came to him, accounted for last night's behavior. He had been unkind. A wave of pity came over him. If he had caused her to think him unfeeling, then his hopes would come to nothing. And no doubt Bennokimi, who had been so good about passing his messages on, was beginning to think him untrustworthy. Well, he had let himself be trapped, the mistake had been his own. If people chose to laugh at him as the sort that is constantly forsaking the world, he could only let them laugh. It was worse than they knew. He was a laughable little boat indeed, paddling out only to come back time and time again!

So he fretted the night away. There was a bright moon in the dawn sky as he went to call on Niou.
Upon the burning of his mother's house in Sanjo, he had moved with her to Rokujo. Niou having rooms near at hand, he was a frequent caller, much, it would seem, to Niou's satisfaction. It was the perfect place to make one forget the troubles of the world. Even the flowers below the verandas were somehow different. The swaying grasses and trees were as elsewhere -- and yet they too were different. The clear moon reflected from the brook was as in a picture. Kaoru had expected to find his friend enjoying the moonlight, and he was not disappointed. Startled at the fragrance that came in on the breeze, Niou slipped into casual court dress and otherwise put himself in order. Kaoru had stopped midway up the stairs. Not asking him to come further, Niou stepped out and leaned against the railing, and in these attitudes they talked idly of this and that. The Uji affair always on his mind, he reproved his friend for various inadequacies as a messenger. This was not at all fair, thought Kaoru. He was incapable of seizing the first thing he wanted for himself, and he could hardly be expected to worry about others. But then it occurred to him that his own cause might be advanced if matters were arranged satisfactorily for Niou, and he talked with unusual candor of what he thought might be done.

A mist came in as the dawn brightened. The air was chilly, and with the moon now hidden the shade of the trees was dark. It was a pleasant scene despite the gloom.

"The time is coming," said the prince, "when you will not get off so easily for leaving me behind." No doubt the gloom brought sad Uji very near. Since Kaoru gave no evidence of eagerness, Niou offered a poem:

"All the wide field abloom with maiden flowers!
Why must you string a rope to keep us out?"
In a similarly bantering tone, Kaoru replied:

"The maiden flowers on the misty morning field
Are set aside for those who bestir themselves.
And," he said, smiling, "there are not many such enterprising people."
"How utterly shameless!"

Though long importuned by his friend, Kaoru had wondered whether Nakanokimi could meet this most rigorous of tests. Now he knew that she was at least the equal of her sister. He had feared, too, that her disposition might upon close inspection prove to have its defects, and he was sure now that there was nothing for which he need apologize. Though it might seem cruel to go against Oigimi's wishes, his own affections did not seem prepared to jump lightly to her sister. He must see that Nakanokimi went to his friend. So he would overcome the resentment of both of them, prince and princess.

Unaware of these thoughts, Niou was calling him shameless. It was very amusing.

"We must remember," said Kaoru, his manner somewhat patronizing, "that you have given us little cause to admire you for your fidelity."

"Just you wait and see," answered Niou most earnestly. "I have never liked anyone else half as well, I swear it."

"And I see few signs that they are about to capitulate. You have given me a formidable assignment."

Yet he proceeded to describe in great detail his thoughts about an expedition to Uji.

The twenty-eighth, when the equinox festival ended, was a lucky day. With great stealth, including every possible precaution against attracting notice, Kaoru led his friend forth towards Uji. They would be in trouble were Niou's mother, the empress, to learn of the excursion. She would be certain to forbid it. But Niou was determined. Though Kaoru agreed with him in wanting to make it appear that they were off for nowhere at all, the pretense was not a simple one. They would surely be noticed if they tried to cross the Uji River. Forgoing the splendor of Yugiri's villa on the south bank, therefore, Kaoru left Niou at a manor house he happened to own near the Eighth Prince's villa and went on alone. No one was likely to challenge them now, but it seemed that Kaoru did not want even Wigbeard, who might be patrolling the grounds, to know of Niou's prese, His Lordship is here, His Lordship is here! " As usual the women bustled around getting ready to receive him. The princesses were mildly annoyed. But surely, thought Oigimi, she had hinted broadly enough that his affections should rest upon someone other than herself. Nakanokimi, for her part, knew that she was not the one he was attracted to, and that she had nothing to fear from the visit. But since that painful evening she had not felt as close to her sister. A stiff reserve had grown up between them, indeed, and Nakanokimi refused to communicate except through intermediaries. How would it all end? sighed the women who carried her messages.

Niou was led in under cover of darkness.

Kaoru summoned Bennokimi. "Let me have a single word with the older of your ladies. I know when I have been refused, but I can't very well just run away. And then perhaps, a little later, I may ask you to let me in as you did the other night?"

His manner offered no cause for suspicion. It made little difference, thought the old woman, which of the two girls she took him to. She told Oigimi of the request. Oigimi was pleased and relieved -- so his attention had turned to her sister, just as she had hoped. She closed and barred the door to the veranda, leaving open the door through which he would pass on his way to her sister's; and she was ready to receive him.

"A word is all I need," he said somewhat testily, "and it is ridiculous that I must shout it to the whole world. Open the door just a little. Can't you guess how uncomfortable I am out here?"

"I can hear you perfectly well," she said, leaving the door closed.

Perhaps his affection for her had died and he felt it his duty to say goodbye? They were not, after all, strangers. She must not offend him, she concluded, having come forward a little, but she must watch the time. He clutched at her sleeve through a crack in the door and began railing at her as he pulled her towards him. She was outraged. What was the man not capable of? But she must humor him and hurry him off to her sister. Her innate gentleness came over to him. Quietly and without seeming to insist, she asked that he be to her sister as he had thought of being to herself.

Niou meanwhile was following instructions. He made his way to the door by which Kaoru had entered that other night. He signaled with his fan and Bennokimi came to let him in. How amusing, he thought, that his turn should have come to travel this well-traveled route. In complete ignorance of what was happening, Oigimi still sought to hurry Kaoru on his way. Though he could not keep back a certain exhilaration at being party to such an escapade, he was also moved to pity. He would have no excuse to offer when she learned how effectively she had been duped; and so he said:

"Niou kept pestering me to bring him along, and I couldn't go on saying no. He is here with me. I suspect that by now he will have made his way in. You must forgive him for not having introduced himself. And I rather imagine that talkative old woman of yours will have been asked to show him the way. So here I am left dangling. You can all have a good laugh over me."

This was a bit more than she had been prepared for. Indeed, she was aghast, and wondered whether her senses might have deserted her. "Well! I _have_ been nai%ve. Your powers of invention are so far beyond me that I doubt if I could find words to describe them. I have let you see quite through me, and you have learned how stupid and careless I am. This knowledge of your superiority must give you much satisfaction."

"I have nothing to say. I could apologize all night, and little good it would do me. Pinch me and claw me, if you are so furious. I quite understand. You were aiming high, and you have learned that we are not always masters of our fate. I am inclined to suspect that he has been drawn in another direction all along. I do feel sorry for you, believe me. And, do you know, I feel a little sorry for myself too, left out in the cold with requests that have taken me nowhere at all. But be that as it may, you would do well to accept what has happened, maybe you could even coax forth a thought or two about us, you and me. We may know that your door is locked, but can you imagine that other people will believe in the purity that so distinguishes us? Do you think that my royal friend, for instance, who persuaded me to act as his guide this evening -- do you think he can imagine the possibility of such a pointless and useless night?"

He seemed prepared to break the door in. It still seemed best to humor him.

"This'fate' you speak of is not easy to grasp, and I cannot pretend to know much about it. I only know that'tears block off the unknown way ahead.' It is a nightmare, trying to guess what you mean to do next. If people choose to remember my sister and me as some sort of case in point, I am sure it will be to add us to the list of ridiculous women who are always turning up in old stories. And are you prepared to tell me what your friend means to do now that the two of you have been so clever? Please, I beg of you, do not make things worse, do not confuse us further. If I should survive this crisis, and I am not at all sure that I will, I may one day be able to compose myself for a talk with you. At the moment I am feeling very upset and unwell, and think I must rest. Leave me alone, if you do not mind."

She clearly _was upset, and that she should be so rational in spite of her distress made him feel his own inadequacy.

"I have done everything imaginable to follow your wishes, and I have made a fool of myself every step of the way. I have done everything, and you seem to find me insufferable. Well, I will go -- disappear might be the better expression." After a moment he continued: "But even if you are not feeling well, we can at least go on talking through the door. Please do not run away.

He released her sleeve and was delighted to see that she did not withdraw very far." Just stay there and be a comfort through the night. I would not dream of asking more."

It was a difficult, sleepless night. In the roar of the wind and water, which seemed to rise as the night advanced, he was like a pheasant without its mate.

The first signs of dawn came over the sky, and as always the monastery bells were ringing. His late-sleeping friend had still not left Nakanokimi's side. In some disquiet, Kaoru gave a summoning cough. It was an unusual situation.

"A futile night. The guide of yestereve

Seems doomed to wander lost down the twilight road. I cannot believe that you have heard of anything quite like it."

She replied in a voice so low that he could scarcely hear:

"You walk a road you have chosen for yourself,
While helplessly we stumble on in darkness."
All his impatience came back. "Can you not be persuaded, please, to dismantle a few of these unnecessary defenses?"

As the sky grew brighter Niou emerged, and with him a quiet fragrance that cast just the right veil of delicacy over the events of the night before. The old women were open-mouthed. But they quickly found comfort. The other young gentleman would surely have all the right motives for his conduct.

Niou and Kaoru hurried back to the city before daylight overtook them. The return journey seemed far longer than had the way to Uji. Always aware of the obstacles that kept a man of his rank from embarking on carefree outings, Niou had already begun to lament" the nights to come. " The streets were still deserted when they arrived back at Nijo. Ordering the carriage drawn up at the veranda, they slipped indoors, smiling at the strange, ladylike vehicle that had guarded their incognito.

"If you were to ask me, I would say that you had done your duty most admirably," said Kaoru, letting fall no hint of the grotesque arrangements he himself had made.
Niou hurried off to compose a note.

The sisters were in a daze. Nakanokimi was angry and sullen: so her sister had had these plans and had not permitted her an inkling of them. Oigimi, for her part, unable to find a convenient way to protest her innocence, could only sigh at the thought of how just this resentment was. The old women looked from one to the other in search of an explanation for this startling turn of events; but the lady who should have been their strength seemed lost to the world, and they could only go on wondering.

Oigimi opened the note and showed it to her sister, but Nakanokimi lay with her face pressed against her sleeve. "What a long time they are taking with their answer," thought the messenger.

This was Niou's verse:

"You cannot think that a trifling urge induced me
To brave, for you, that tangled, dew-drenched path?"
The accomplished hand, ever more remarkable, had delighted them back in the days when it had been of no particular concern to them. Now it was a source of apprehension. Oigimi did not think it seemly to step forward and answer in her sister's place. She limited herself to pressing the claims of propriety, and finally persuaded Nakanokimi to put together a note. They rewarded the messenger with a woman's robe in the wildaster combination and a pair of doubly lined trousers. The messenger, a court page whom Niou often made use of and who would be unlikely to attract notice, seemed reluctant to accept the gifts, which they therefore wrapped in a cloth parcel and handed to his man. Having been at such pains to make the mission inconspicuous, Niou was annoyed. He blamed the officious old woman of the evening before.

He asked Kaoru to be his guide again that evening.

"I am really very sorry, but I have an engagement at the Reizei Palace from which I cannot ask to be excused."

"So it is with my worthy friend -- not at all interested in the most interesting things in life."

At Uji, Oigimi had been the first to succumb. Could she turn him away on no better grounds than that he was not the suitor she had had in mind for her sister? The house was badly equipped for decking out a nuptial chamber, but she managed to make do rather well with the rustic furnishings at hand. In control of herself once more, she was pleased that

Niou should come hurrying down the long road to Uji, and at the same time she could not help wondering that her plans had gone so wildly astray. Nakanokimi, still in a daze, gave herself up to the women who had undertaken to dress her for the night. The sleeves of her crimson robe were damp with tears.

The more composed of the sisters was also in tears. "I cannot believe I have much longer to live, and I think only of you. These people have worn my ears out telling me what a fine match it is. Well, I have said to myself, they are older and more experienced, and probably they are right, at least as the world sees things. And so I put together a small amount of resolve -- not that I pretend to know a great deal -- and told myself that I was _not_ going to leave you unprotected. But I never dreamed that things could go so horribly awry. People talk about matches that are fated to be, and I suppose this is one of them. I am as upset as you are, you must believe me. When you have calmed yourself a little I shall try to prove that I knew nothing at all about it. Please don't be angry with me. The time will come when you will be sorry if you are."

She stroked her sister's hair as she spoke. Nakanokimi did not answer. Her mind was jumping from thought to thought. If her sister was so worried about her now, it did not seem likely that she had behaved with any sort of deliberate malice. She herself was only making things worse. They were fools for the world to laugh at, both of them, and there was no point in adding to her sister's unhappiness.

Even in a state of something near shock she had been very beautiful. Tonight, more in possession of herself, she was still more of a delight. Niou's heart ached at the thought of how long, and for him how strewn with obstacles, the road to Uji was. He made promise after promise. Nakanokimi was neither pleased nor moved. She was merely bewildered -- men were quite beyond her. All maidens are shy; but shyness has its limits when a maiden, however pampered and sheltered, has lived in a house with brothers. Our princess, though scarcely pampered, had grown up in these secluded mountains, far from the greater world; and the timidity brought on by this unexpected event made it difficult for her to force her way through the tiniest answer. He would think her in every respect queer and countrified, entirely unlike other ladies of his acquaintance; and she was, in every respect, the quicker and more accomplished of the two sisters.

The women reminded them of the rice cakes that are customary on the third night. Yes -- it was a form that must be observed, thought Oigimi. She put her sister to work. Nakanokimi was of course a novice in such matters, and Oigimi too, doing her best to play the part of the older sister, felt herself flushing scarlet. How ridiculous they must seem to these women! But in fact the women were entranced. This calm elegance, they thought, was what one expected of an eldest daughter, and at the same time it testified to her concern and affection for her sister.

A letter came from Kaoru, written in a careful cursive hand on rather ordinary Michinoku paper. "I thought of calling last night, but it is clear that my humble efforts are bringing no rewards. I must confess a certain resentment. I know that there will be all manner of errands to see to this evening, but the memory of the other night leaves me squirming. And so I shall bide my time."

In several boxes he sent Bennokimi numerous bolts of cloth, for the women, he said. It would seem that, relying on what his mother happened to have at hand, he had not been as lavish as he would have wished to be. Lengths of undyed silk, plain and figured, were hidden beneath two tastefully finished robes and singlets. At the sleeve of a singlet was a poem, somewhat old-fashioned, it might have seemed:

"We did not share a bed, I hear you say.
But we _were_ together, that I must insist."
How very threatening. And yet, in some discomfiture, Oigimi had to grant his point: neither she nor her sister had any defenses left. Some of the messengers ran off while she was still puzzling over her answer. She detained the lowest-ranking among them until she had a poem to give him.

"No barrier, perhaps, between our hearts;
But say not that our sleeves caress each other."
It was an ordinary poem, showing, however, traces of her agitation. He was touched. He thought he could see in it honest and unaffected feelings.

Meanwhile Niou was beside himself. He was at the palace and there seemed no chance of escaping. His mother had taken advantage of his presence to chide him for his lengthy absences. "Here you are still single, and people tell me that you are already beginning to acquire a name for yourself as a lover. I do not like it at all. Do not, if you please, make a career of it. Your father is no happier than I am."

Niou withdrew to his private chambers. Kaoru came upon him sunk in thought, having finished a letter to Uji. The visit delighted him. Here was someone who understood.

"What am I to do? It is already dark, and -- really, what am I to do?"

Kaoru saw a chance to explore his friend's intentions. "We haven't been seeing much of you lately, and your mother will not be at all happy if you go running off again. The ladies have been handing little rumors around. I can already hear the scolding I've let myself in for."

"Yes, there is the problem of my good mother. She has just annihilated me, as a matter of fact. Those women must be lying to her. What have I done, after all, that the whole world should be criticizing me? Life is not easy when your father wears a crown, that I can tell you." His sighs did suggest that he found his wellborn lot a sad one.

Kaoru was beginning to feel sorry for him. "Well, you will have a scene on your hands whether you go or whether you stay. If there is to be carnage, I am prepared to immolate myself. Suppose we think of a horse for getting over Mount Kohata. It will attract attention, of course."

The night was blacker and blacker, Niou more and more nervous; but finally he made his departure, on horseback, as Kaoru had suggested.

"I think," said Kaoru, seeing him off, "that it would be better for me to stay behind and do what I can to cover the rear."
He went from Niou's apartments to the empress's audience chamber.

"So he has run off again," said she. "I cannot understand him. Has he no notion of what people will be thinking? I am the one who will suffer when his father hears of it and concludes that someone has been remiss."

She was the mother of a considerable band of grown children, and she only seemed younger as the years went by. No doubt her oldest daughter, the First Princess, was very much like her. He thought it a great pity that the occasion had been denied him to approach the daughter, if only to hear her voice, as he was now approaching the mother. It was probably in such a situation, he mused -- when the lady was neither distant nor yet near enough to come at a summons -- that the amorously inclined young men of the world tended to have improper thoughts. Was there anyone as eccentric as he? And yet even he, once his affections had been engaged, found it impossible to detach them. Here among the empress's attendants was not a single lady who could be called wanting in sensitivity or elegance. Each had her own merits, and several were outstandingly beautiful. But he was propriety itself towards all of them, determined that none should excite him -- and this despite the fact that several had made advances. Since the empress held court with such quiet dignity, nothing was allowed to appear on the surface; but women have their ways, and there were those in her retinue who let slip hints that they found him interesting. He for his part was sometimes amused and sometimes touched, and through all these trifling encounters there ran an awareness of evanescence.

Oigimi was in despair. Kaoru had made such a thing of the night before them. The hours passed, and then came his letter. So Niou's fickleness and thoughtlessness were exactly as the world had proclaimed them to be. Then, at about midnight, he came in upon a rising wind, a most pleasing figure enveloped in a rich perfume. How could she be angry with him? And the bride herself -- unbending a little now, she seemed to understand somewhat better what was expected of her. She was at her most beautiful. He even thought her, carefully groomed for the occasion, an improvement over the night before. Far from disappointing to one who was always surrounded by beauties, her face, her bearing, everything about her seemed more delightful on close inspection -- and how could she fail to have these toothless rustic faces wreathed in smiles? She was lovely, the women said to one another, and it would have been a terrible pity had some ordinary man come for her. Fate had finally done them a good turn. And they grumbled that their other lady should still be so unconscionably aloof in her treatment of the other young gentleman. Observing how these persons well past their prime sewed and embroidered bright, flowery things that did not serve their venerable years, how there was not one among them who could escape charges of decking herself out in grotesque brilliance, Oigimi feared that she too was passing her prime. Each day she saw a more emaciated face in her mirror. Who among her women thought herself uncomely? Each of them brushed thin hair over her forehead, unable to observe the strange prospect she afforded from the rear. Each painted herself over with bright cosmetics. Oigimi lay gazing vacantly out at the garden. Was she prey to self-deception when she told herself that she had not decayed to any alarming degree, that her face was still not too sadly changed and wasted? The ordeal of appearing before a fine young gentleman would be worse as time went by, the ravages would be all too evident in a year or two. Youth -- how very fleeting and uncertain it was! She looked at her thin hands and wrists, and thought of him and the world and gazed sadly out at the garden.

It had not been easy to win even this small measure of freedom, sighed Niou; and he could expect even less in the future. He told Nakanokimi of his mother's sharp words." There may be times when I will not be able to come, however much I may want to, and you are not to let them worry you. Would I have gone to such trouble if I had the slightest intention of neglecting you? I literally threw myself to the winds tonight, and that was because I did not want you to come to the wrong conclusions. Things will not always be this complicated. I will find a way, somehow, to bring you nearer."

So he said, with apparent sincerity. But here he was already thinking of times, rather extended periods, evidently, when he would not be able to come. Did she not already have a sign that reports about him were true? She was deeply troubled, by his words and by an awareness of how weak her own position was. As dawn began to come over the sky, he opened a side door and invited her out. The layers of mist delighted him even more than in a familiar setting. As always, the little faggot boats rowed out into the mists, leaving faint white traces behind them. The strangeness of the scene spoke strongly to his refined sensibilities. The sky was lighter at the mountain ridge. The most coddled and pampered of ladies, he thought, could scarcely be the superior of the princess beside him. Perhaps it was family pride that made him think of his own sister, the First Princess. The night, over so quickly, had left him longing to explore these gentle charms more carefully. The roar of the waters was loud, and as the mists cleared from the moldering old bridge the riverbank seemed wilder, more wasted. How had they been able to pass the years in such a place?

Nakanokimi was apologizing inwardly for her rustic dwelling. What had happened was beyond her maddest dreams: before her was every young lady's notion of the ideal prince; and he had made his vows for this life and all the lives to come. Strangely, she felt more at ease with Niou, though she was dazzled, than she had with Kaoru, the only other young man she had known. Kaoru was a chilly young man whose thoughts always seemed to be elsewhere. She had thought Niou unapproachable because of the difference in their stations, and she had had difficulty answering even the briefest and most casual of his notes. How strange that she should be upset at the prospect of not seeing him again for some days!

His attendants were noisily coughing and clearing their throats in an effort to hasten him on his way. He too was in rather a hurry, for he did not want to arrive home in the middle of the busy day. He told her over and over again how he hated the thought that he would not see her on each of the nights to come.

Turning back in the doorway, he handed her a farewell poem:

"The lady at the bridge may steep her sleeves
In lonely midnight tears -- but not for long."
This was the reply:

"That you will come again I do believe.
But must I wait for visits far between?"
Although she did not complain, her very apparent distress quite stabbed at his heart. He was such a fine figure in the morning sunlight that the young women of the house were near swooning. Having seen him on his way, Nakanokimi had as a secret memento the perfume he had left behind (and perhaps it brought new stirrings of the heart).

The women were taking advantage of this first opportunity to see him in broad daylight. "The other young gentleman is such a kind soul," they said, "but there is something a little withdrawn about him, a little notquite-there. Of course we _know_ that this young gentleman is more important, and we may just possibly be a little partial."

Remembering Nakanokimi's distress, Niou was seized with an almost uncontrollable urge to turn back. Indeed, his want of composure was almost ludicrously evident to his men. But he had to think of appearances. Once he was back in the city it was not easy for him to get away again. Every day he sent letters to Uji. Oigimi thought his sincerity beyond doubting; and yet, as the days went by and he failed to appear in person, she had to sigh that her sister, whom she had wanted above all to shield from unhappiness, should now be unhappier than herself. She managed an outward calm, for to show her disquiet would be to send her sister into deeper gloom. On one score her resolve was now firm: she would not allow any man to bring this sort of uncertainty into _her_ life.

Kaoru kept a close watch over his friend and offered repeated promptings. He knew how things would be at Uji, and much of the responsibility was, after all, his own. But evidence of Niou's concern gradually put his mind at rest.

The Ninth Month was half over. Those autumn mountains were much on Niou's mind. One evening, as dark clouds brought threats of rain, his restlessness had him on the point (impossible though he knew the thought to be) of setting forth unassisted. Having guessed that this would be the case, Kaoru stopped by to urge him on. "And how," he said, "will things be in rainy Furu?"

Niou was delighted. Would his friend go with him? They set out as before in a single carriage. How much unhappier Nakanokimi must be than he himself, said Niou as they fought their way through the mountain tangles. He could talk of nothing but his remorse and his pity for her. Wan twilight enveloped the sere landscape of late autumn, and a chilly rain dampened their clothes; and the fragrance the two of them sent out made the rustics along the way start up in surprise. It was as if from another world. At Uji the old women who had been complaining of Niou's heartlessness were all smiles as they readied a sitting room. Several nieces and daughters who had been in court service had been called in to help. Long contemptuous of the Uji princesses and their countrified way of life, these self-satisfied women were reduced to silence by the wondrous visit. Oigimi too was pleased: they could not have chosen a better moment. At the same time she was embarrassed and somewhat annoyed that Niou's rather pompous friend should have come with him. Then, presently, as she watched the two of them, she had to change her mind in this matter too. Kaoru was a most unusual young man: he had a quiet seriousness that put him in the sharpest contrast with Niou.

Niou was received with elaborate hospitality which made tasteful use of the special resources of the district. Kaoru for his part was happy to be treated as one of the family, though less happy, as the hours passed, at being left in the reception room. Surely, he thought, something cozier might be arranged. Oigimi at length took pity on him and let him speak to her through curtains.

"How long does this have to go on? 'I gave it a try, to which I proved unequal.'"

Oigimi had to grant his point; but her sister's predicament had left her thinking that relations between husband and wife must be the bleakest the world has to offer. How could she even consider giving herself to a man? The first overtures, capable of arousing such tenderness, must lead to unhappiness later. No, it would be better for them to go on as they were, neither of them demeaning the other and neither going flagrantly against the other's wishes. Her resolve was firmer than ever. He asked how Niou had been comporting himself. Circumspectly, she told him what had taken place. He assured her that his friend's intentions were serious, and that he would keep an alert watch.

"When all of this torment is over, and we have regained our composure," she said, more affably than was her custom, "we must have a good talk."

She did not, it was true, flee from him in the cruelest and most conclusive manner, and yet her door was closed. She would not forgive him easily, he knew, if he tried to break it down. No doubt she had her own counsels to keep, and there was no question whatever of her scattering her favors elsewhere. And so, with his usual self-control, he braved the chill that emanated from her and sought to sooth the turmoil within himself.

"But it is not at all satisfying, you know, to have to talk to a door. Might I just possibly be favored as I was the other night?"

"I am afraid that my mirror offers me'an uglier visage' each morning. I would not, after all, like to see disgust written large on your own visage. And do you know, I cannot think why that should be." There was a trace of laughter in her voice which he found wonderfully appealing.

"And so I am to be forever at the mercy of these whims of yours?" Once again they spent the night as do the pheasants.

"I am jealous of him," said Niou to Nakanokimi, not dreaming that his friend was being treated like the merest lodger, "throwing himself about as if he owned the place."

A very curious thing to say, thought Nakanokimi.

It was unfair, Niou was thinking, that he must rush off after having braved such difficulties. Unaware of these regrets, the sisters were left to lament the uncertainty of their situation. They would be grateful if they could but escape the ridicule of the world. It was, all in all, a singularly trying and painful relationship, sighed Niou. In the whole capital there was not one spot where he might hide her. Yugiri occupied the Rokujo mansion and had given evidence of displeasure that the proposed match between his daughter Rokunokimi and Niou, on which he had placed such hopes, seemed to interest Niou not in the slightest. There were signs, too, that Yugiri was spreading rumors about the boy's waywardness, and had taken his accusations to the emperor and empress themselves; and if Niou were now to present them with a daughter-in-law to whom they had not been introduced, the embarrassment was certain to be extreme. Had she been the object of a passing infatuation, he would happily have installed her as a lady-in-waiting; but this was a far more serious affair. The emperor seemed to be turning the problem of the succession over in his mind, and if all went well Niou would soon be in a position to accord her the highest honors; but he had to live with the knowledge that, whatever bright hopes he might have, he was for the moment powerless.

Kaoru was making plants to bring Oigimi into the city once the Sanjo mansion was rebuilt. Here was poor Niou, so enamored of Nakanokimi, so fearful of spying eyes, chafing so (and she too) at the infrequency of his visits to Uji -- the life of the commoner did have its advantages. Kaoru even considered letting the secret out, telling the empress and the rest about Niou's furtive expeditions. There would be a great stir for a time, unfortunate, to be sure, but Nakanokimi would suffer no permanent injury. It was too cruel that Niou could not spend a whole night at Uji -- and Nakanokimi deserved, and indeed had every right to demand, a position of dignity. No, he concluded, he did not think it his duty to keep the secret.

Winter was coming on. Winter garments and other provisions against the cold would be needed at Uji, and who if not he could be counted upon to supply them? Without fanfare, he sent off curtains and hangings which he had been collecting for Oigimi's move to Sanjo. A certain need had arisen elsewhere, he told his mother. He also instructed his old nurse and others to prepare garments for the serving women at Uji.

From early in the Tenth Month he began letting fall remarks about the fish weirs at Uji and how they would be at their most interesting, and how Niou owed himself a look at the autumn leaves. Niou hoped to take only his favorite attendants and certain lesser courtiers with whom he was very friendly. His was a station that attracted notice, however, and the retinue grew and grew, until presently it was headed by Yugiri's son the captain. So he had two eminent courtiers with him, this young man and Kaoru, and of lesser courtiers the number was legion.

Kaoru sent off a long letter to Uji "He will of course want to spend a night, and you should be prepared. The men who were with him last year will take advantage of this occasion and of the winter storms to have a look at you.

They changed the blinds and dusted the rooms, and cleared away a few of the leaves that had collected among the rocks, and grasses from the brook. Kaoru sent the best viands to be had and dispatched servants to help with the preparations. Oigimi would once have found such attentions less than pleasing, but now she sighed and resigned herself to what fate seemed to offer, and went on working.

Music and other exciting sounds came from the boat as it was poled up and down the river. The young women went to the bank for a closer look. They could not make out the figure of the prince himself, but the boat, roofed with scarlet leaves, was like a gorgeous brocade, and the music, as members of the party joined their flutes in this impromptu offering and the next one, came in upon the wind so clearly that it was almost startling. The princesses looked out and made note of the fact that even on what had been announced as a quiet, unobtrusive expedition Niou was the cynosure of numerous eyes; and they told themselves that he was a man a lady would happily await if he deigned to come once a year. Knowing that there would be Chinese poems, Niou had brought learned scholars with him. As evening came on, the boat pulled up at the far bank, and the music and the poetry gathered momentum. Maple branches in their caps, some only tinged with autumn red and some quite saturated, several of Niou's men played" The Wise Man of the Sea." Only one member of the party was less than satisfied: Niou himself. His heart like "the sea of Omi," he was in a frenzy of longing as he thought of his princess on the far bank and the disquiet that must be hers. He was quite overwhelmed by Chinese poems appropriate to the season. Kaoru was confident that when the revelry had subsided they could make their visit;
but just as he was telling Niou of these hopes, a guards commander who was an elder brother of the captain already in attendance arrived from the city with a large and splendid retinue. He had come at the behest of the empress. Such expeditions might be undertaken surreptitiously, she had said, but they were certain to attract notice and so to become precedents He had run off without a by-your-leave, very inadequately escorted. She was most displeased. And so Niou had another captain and any number of ranking courtiers on his hands. Kaoru's plans were in ruin, and for the two friends the pleasure of the evening had evaporated. Unaware of this unhappiness, the party drank and sang the night away.

Niou was thinking that he would like to spend the day at Uji. But another horde of courtiers arrived, headed by his mother's chamberlain. They made him no more eager to return to the city.

He sent a note across the river. Eschewing any attempt to be witty or clever, he sought to convey in some detail his honest thoughts. Nakanokimi, knowing that he would be surrounded by prying eyes, did not answer. She knew more than ever how useless it was to think of joining so grand a company. She had been resentful, and with cause, at his prolonged failure to visit her, but she had been able to tell herself that he would one day come; and here he was madly reveling before her very eyes, and he had not a glance for her. She was hurt and she was angry.

Niou's own gloom was almost beyond enduring -- and even the fish in the weirs seemed to favor him with their attentions. The catch was large. His men brought it to him, laid out on autumn leaves of various tints. They were delighted, it had been an expedition with something in it to please every one of them. But Niou stood apart, gazing into space, pain clutching at his heart. The trees in the old garden across the river were extraordinarily powerful, strands of ivy, visible even from this distance, adding a venerable melancholy to the evergreens.

Kaoru was thinking that he had not done very well. The ladies would be the more resentful for his having prepared them so carefully. Several among the attendants remembered the cherry blossoms of the year before and remarked to one another on the sad lot of the princesses, now without a father. A few of them seemed to have caught a hint that their master had intended to make a quiet crossing, and even the more obtuse had something to say about the beautiful princesses. Secluded and cloistered though a life may be, word does somehow get around. Truly superior beauties, the talk had it, and superior musicians as well, their princely father having had them at constant practice.

The captain remembered Kaoru's affection for the Eighth Prince:

"We saw yon trees in the spring, a blaze of flowers.
Beneath them too sad autumn now has stolen."
Kaoru offered this in reply:

"With flowers that fade, with leaves that turn, they speak
Most surely of a world where all is fleeting."
The newly arrived guards commander also had a poem:

"Regretfully, we leave the autumn groves
Whence autumn, unobserved, has slipped away."
And the chamberlain:

"The vine yet clings to the stone-walled mountain village,
Longer-lived than he whom once I knew."
The oldest man in the party, he was in tears, remembering how it had been when the Eighth Prince was young.

And finally Niou, also in tears, had a poem:

"Blow not harshly, wind from the mountain pines,
Through trees where sadness waxes as autumn wanes."
The men who knew even a little about his feelings made admiring note of their genuineness, and of the trial it must have been for him to let such an opportunity pass. Nothing was to be done: they could not send a grand flotilla out across the river.

The more interesting passages from the Chinese poems were intoned over and over again, and there were a great many Japanese poems as well, inspired by the place and the season; but is anything really original likely to emerge from drunken revelry? The smallest fragment would do injury to my story, I fear, if I were to write it down.

The princesses, their thoughts too deep for words, heard the shouts of the outrunners receding into the distance. Hardly what one would expect from a famous gallant, said the women who had helped with the preparations.

Oigimi's thoughts, indeed, were making her physically ill. It was true, then: he had, after all, the shifting hue of the dewflower. She had heard about that. She had heard, albeit in general terms, that men were good at lying, that many a sweet word went into the pretense of love. The rather common women by whom she was surrounded had told her of their ancient affairs. Well of course, she had said to herself: there would be such cads among the men _they_ were likely to keep company with. But surely among wellborn people a sense of propriety, a respect for appearances, put limits upon such behavior. She had been wrong. Her father, knowing all about Niou's ways, had rejected him at the outset. And then Kaoru had come along to plead his friend's case with an intensity that should have made them suspicious, and so the impossible had happened. What would Kaoru be thinking now of the sincerity and steadfastness he had proclaimed so energetically? There was no one here at Uji to whom Oigimi need feel at all inferior, but she cringed to think what must be running through the minds of them all. A ridiculous clown indeed, a perfect fool she had made of herself!

And the lady most concerned: on those meetings so few in number he had made the most solemn of pledges, and she had comforted herself with the thought that his absences might be long but he would not abandon her. Even when his apparent neglect had begun to disturb her, she had been able to tell herself that he must have his reasons. It could not have been said, all the same, that his conduct did not trouble her, and now for him to have come so near and passed on again -- she was lost in sorrow and chagrin beyond description.

It was apparent to Oigimi that Nakanokimi was crushed, and the pity was almost as difficult to bear as the anger. "If I had been able to care for her in any ordinary way, if ours had been an ordinary house, she would not have been subjected to such treatment."

Oigimi was convinced that she would one day find herself in the same predicament. Kaoru had made numerous promises, but he was not to be trusted. However long she might seek to put him off, she would eventually run out of excuses. And her women did not seem to recognize a disaster for what it was. They actually seemed to be asking one another what might be arranged for Oigimi herself, and so she too would presently find herself with an unwanted husband. Against precisely such an eventuality her father had told her over and over again that living alone was far from the worst of fates. They had been born under unlucky stars, that was the first and most essential fact. Why else should their parents have left them behind? They could look forward to being abandoned by their husbands as well. She had made up her mind. If she were to find herself on the list of the world's favorite ninnies, then her father would be the most grievously injured. No, she wanted to die before the worst happened, while the burden of guilt was still relatively light.

The prisoner of these anguished thoughts, she quite refused to eat. She was tormented too by thoughts of her sister, thoughts so painful that it was almost more than she could do to look at the girl. The loneliness would be next to unbearable. The beautiful figure before her, so sadly neglected by the world, had been the secret support of her own existence, the hope of making a decent marriage for her sister had given purpose to her life. And they had found a husband, a man of indisputably good birth, and the marriage had become a cruel joke! It would now be impossible for her sister, the defenseless butt of the joke, to face the world. A decent life was now out of the question. They had been born to no purpose, she and her sister. Life might offer consolation, but not to them.

Back in the city, Niou considered turning around and making another trip, a quiet one this time, to Uji. But the guards captain had already been to the emperor and empress. It was for the secret reasons which he now chose to divulge, he had informed them, that Prince Niou was in the habit of slipping off into the country; and he had added that Prince Niou was conducting himself in a manner altogether irresponsible, of which people were beginning to talk. The empress was much upset, and the emperor too was displeased. It had all happened, he said, because the boy was allowed to live away from the palace. With matters at this difficult pass, Niou was required to take up residence in the palace. He had no wish at all to marry Yugiri's daughter Rokunokimi, but a consensus had been reached to bestow her upon him.

Kaoru was in dismay. What was to be done now? His own eccentric ways had been to blame -- and perhaps fate had stepped in. Unable to forget the Eighth Prince's concern for his daughters, sad that such elegance and beauty, favored by not the smallest stroke of luck, should be wasted, he had been seized by a longing to help them so intense that even to him it had seemed curious. The importunings of his friend had also been hard to resist, and he had found himself in the awkward position of not wanting the one sister when the other did not want him. And so he had made these arrangements, and a fine pass they had come to. No one would have reproved him for making either of the princesses his own. But that was all finished, and what was left was a piece of idiocy to gnash his teeth over at his leisure.

Niou found lighthearted forgetfulness even more elusive. "If you have someone on your mind," said his mother time after time, "bring her here, and settle down to the sort of life people expect of you. We both know very well that you are your father's favorite, and it drives me wild to hear what people are saying about your irresponsible behavior."

On a quiet day of heavy winter rains he went to call on his sister, the First Princess. She and a few attendants had been looking over a collection of paintings. He addressed her through a curtain. She was among the famous beauties of the day, and yet she preserved a winning girlishness that made him ask whether her rival was to be found anywhere. There was, to be sure, the daughter of the Reizei emperor, her father's joy and pride. What he had heard of her secluded life suggested again a most compelling beauty, but he had no way of approaching her. And there was his own princess at Uji, loveliness itself. With each thought of her the longing grew. By way of distraction he picked up several of the pictures that lay scattered about. They had been painted, and very skillfully, to appeal to womanly tastes. There was, for instance, a lovelorn gentleman, and there was a tasteful mountain villa, and there were numbers of other scenes that seemed to have interested the artists. Several called his own circumstances to mind, and he thought of asking his sister for a few to send to Uji. The illustration for the scene from _Tales of Ise_ in which the hero gives his sister a koto lesson brought him closer to the curtain.

"'A pity indeed if the grasses so sweet, so inviting,'" he whispered, and one may wonder what he had in mind." I gather that in those days brother and sister did not have to talk through curtains. You are very remote."

She asked what picture he was referring to. He rolled it up and pushed it under the curtain, and as she bent to look at it her hair was swept aside and he caught a brief and partial glimpse of her profile. It delighted him. He found himself wishing that she were not his sister. A verse came to his lips:

"I do not propose to sleep among the young grasses,
But ensnared in them I must confess to be."
Her attendants had withdrawn in embarrassment. A most curious thing to say, thought the princess herself. She did not answer. Her manifest and quite proper discomfort reminded him that the recipient of the old poem had replied in a somewhat inviting manner.

Murasaki had been fondest of these two, the First Princess and Niou, and of all the royal children they had been the closest. The empress had been especially careful with this oldest daughter, and if anyone among her attendants, who were numerous and all from the best families, was seen to have the slightest flaw, she was very quickly made to feel unwanted.

The volatile Niou moved from one liaison to the next as interesting new ladies appeared, but through them all his heart was with the princess at Uji. He was a lazy correspondent, however, and so the days went by.

It seemed to the Uji sisters that they had been asked to wait a very long time. It was as she had feared, thought Oigimi; and then Kaoru, having heard that she was not well, came to inquire after her. She was not seriously ill, but she made the indisposition her excuse for not receiving him.

"I have come running all this way," he said. "Take me to her room, please, as you did before."

He seemed so genuinely concerned that someone did presently lead him to her bed curtains. Though she had not wanted to see him, she raised her head and answered civilly enough. He explained that Niou had not had the least intention, on that maple-viewing expedition, of passing them by.

"Do be patient, and try not to worry."

"My sister does not complain." There were tears in her voice. "But what a very unhappy situation it is. I know now what Father was trying to warn us against."

"The world does not always go as we wish it. You have not had a great deal of experience, and it is natural that you should see things entirely from your own point of view. But try to imagine his, if you will. You have nothing to worry about, not a thing. I would not say so if I were not convinced of it." How odd, he thought, to have to explain away derelictions that were not his responsibility.

She was in greater discomfort at night. Since her sister was uneasy at having a stranger so near, the women suggested that he remove himself to a detached wing with which he was already familiar.

"I am sick with worry, and I want to be near her. Can you really send me into exile? Can I expect anyone else to do what must be done?"

He summoned Bennokimi and told her that religious services were to be commenced immediately. Oigimi objected, but in silence. She did not want priests to see her in her present condition, and she had no wish that anything be done to prolong her life. She was not up to stating her views, however, and she was touched by these hopes for her recovery.

"Are you feeling a little better?" he asked the next morning. "Let me talk to you, please, even as briefly as yesterday."

"I am afraid that time has only made things worse, and I really am very unwell. But do come in anyway."

He went to her bedside, in great apprehension. This unwonted docility had the effect of making the worst seem at hand. He spoke of this and that trifling matter.

"I am so unwell, I am afraid, that I cannot really talk to you. Perhaps after I have rested." The sound of her voice, scarcely more than a whisper, only added to his anguish. But he had work to do, and could stay no longer. With the darkest forebodings, he started back for the city.

"Uji is not good for her," he said to the old woman. "Don't you suppose we could make this our excuse to find a more hospitable spot?" He left instructions for the abbot to conduct intensive and careful services.

Some of his attendants had become familiar with the young women of the house. "I hear they have put a stop to Prince Niou's wanderings?" said one of them, idly passing the time of day." They have shut him up in the palace. And it seems that they have arranged a match between him and the minister's young daughter. Her family has wanted it for years, and so no one will be inconvenienced. The talk is that they'll be married before the end of the year. Of course he isn't all that enthusiastic. He goes on having little affairs with the ladies-in-waiting. His mother and father haven't had much luck at reforming him. Now if you want a real contrast look at our own master for a minute or two. So serious and self-contained -- so queer, really, some might say. People are all agog at his trips here. Some say they're the first real sign of human feeling he has ever shown."

"That is what he told me." The woman was quick to pass all this on to her colleagues, and it soon reached the princesses, and did nothing to assuage their distress. Such was the pass they had come to, said Oigimi to herself. It was the end. He had only wanted amusement while he got ready to marry a well-placed lady. With one eye on Kaoru, he had contrived to put together certain words of affection. Beyond thinking further about this duplicity, convinced that the world no longer had a place for her, she lay weeping helplessly. She no longer wished to live. Hers were not women of such rank that she need feel any constraint before them, but the thought of what they would now be saying quite revolted her. She tried to pretend that she had not heard this new report. Her sister was with her, napping as people will who have "thoughts of things." What a dear little creature she was, her long hair flowing over the arm on which her head was pillowed -- what remarkable grace and beauty. Oigimi thought of her father and his last admonitions. He would not be in hell of course -- but even if he was, could he not summon them to his side? It was too cruel, that he should leave them in these sad straits, refusing to come to them even in a dream.

The evening was dark and rainy and the wind in the trees was a sigh of utter loneliness For all her worries Oigimi was a figure of great distinction as she sat leaning against an armrest and thinking of what had been and what was to be. Her hair had long gone untended, and yet not a strand was in disarray as it flowed down over a white robe. The pallor from days of illness gave to her features a certain cast of depth and mystery. The eyes and forehead as she sat gazing out into the dusk -- one would have longed to show them to the world of high taste, to connoisseurs of the beautiful.

Nakanokimi started up at a particularly harsh gust of wind. Her robes were a lively combination of yellow and rose, and her face had a lively glow, a luster as of having been freshly tinted over. There was no trace of worry upon it.

"I dreamed of Father. I saw him for just a second, standing over there. He seemed upset."

"I have wanted so to see him, even in a dream," said Oigimi, in a new access of grief," and I have not once dreamed of him."

Both of the girls were in tears. The fact that he had been so much on her mind recently, thought Oigimi, perhaps meant that he was wandering in some limbo. She longed to go to him, wherever he was -- not that such a sinful one as she would be permitted to. And so her worries ran on into the other world. There was an incense, it was said, which men of a foreign land had used to bring back the dead. If only she might have a stick of it!

In the evening a letter was delivered from Niou. It came at a difficult time, and should have been some slight comfort to them; but Nakanokimi was in no hurry to look at it.

"You must send off a kind answer, a friendly one," said Oigimi. "It worries me a great deal to think that I may die and leave you behind, and some awful man may come along and make things even worse. As long as the prince has an occasional thought for you, the worst sort of man will stay away. It will not be easy, I know, but he _is_ a defense of sorts."

"Do you really think of leaving me? You mustn't even whisper it." Nakanokimi hid her face.

"We all have to die, and you know how much I hated the idea of living a moment longer than Father. But here I am, with my life still to live out. And who is it that makes me, after all, sorry to leave'a world where no one can be sure of the morrow'?"

A lamp was brought and they read the letter. It was warm and detailed, as always, and it contained this poem:

"The sky I see is the usual nighttime sky.
Then why tonight do the showers increase my longing?"
It was so trite and perfunctory, just one more allusion to tear-soaked sleeves. "Well, that is that," one could almost hear him saying as he dashed it off. Yet his manner and appearance were enough to make any girl fall in love with him, and he could be completely charming when he wanted to.

Nakanokimi's longing increased as time went by. And there had been those effusive promises, which it was hard to believe he meant to ignore completely. She felt her resentment subside.

The messenger said that he would like to go back that night. Everyone was pressing Nakanokimi for an answer, and finally she produced a poem:

"Here in our hail-flogged village, deep in the mountains,
The skies upon which we gaze are forever cloudy."
It was late in the Tenth Month, and a whole month had gone by since Niou's last visit to Uji. He thought nervously each night of setting forth. But alas, he was,'a small boat caught in reeds," and, with the Gosechi dances coming earl y this year, there were gay events at court to occupy his time. And so the days went by, and at Uji the wait was increasingly painful. This or that court lady would briefly catch his eye, but his heart remained with the Uji princess.

His mother spoke to him again of Yugiri's daughter. "When you have made yourself a good, solid marriage, then you can bring in anyone who strikes your fancy and set her up wherever it suits your convenience. But you _must_ build yourself a strong base."

"Wait just a little longer, please. I'm thinking it over."

At Uji they could not know that it had never been his intention to hurt them, and each day brought a heavier pall of gloom.

Kaoru meanwhile was wringing his hands. Was his friend less trustworthy than his observations had led him to believe? Had he been wrong all along? He rarely visited Niou's apartments these days, but he sent frequent messengers to inquire after Oigimi's health. He learned that she had improved somewhat since the first of the Eleventh Month. It being a season when he had all manner of business, public and private, he let five or six days go by without further inquiry. Then, suddenly alarmed, he shook off all these urgent affairs and rushed to Uji.

He had given instructions that the services be continued until her complete recovery, but she had said that she was much better and dismissed the abbot. There were very few people in attendance upon her. He summoned Bennokimi and asked for a full report.

"There are no alarming symptoms, really. It is just that she refuses to eat. She has always been more delicate than most people, and you would hardly recognize her now. Ever since the Niou affair she hasn't let the smallest bit of fruit pass her lips. I am beginning to wonder if anything can save her. I have not had an easy life, and it has gone on too long, that I should live to see these things. I only want to die before she does." She was in tears, as she had every right to be, even before she had finished speaking.

"But why didn't you tell me? I have been busy at court and at the Reizei Palace and it has worried me terribly that I am not able to look in on her."

He went to the sickroom and knelt at Oigimi's bedside. She scarcely had strength to answer him.

"No one, no one at all, came to tell me. I have been worried, but what good does that do now?"

He summoned the abbot and other priests whose prayers were in high repute. With rites to begin the following morning, he sent to the city for some of his people, and the Uji villa was alive with courtiers high and low. The women forgot their loneliness. At dusk they brought him a light supper and sought once again to take him to a distant wing of the house. He replied that he wished to be where he could be useful. The priests having occupied the south room, he put up screens in the east room, somewhat nearer Oigimi. Nakanokimi was much upset, but the women, relieved to see that he had not after all abandoned them, had given up their efforts to take him away. Continuous reading of the Lotus Sutra began in the evening, most impressively, twelve priests of the finest voice taking turns. There was a light in Kaoru's room, and the inner room, where Oigimi lay, was dark; and so he raised a curtain and slipped a few inches inside. Two or three women knelt beside her, Nakanokimi having withdrawn to the rear of the room. It was a lonely scene.

"Can't you say just one word to me?"

He took her hand. Startled, she replied in a barely audible whisper. "I would like very much to speak to you, believe me. But it is such an effort. You had not visited me for so long that I feared I might die without seeing you again."

"I am furious with myself." He was sobbing aloud. He felt her brow, which seemed fevered. "And what sort of misconduct, do you suppose, is responsible for this? Making someone unhappy, perhaps?" He leaned very near and seemed prepared to talk on and on. The merest wisp of a figure, she covered her face. He could not imagine how it would be if she were to die.

"I am sure you are exhausted," he said to Nakanokimi. "I am on duty tonight. Suppose you get some rest."

Hesitantly, Nakanokimi withdrew deeper into the room. Oigimi still hid her face, but he was beside her, and that was some comfort to him. She strove to dispel her embarrassment with the thought that a bond from a former life must account for their being so near. When she compared his calm gentleness with Niou's heartless behavior, she had to admit that the contrast was startling. And she did not want to be remembered for her coldness. She could not send him away. All through the night he had women at work brewing medicines, but she quite refused to take them. He was beside himself. The crisis was real, that much was clear. And what could be done to save her?
New lectors came for the matins, and the abbot, who had been present through the night, started up at the fresh resonance and began intoning mystical formulas. His voice was hoarse with age, but it seemed to have in it a store of grace that was enough to bring hope even to this despairing household.

"How did my lady pass the night?" asked the abbot, going on to speak, his voice sometimes wavering, of her father. "And in which realm will he be now? I wonder. One of peace and serenity, of that I am sure. The other night I dreamed of him. He was wearing secular dress, and he spoke with great clarity.'I had persuaded myself from the depths of my heart to renounce the world,' he said,'and had nothing to hold me back. But now a small worry has come up, to ruffle the calm. I must pause on my way to the land where I long to be. It is a cause of great disappointment to me, and I beg you to pray that I soon recover the ground I have lost.' I could not immediately think what to do, and so I set five or six of my men to chanting the holy name -- it was the one thought that came to me. And then I had another: I sent priests out in the four directions to proclaim the Buddhahood of all men."

Kaoru was in tears. Oigimi wanted only to die, at the thought of the burden of sin she must bear for her father's troubles. She longed to be with him wherever he was, to join him before his soul had come to its final rest.

After a few words more the abbot withdrew. The priests sent out to proclaim universal Buddhahood had gone to villages near at hand and to the city as well, but presently they were back, for the dawn gales had been cruel. Seeking out the abbot's room, they prostrated themselves at the garden gate and grandly brought their invocations to an end. Kaoru, whose studies of the Good Law were by now well advanced, was deeply moved.

In painful uncertainty, Nakanokimi came somewhat nearer. Kaoru drew himself up politely as he caught a rustling of silk.

"And how does it seem to you?" he asked. "These readings may not be the most important things in the world, but they do have a certain dignity." As if in ordinary conversation, he added a poem:

"Forlorn the dawn, when on the frosty bank
The plovers sound their melancholy notes."
Something about him reminded her of his cruel friend. But she still found him rather forbidding, and sent her answer through Bennokimi:

"The plovers in the dawn, shaking off the frost:

Do they call to the heart of one now sunk in grief?"

Ill favored though the intermediary was, the poem was delivered gracefully enough.

Nakanokimi seemed very shy, even in these fleeting exchanges, but her gentle replies gave evidence of a sensitive nature he would desperately hate to see leave his life. He thought of the Eighth Prince as the abbot had dreamed of him, and of how it must be to watch all of this from the heavens. He had sutras read at the monastery where the prince had spent his last days and ordered new rites at other temples as well. Taking leave of all his affairs in the city, he set about assuring himself that no device, Buddhist or Shinto, had been overlooked.
There were no signs, however, that the sick lady was the victim of a possession, and these varied ministrations seemed to accomplish nothing. Though a prayer in her own behalf might have helped, she saw her chance to die. Kaoru had attached himself to her as if he were her husband. There would be no shaking him off. And if, to push her forebodings further, the emotions that now seemed so powerful were to fade, they would both of them, she and Kaoru, have gloom and uncertainty to look forward to. No, a nun's vows offered the only refuge, and her illness must be her excuse. _Then_ they could look forward to long and companionable years together. This one resolve she must carry through.

Hoping that it did not seem pompous, she said to her sister: "I begin to feel that I am almost beyond help. I have heard that a woman sometimes lives a little longer if she becomes a nun. Might you point this out to the abbot?"

But the house echoed with the objections of her women. "Absolutely out of the question. Think of the poor young gentleman who has been so kind. Think of the effect it would have on him."

They refused even to consider telling him of her wishes.

Talk of his retreat was meanwhile going the rounds at court. Several courtiers came to make inquiry. His personal staff and certain stewards and others with whom he was on friendly terms noted that Oigimi's illness seemed important to him, and commissioned services of their own. Back he city the festival would be reaching its grand and noisy climax. At Uji it was a day of wild storms and winds. It would be more clement in the city, and he could as well have been there. Oigimi was to leave him, it seemed, still a stranger; but something about the fragile figure made him incapable of reproving her for what was over and finished. He was lost in hopeless longing, to see her again, for even a few days, as she once had been, to pour forth before her the whole turbulent flood of his thoughts. Darkness came over an already sunless sky.

He whispered to himself:

"In mountains deep, where clouds turn back the sun,
Each day casts darker shadows upon my heart."
He seldom left Oigimi's bedside, and his presence was a comfort to the women of the house. The wind was so high that Nakanokimi was having trouble with her curtains. When she withdrew to the inner rooms the ugly old women followed in some confusion. Kaoru came nearer and spoke to Oigimi. There were tears in his voice.

"And how are you feeling? I have lost myself in prayers, and I fear they have done no good at all. It is too much, that you will not even let me hear your voice. You are not to leave me."

Though barely conscious, she was still careful to hide her face. "There are many things I would like to say to you, if I could only get back a little of my strength. But I am afraid -- I am sorry -- that I must die."

Tears were painfully near. He must not show any sign of despair-but soon he was sobbing audibly. What store of sins had he brought with him from previous lives, he wondered, that, loving her so, he had been rewarded with sorrow and sorrow only, and that he now must say goodbye? If he could find a flaw in her, he might resign himself to what must be. She became the more sadly beautiful the longer he gazed at her, and the more difficult to relinquish. Though her hands and arms were as thin as shadows, the fair skin was still smooth. The bedclothes had been pushed aside. In soft white robes, she was so fragile a figure that one might have taken her for a doll whose voluminous clothes hid the absence of a body. Her hair, not so thick as to be a nuisance, flowed down over her pillow, the luster as it had always been. Must such beauty pass, quite leave this world? The thought was not to be endured. She had not taken care of herself in her long illness, and yet she was far more beautiful than the sort of maiden who, not for a moment unaware that someone might be looking at her, is forever primping and preening. The longer he looked at her, the greater was the anguish.

"If you leave me, I doubt that I will stay on very long myself. I do not expect to survive you, and if by some chance I do, I will wander off into the mountains. The one thing that troubles me is the thought of leaving your sister behind."

He wanted somehow to coax an answer from her. At the mention of her sister, she drew aside her sleeve to reveal a little of her face.

"I am sorry that I have been so out of things. I may have seemed rude in not doing as you have wished. I must die, apparently, and my one hope has been that you might think of her as you have thought of me. I have hinted as much, and had persuaded myself that I could go in peace if you would respect this one wish. My one unsatisfied wish, still tying me to the world."

"There are people who walk under clouds of their own, and I seem to be one of them. No one else, absolutely no one else, has stirred a spark of love in me, and so I have not been able to follow your wishes. I am sorry now; but please do not worry about your sister."

She was in greater distress as the hours went by. He summoned the abbot and others and had incantations read by well-known healers. He lost himself in prayers.
Was it to push a man towards renunciation of the world that the Blessed One sent such afflictions? She seemed to be vanishing, fading away like a flower. No longer caring what sort of spectacle he might make, he wanted to shout out his resentment at his own helplessness. Only half in possession of her senses, Nakanokimi sensed that the last moment had come. She clung to the corpse until that forceful old woman, among others, pulled her away. She was only inviting further misfortunes, they said.

Was it a dream? Kaoru had somehow not accepted the possibility that things would come to this pass. Turning up the light, he brought it to the dead lady's face. She lay as if sleeping, her face still hidden by a sleeve, as beautiful as ever. If only he could go on gazing at her as at the shell of a locust. The women combed her hair preparatory to having it cut, and the fragrance that came from it, sad and mysterious, was that of the living girl. He wanted to find a flaw, something to make her seem merely ordinary. If the Blessed One meant by all this to bring renunciation and resignation, then let him present something repellent, to drive away the regrets. So he prayed; but no relief was forthcoming. Well, he said presently, nothing was left but to commit the body to flames, and so he set about the sad duty of making the funeral arrangements. He walked unsteadily beside the body, scarcely feeling the ground beneath his feet. In a daze, he made his way back to the house. Even the last rites had been faltering, insubstantial; very little smoke had risen from the pyre.

The house was overrun with mourners, and the worst of the loneliness was postponed for a time. Nakanokimi, quite aware of what people would be saying about her predicament, was so sunk in her own sad thoughts that she seemed hardly more alive than her sister. A great many messages of condolence came from Niou; but she had made what now seemed to her a marriage with a curse upon it, Oigimi having gone to her grave unable to forgive him.

Kaoru thought that this ultimate knowledge of evanescence might persuade him to leave the world; but he had his mother's views in the matter to consider, and there was the sad situation in which Nakanokimi had been left. His mind was in a turmoil. Perhaps it would have been better if he had done as Oigimi had suggested, taken her sister in her place. Try though he might to think of them as one, he had not been able to transfer his affections. Rather than invite the despair into which he now was plunged, might he not better have taken Nakanokimi, and sought in his visits to Uji consolation for unrequited love? He did not venture even a brief visit to the city, and his ties with the world were as good as severed. Since it was evident that this had been no ordinary attachment, messages of condolence came in a steady flow, from the palace and from lesser houses.

And so aimless days sped by. On each of the weekly memorial days he had services conducted with unusual solemnity. There was a limit to what an outsider could do, however. He would catch glimpses of the black to which her closest attendants had changed, and regret that custom forbade his changing to black himself.

"Uselessly they fall, these blood-red tears,
For they do not dye these robes in black remembrance."
Clean, trim, elegant, he sat gazing out at the garden. His lavender robe had a sheen as of melting ice, and the flow of his tears gave an added luster. The women looked at him admiringly even as they lamented. Their grief over this terrible event aside, they hated to think that the time had come when he must again be a stranger. A heavy burden it was that the fates had asked them to bear! Such a kind gentleman -- and neither of their ladies would have him.

"It would be a great comfort," he said to Nakanokimi, "if I might talk freely with you, and think of you as a sort of keepsake. Please do not send me away."

But he was asking too much. She had been born for sorrow and humiliation, of that she was sure. He had always thought her a livelier girl than her sister; but for someone in search of delicacy and gentleness, the older girl had had the stronger appeal.

He spent the whole of one dark, snowy day gazing out upon that dreariest of months -- as people will have it -- the last of the year. In the evening the moon rose in a clear sky. He went to the veranda and lifted the blinds. The vesper bells came faintly from the monastery. So another day had passed, he said to himself as he listened.

"My heart goes after yon retreating moon.
No home, this world, in which to dwell forever."
A wind having come up, he went to lower the shutters. In brilliant moonlight, the mountains were reflected in the icy river as in a mirror. However much care might go into his new house, he would be unable to fabricate a scene so lovely. Come back for but a moment, he whispered, and enjoy it with me.

"Deep in the Snowy Mountains would I vanish,
In search of the brew that is death for those who love."
If, like the Lad of the Snowy Mountains, he had an accommodating monster of whom he might inquire about a stanza, he would have an excuse to fling himself away. A less than perfectly enlightened heart our young sage had!

Seemingly unshakable in his serenity, he would talk with the women. The younger ones quite fell in love with him, and the older ones sighed again to think what a hapless lady they had served.

"She lost her grip on herself because she took the prince's odd behavior too seriously. The whole world was laughing at them, she was sure; but she kept it all to herself. She did not want our other lady to know how worried she was. With everything shut up inside her she quietly stopped eating, and that was that. You couldn't always be sure what she was thinking, but there wasn't much that she missed. The beginning of it all was her father, and then there was her sister -- she was sure she had done exactly what he had told her not to do." They would recount little incidents, and at the end of each interview the household was abandoned to tears.

It had been his fault, thought Kaoru, wishing he had it all to do over again. He lost himself in prayers and turned away from the world.

Suddenly, deep in a sleepless night of freezing snow, there was a loud shouting outside and a neighing of horses. The reverend priests started up in surprise, wondering who could have made his way through such gales in the dead of night. It was Niou, soaking wet, in bedraggled travel dress. For Kaoru the pounding on the door had a familiar sound, and he withdrew to seclusion in one of the inner apartments. Though the mourning was not yet over, an impatient Niou had given a whole night over to his battle with the snows.

The visit should have softened Nakanokimi's resentment at the days of neglect, but she had no wish to receive him. What he had done to her sister seemed inexcusable. He had let her die without a hint of reforming his ways. Perhaps he meant to change now, but it was too late. Her women were determined, however, that she do the sensible thing, and finally she let him address her through curtains. He was profuse with his apologies. She listened quietly, and he sensed that she was still in a daze. Was it possible that she might go the way of her sister? Whatever punishment he might have to face later, he would stay the night.

"You don't of course mean to leave me sitting here?"

But she turned away. "Perhaps when I am a little more myself."

Guessing what had happened, Kaoru sent a woman with a secret word of advice." You have every right to be angry. From the beginning he behaved in a manner one can only describe as heartless. Scold him if you wish, but not so emphatically as to make him angry in his turn. He is not used to being crossed, and he is easily hurt."

These sage words only made things worse. She could think of nothing to say.

"You are being rather unpleasant, I must say, "sighed Niou. "Have you quite forgotten my promises?"

A fierce gale came up in the night. Though he had no one to blame but himself, he was very unhappy. She finally relented and spoke to him, though still through curtains. Calling upon the thousand gods to be his witnesses, he promised that he would be at her side forever. She was not greatly comforted -- a most remarkable glibness, she thought. But though his thoughtlessness over the weeks might have seemed too much to excuse, he was with her now, and irresistible. Her bitter resolutions wavering, she said in a whisper:

"Unsure has been the road over which I look back.
What can I know of the road that lies ahead?"
It was not a very inviting or reassuring sort of poem.

"The road ahead must needs be short, you tell me?

Then let us presume upon it while we may. Life is fleeting, you know, and so is everything in it. Do not make things worse with useless worries."

Despite his various efforts to please her, she at length said that she was not feeling well and withdrew to an inner room.

He spent a sleepless night, aware that he must seem ridiculous to these women. He understood Nakanokimi's anger, he told himself, shedding bitter tears of his own, but she went too far. Still he could imagine that the resentment he now felt she must have known several times over.

Kaoru seemed to comport himself as if he were master of the place. He treated the domestics like his own, it seemed to Niou, and they trooped off in procession to see that he was comfortable and abundantly fed. Niou was touched and somewhat amused. Kaoru had lost weight and his color was bad; he seemed but half alive to his surroundings. Niou offered genuinely felt condolences. Kaoru longed to talk about the dead girl, knowing well the futility, but he cut himself short, lest he sound like a womanish complainer. The days that had been given over to tears had changed him, but not for the worse. His features were more interesting, more cleanly cut than ever, thought Niou, sure that he himself would find them attractive were he a woman. Further evidence of his deplorable susceptibility, he could see. He turned his thoughts to Nakanokimi. How, without calling down malicious slander upon himself, could he move her to the city? She was being difficult, but to stay another night would certainly mean displeasing his father; and so he started back. He had exhausted his powers of gentle persuasion. Thinking to show him even a little of what aloofness was like, she had been to the end unyielding.

As New Year approaches the skies are forbidding even in civilized regions. Here in the mountains no day passed without storms to heap the snows deeper. The passing days brought no lessening of the sorrow. Niou sent lavish offerings for memorial services. People were beginning to worry about Kaoru, from whom there came hardly a word. Did he mean to weep his way into the New Year? His thoughts were beyond words when finally he left Uji. For the women the sorrow was as great. The house had somehow been alive while he had been with them, and now he was going. The quiet would be even worse than the shock of those first tragic days. He had been with them so gentle and considerate, so attentive in matters small and large, and they had come to know him far better than in the days of the early visits. They wept as they told themselves that they would see him no more.

A message came from Niou: "I have concluded that I will find it no easier as time goes by to travel such distances, and have made plans to bring you nearer."

His mother had apprised herself of all the details, and was sympathetic. If Kaoru was so lost in grief for the older princess, then the younger must also be a rather considerable person. Suppose Niou were to install her in the west wing at Nijo, where he could visit her as he wished. She evidently meant to have it seem that Nakanokimi had entered the service of the First Princess. Still, he must be grateful. Regular visits would now be possible. It was in these circumstances that he sent off his message to Uji.

Kaoru heard of his plans. It had been Kaoru's intention to bring his own love into the city once the Sanjo mansion was finished. He regretted that he had not taken her advice and made Nakanokimi a substitute.

He concluded that it must be his duty to make arrangements for the move to the city. If Niou chose to be suspicious, that was very silly of him.

 

 

Chapter 48

Early Ferns


The spring sunlight did not discriminate against these "thickets deep." But Nakanokimi, still benumbed with grief, could only wonder that so much time had gone by and she had not joined her sister. The two of them had responded as one to the passing seasons, the color of the blossoms and the songs of the birds. Some triviality would bring from one of them a verse, and the other would promptly have a capping verse. There had been sorrows, there had been times of gloom; but there had always been the comfort of having her sister beside her. Something might interest her or amuse her even now, but she had no one to share it with. Her days were bleak, unbroken solitude. The sorrow was if anything more intense than when her father had died. Yearning and loneliness left day scarcely distinguishable from night. Well, she had to live out her time, and it did little good to complain that the end did not come at her summons.
There was a letter from the abbot for one of her women: "And how will matters be with our lady now that the New Year has come? I have allowed no lapse in my prayers for her. She is, in fact, my chief worry. These are the earliest fern shoots, offerings from certain of our acolytes." The note came with shoots of bracken and fern, arranged rather elegantly in a very pretty basket. There was also a poem, in a bad hand, set apart purposely, it seemed, from the text of the letter.

"Through many a spring we plucked these shoots for him.

Today remembrance bids us do as well. Please show this to your lady."

Nakanokimi was much moved. The old man was not one to compose poems for every occasion, and these few syllables said more to her than all the splendid words, overlooking no device for pleasing her, of a certain gentleman who, though ardent enough to appearances, did not really seem to care very much. Tears came to her eyes. She sent a reply through one of her women:

"And to whom shall I show these early ferns from the mountain,

Plucked. in remembrance of one who is no more?"

She rewarded the messenger liberally.

Still in the full bloom of her youth, she had lost weight, and the effect was to deepen her beauty, and to remind one of her sister. Side by side, the two sisters had not seemed particularly alike; but now one could almost forget for a moment that Oigimi was dead, so striking was the resemblance. Kaoru had lamented that he could not keep their older lady with him, the women remembered, even as he might have kept a locust shell. Since either of the princesses would have been right for him, it was cruel of fate not to have let him have the younger.

Certain of his men continued to visit Uji, having made the acquaintance of women there. Through them the princess and Kaoru had occasional word of each other. Time had done nothing to dispel his grief, she learned, nor had the coming of the New Year stanched the flow of his tears. It had been no passing infatuation, she could see now. He had been honest in his avowals of love.

Niou was chafing at the restrictions his rank placed upon him, and the evidence was that they would only be more burdensome as time went by. He thought constantly about bringing Nakanokimi to the city.

When the busiest days were over, the time of the grand levee and the like, Kaoru found himself with heavy heart and no one who understood. He paid Niou a visit. It was an evening for melancholy thoughts. Niou was seated at the veranda, gazing out at the garden and plucking a few notes now and then on the koto beside him. He had always loved the scent of plum blossoms. Kaoru broke off an underbranch still in bud and brought it to him, and he found the fragrance so in harmony with his mood that he was stirred to poetry:

"This branch seems much in accord with him who breaks it.

I catch a secret scent beneath the surface."

"I should have been more careful with my blossoms.

I offer fragrance, get imputations back. You do not make things easy for me."

They seemed the most lighthearted of companions as they exchanged sallies.

When they settled down to serious matters, they were soon talking of Uji. And how would Nakanokimi and her women be? asked Niou. Kaoru told of his own unquenchable sorrow, of the memories that had tormented him since Oigimi's death, of the amusing and moving things that had been part of their times together -- of all the laughter and tears, so to speak. And his philandering friend, quicker to weep than anyone even when the matter did not immediately concern him, was now weeping most generously. He was exactly the sort of companion Kaoru needed. The sky misted over, as if it too understood. In the night a high wind came up, and the bite in the air was like a return of winter. They decided, after the lamp had blown out several times, that darkness would do as well. Though of course it destroyed the color of the blossoms, it did not put an end to the conversation. The hours passed, and still they had not talked themselves out.

"Ah, yes," said Niou. "Yes indeed -- purity such as the world is seldom privileged to behold. But come, now, surely it cannot have been just that?"

He had a way of assuming that something had been left out, no doubt because he suspected in others a volatility like his own. Yet he was a man of sympathy and understanding. So skillfully did he manage the conversation as he moved from subject to subject, now seeking to console his friend,

now seeking to make him forget, trying this way and that to offer an outlet, for the pent-up anguish -- so skillfully that Kaoru, led on step by step, poured forth the whole store of thoughts that had been too much for him. The relief was enormous.

Niou told of his plans for bringing Nakanokimi into the city.

"I thoroughly approve. As a matter of fact, I had been blaming myself for her difficulties and telling myself that I ought to be looking after her as a sort of legacy of the one -- I am repeating myself -- I shall go on mourning forever. But it is so easy to be misunderstood."

He went on to describe briefly how Oigimi had begged him to make no distinction between the two of them, and had asked him to marry her sister. He did not go so far as to speak of the night that called to mind the cuckoo of the grove of Iwase.

In his heart, all the while, the chagrin and regret were mounting. He should himself have done as Niou was doing with the memento she had left behind. But it was too late. He was skirting dangerous ground, in the direction of which lay unpleasantness for everyone. He tried to think of other matters. Yet there was this consideration: who if not he was to take her father's place in arranging the move to the city? He turned his mind to the preparations.

At Uji, attractive women and girls were being added to Nakanokimi's retinue, and the air was alive with anticipation. Nakanokimi alone stood apart from it. Now that the time had come, the thought of abandoning this "Fushimi" of hers, letting it go to ruin, seemed intensely sad. Her sorrow would not end, but her prospects would be very poor indeed if she were to stand her ground and insist on staying in remote Uji. How could she even think, protested Niou, and there was much to be said for the view, of living in a place where the promises they had made must certainly be broken? It was a dilemma.

Finally the move was set for early in the Second Month. As the day approached, Nakanokimi looked out at the buds on the cherry trees, and thought how very difficult it would be to leave them, and the mountain mists too. And she would be homeless, a lodger at an inn, facing she could not know what humiliation and ridicule. Each new thought, as she brooded the days away, brought new misgivings and reservations. She presently emerged from mourning, and the lustration seemed altogether too cursory and casual. She had not known her mother, and had not mourned for her. She thought how much she would have preferred to put on the deeper weeds with which one mourned a parent, but she kept the thought to herself, for it went against custom. Kaoru sent a carriage and outrunners for the lustration ceremony, and learned soothsayers as well.

He also sent a poem:

"How quickly time does pass. You made and donned
Your mourning robes, and now the blossoms open."
And he sent numerous flowery robes, for the ceremony and for the move to the city, none of them gaudy or ostentatious, each appropriate to the rank of the recipient.

"You