His Excellency took advantage of the recent revelations and began calling at His Grace’s Rokujo estate with increasing frequency. For his part, Genji welcomed the visits from his old friend, and though they would often bicker and retire to separate rooms, they always made up with one another and blamed their outbursts on an excess of wine and emotion.
The lady in the west wing heard their carousing from across the garden, and would sometimes peep through the blinds to see the cressets lit outside the main hall and the Minister’s young men sitting out, playing music and talking and trying to attract the attentions of various gentlewomen. How shameless they are! she thought, her temper directed both at the young men and at her father and the man who had pretended to be her father.
One evening, His Excellency arrived without even a modest escort. This was typical of his contrary nature, and in addition he had dressed plainly, so as not to attract undue attention. His pride was such that he had no desire for people to go about saying he was acting like a junior captain again, because then all sort of rumours would fly and that would be embarrassing. At my age I should know better, he thought, but it cannot be helped! Though the village of my youth has gone, I can still find a welcome here. He went in, humming ‘the scented blossoms at the gate’.
Genji greeted him with pleasure. “If you came to see the young lady, she sent word earlier that she was feeling a little unwell. I am sorry to disappoint you.”
“It was you I wished to see.” His Excellency settled onto the floor and made himself comfortable. “I trust there is nothing seriously wrong with her, otherwise you would have informed me at once.”
His Grace sighed. “Oh, it is nothing much. I asked her to give some thought to the position of Mistress of Staff, but she wouldn’t have it. You know how I dislike having to arrange this sort of thing. Politics was never my strong point—I left that to you, and very skilled you’ve been, too, in guiding His Majesty through these past years. But anyway, this matter is becoming quite absurd. By her own admission she admires His Majesty, and for such a girl—please forgive me for speaking plainly—this is an excellent opportunity and one that she should not toss aside so lightly.”
“I am in complete agreement,” His Excellency said carefully, for he still did not know how to go on with this new daughter of his. “Palace service seems ideal, and she did not seem unwilling before. Whatever can have made her change her mind?” Privately he wondered if Genji had had his way with her, but then he had often wondered this and had never found a satisfactory answer. The young lady was hardly in a position to admit such things to him, even if he was her father, and he could scarcely demand the truth from Genji.
His Grace, who could guess his old friend’s thoughts, smiled and poured more wine. “Sometimes she displays a most fickle nature. I wonder where she gets that from!”
“Ah, you are laughing at me.” His Excellency pretended a fit of pique and turned away. Genji laughed all the more. It was not really the kind of behaviour one would expect from men of such exalted rank, but at times like these when the wine flowed freely and the warmth lingered in the sky of a summer night, they were more like youths again, carefree and high-spirited.
This particular evening held a special beauty. The scent of orchids and other night-blossoming flowers stole in through the blinds and quite beguiled the senses. At length, unable to resist, His Excellency rose and went out onto the veranda. He gazed across the garden, discerning the flickering of candle flames in the wings and pavilions of that magnificent estate. The lights seemed far enough away to resemble fireflies, and he sighed at the sight.
Genji came out to join him. “This reminds me of all those long-ago times we sat on aisles and bridgeways and talked until morning.”
His Excellency chuckled. “Do you want to do that now?”
“Talk? Yes. We could.” Genji seated himself and pushed a full cup of wine across to His Excellency. “We never used to run out of things to say.”
“Times have changed,” His Excellency remarked lightly.
“Not that much.” Genji tugged on his friend’s dress cloak. “Look at you, wearing the same old patterns you used to favour so much back then!”
His Excellency sat down, unfastening the cloak to reveal his hunting costume of double-dyed violet Michinoku silk with a shinobu pattern. Genji admired it, for though the cut was perhaps a little old-fashioned and the sleeves a little too narrow for a man of the Minister’s status, the garment nevertheless reminded His Grace of happier times. He recalled the days of their youth, when they held the ranks of Captain and Secretary Captain, and all the romantic entanglements they got themselves into, not least the tangle with one another.
Genji sighed and stroked the trailing edge of His Excellency’s sleeves. The silk felt cool to the touch, and the weave was of excellent quality. Memories flooded over him, and Genji put down his wine and ventured closer. The touch of the fabric reminded him of how he’d loved to take down his friend’s hair, let it spill over his shoulders and across his back. His Excellency’s hair had been blacker than night in those days, rippling like silk. Genji recalled the long hours they’d spent caressing one another through their robes, the slither of silken cloth heightening an already feverish desire. The same desire returned now, prompting him to murmur:
Disordering my will!”
“My dear friend,” His Excellency responded, moving nearer, “feel not confused. Let us climb Mount Shinobu together and worship at the vine-tangled temple.”
Genji loosened the collar of the hunting costume and drew His Excellency close.
On the other side of the garden, the lady in the west wing watched with interest what they did together. She had thought them shameless before. She did not have words to describe what she saw now.
1. Ki no Tsurayuki
3. Kawara no Sadaijin. In his reply, To no Chujo continues to reference this poem, which contains several puns on vines, love, and confusion.