Saturday, November 16, 2013

And I'd Do It Again: India

C H A P T E R  X X I

Now I put all these things behind me. They are only temporary and partial. It was the East I sought, the East I felt, the East I wanted to absorb and breathe and know. And all this China, this Japan, this Malay Coast, this Java and Borneo, they were only introductory.

Of course I knew nothing of this. I believed, each time I entered upon a new scene and plunged into a new civilization among a new people, that I had found the might East that had been drawing me. But once there, once mixing among these temporary things, I became conscious of a lack of permanence, of a compromise. It was not articulate, it was not clear, but I knew I felt it.

The loadstone was still drawing me on after I left the Dutch indies. My small but persistent common sense called on me in its small voice and told me to return to America and accept the compromise that the rich, solid, old Californian life, safe and secure, was offering me.

But one seldom listens to that whisper of common sense.

So, escaping from Borneo, flying away from Java, running from badly-handled and ill-conceived adventures, I was drawn towards the source, the spring from whence came all that mystery that I had left my commonplace existence to find. And on the day when the Parramatta, a little 5,000-ton steamer of an Oriental line, was warped into the dock at Bombay, I knew that the quest had ended.

You can say, if you choose, that India is British. I yield the point. But India's soul will never concede anything to the Anglo-Saxon system nor to the Nordic philosophy. You can send your missionaries, your law-givers, your officers; you can build your Yacht Clubs at Bombay where even the highest caste Brahmans cannot enter; you can scorn and dominate (by military) and try to rule some 300,000,000 people, but you can never dominate a country whose composite mind thinks in millenniums, whose ideals have nothing in common with yours, whose age-old civilization goes on believing in the reunion of the Individual with the Supreme Soul.

India. Here I am. A country whose individual life covers over 4,000 years, and whose living breath had been blowing upon me across broad seas, whose fingers had been beckoning me.
The Parramatta passed the lighthouse at Colaba Point into the strange double city on two bays. I can hardly recall the picture--I was so impatient to take this vast country into my arms and innate its amber-flavored breath. I had a vague, haze-dimmed recollection of Hindus, Gujerati, Mahratta, Sikh, Parsee and hundreds of other racial faces and costumes, carts drawn by sleepy oxen, teams, buggies, tramways, victorias, palanquins and good old English coaches, whirling and mingling like a colorful human cocktail. I had not a friend nor an acquaintance in the entire peninsula, excepting Mr. Thos. Cook and his Sons, and tho them I trusted myself until I should be able to formulate some plans.

It was just as well, I discovered.

For India, even with the British touch about her cities, presents a problem of knowing which no other Eastern country can offer by comparison. I do not yet know why.

Picture me in a rich, up-to-date, European hotel. Picture me, trying to free myself of this fear which made me cling to the things I knew and understood, and to throw myself instead into those other things I had come to find.

It was not easy. I needed help. And I found helping in an unusual way, a way which was to give me another curious experience and …I was about to say "get me into trouble." But that we will see later.

The "help" appeared on the day that I visited the American consulate in Bombay. He was being carried on a litter, or perhaps I should say on an enormous square canopied divan upon which he sat in a state and gorgeousness, while a dozen or so soldiers in magnificent costumes bore him stolidly along.

I was in the act of descending the steps of the Consulate. I stopped halfway down to gaze in bewilderment and admiration at the splendor of what I saw...the train of a Hindu Rajah in full regalia. You have seen it in the cinema...made in Hollywood, doubtless, but seldom is it given to a Westerner to witness a procession of one of these potentates and their retinue silhouetted against a background of their own native sky.

Anyway, there I stood gaping. And the Rajah saw me, lifted his head a little, drew the cigarette away from his lips, and winked. I said it. He winked.

Well, I suppose if you were to have spent half your life in Northern Canada among the Eskimos, knew their language and habits intimately, and then were to see one standing on a church step, staring bewildered at you in Hohokus, New Jersey...well, you might be tempted to wink, too.

That is what affected this Rajah. He winked and he smiled, and it was utterly impossible for me not to smile in return. His train passed on, a multicolored crowd following them, the Rajah erect upon his silken cushions, his legs crossed under him, smoking with dignity. It was just a moment. Just a scene from the motion pictures. He was, I supposed, passing on...out of my life.

But as I wandered, rather in a trance, down towards my hotel, I was conscious suddenly of someone walking rapidly behind me. Then I felt a slight touch on my shoulder, and a soft, low male voice said: 
"If the Memsahib would pause..."
I paused. I looked into the eyes of a turbaned bearded soldier of melodramatic appearance. He towered over me, in his white, loose garments, his hand resting upon the handle of a silver-mounted carved dagger, and then he bowed low before me.
"If the Memsahib will accept the compliments of my Master, the Rajah of Shikapur, I, Poonga, am instructed to say that his house and his race will be honored above the stars."

He was holding something out to me. It looked like a tiny packet of silk, and my curiousity overwhelmed any hesitancy I might have had, although I was still unable to reply. I mumbled something of no consequence and allowed the soldier to place this packet in my hands. I stood there staring at it. My swarthy giant spoke again:
"If the Memsahib will permit...Poonga will return to his Master with a reply favorable to the question."

All this was in beautifully pronounced English. I was brought out of my trance. I found the fastening cord of the little silk affair, and when I had removed the covering, a crisp piece of pasteboard about two inches wide and rolled into a cylinder was revealed. There was also something hard and heavy rattling inside the tube.

I unrolled it. there fell into my hand a pearl, an absolutely perfect pearl not less than half an inch in diameter, and as lustrous as nacre. The white pasteboard turned out to be a very European visiting-card, across which was written, in pinched characters:
"Please forgive the stupid unconventionality of this but a new face on the Consulate steps is such a delight and especially when its owner wears a pearl clasp whose beauty and value can be seen at a distance of thirty feet. I am receiving a few persons this evening at my hotel, and it would be a pleasure if you could be among them. My man Poonga will bring you in a litter. Something in your face made me feel you would not think me a barbarian. Shikapur."

Now here was a case! My pearl clasp which I had all but forgotten had started something. I had purchased it for a considerable sum in Java...a raw, unpolished pearl, and I had had it mounted to please my own imagination. It turned out to be a beauty, and it seemed now to be acquiring a legend.

Poonga stood erect and obviously waiting for me to say something. Does one accept the invitations of Hindu Rajahs from some unknown territory in the British city of Bombay? I don't know, but I did it.

"Please thank your master," I said to the soldier, "and tell him that I accept with pleasure. 
My hotel is the V--"

Poonga bowed again, and vanished. One thing struck me as odd. No mention of the enclosed pearl had been made in the Rajah's note.

Nine o'clock.

A porter announced, "Some one to see you, Madam." He sounded as though he were not quite proud of the "Some one," as though he felt a little superior to any one who would have that kind of a "some one" coming to call. I descended, and there was Poonga, dressed in a resplendent silken costume, sword in place and turban new and clean and white, shining above his silken glory like a full moon. Nor was he alone, for behind him a battery of five or six servants waited in a manner nearly military.

He saluted with his back-breaking bow, and gestured me to the door where stood teh same magnificent litter upon which I had seen his Master.

Now it is one things to sit upon such a dais in the Hindu costume, but quite another for an American woman in her evening gown and wrap to assume the cross-legged position which such a device demands. I found myself embarrassed. However, I managed to adjust myself to the situation without too much loss of dignity.

I was lifted and carried in a state, the curtains or canopies were dropped and I was as secluded as though I were purdah with my veil and headwrap, like most discreet of Brahman young women.

I scarcely saw where we were going, although I did peek out of the curtains discreetly once, only to be cautioned by Poonga.

"It is not advisable," he whispered, appeared from somewhere behind the litter. "The Memsahib should not reveal to those who do not know and who may not understand that she--not being of my race--is traveling in the chair of my Master."

I understood. I returned to the mystery of the interior. Then we arrived. It turned out to be not an "hotel," in the usual sense, but an "hotel particulier," in the French meaning of the word, that is to say a private house of really splendid order. I was completely unnerved at the moment of entering that palace, but I did notice that it was of a luxury and magnificence quite commensurate with the glory of an Indian prince.

I was led into a vast hall and then through a corridor of marble, and finally came into a tremendous room where many persons stood or sat or walked about. in English an attendant announced my name. There were other English and Europeans present. 

And then, my Rajah detached himself from a group of talkers and came forward to greet me.

His greeting was charming, and his presentation to the celebrities, British, German, French and Hindu, was noble, but suddenly his face darkened as he stared at me, and with very little ceremony he left me standing almost alone.

I was puzzled.

A somewhat painted but well preserved English woman of certain age who had noticed the sudden change, came over to me.

"What did you say to him, my dear?" she asked. "Did you refuse him something? That is teh look he wears when you say 'no.' Nasty temper, you see."

I did not like her. I did not like any of the people. They shall I say it? ...a little unreal, a little wanting.

Then I wondered, was it the pearl? Had I forgotten to wear or even to bring his pearl? Was it something significant in India? I did not know. I was rather alarmed, for no definite reason.

There was music, and that then new invention, cocktails, and whisky for the officers. I retreated to one side of the great room and seated myself, very ill at ease, on a low divan and watched the people. I felt "let down." I had expected...heaven knows what, but not thing.

Then a voice spoke to me. It was a soft, cultured voice.

"Tired?" it said. "Or just bored?"

I looked up. A tall young Hindu, in European clothes but wearing a turban, was standing beside my divan. He was unusually handsome for a man of any race, and he had a haughtiness in his features that commanded both attention and respect.

"Just a little out of place, I'm afraid," I said. "Your ways are all new to me. I'm just a tourist in your country."

"Tourist?" He seemed genuinely astonished. "But then how did you get here? Forgive my curiosity, but it isn't usual, you know."

"I am the Rajah's guest," I said, thinking of nothing better.

"The Rajah? What? ...Ah, yes, of course." He seemed very puzzled. In fact, he seemed so interested that he sat beside me in just as European a fashion as I sat myself and stared at me in a very queer way.

"Would it be impolite if I asked you if you have known the Rajah long? Perhaps you met him in England...?"

I was rather embarrassed. I was not sure of myself, and felt uneasy about telling him the true story. He saw it, too, and helped me out.

"You seem to hesitate," he said. "May I suggest that it might be better to tell me...not that it matters. you can trust me perfectly of course, and...well, please do."

Terribly Oxonian. Terribly nice. Terribly handsome.
I told him.
First he frowned. Then he laughed as one seldom sees an Eastern laugh.

"Shikapur, eh?" he echoed, still laughing. "Would you mind pointing him out to me in the crowd? you see, I'm only just returned from England. I'm a know."

I saw the Rajah, towering over everybody else, and being the Green Gallant in person with three pretty young English girls and their chaperon. When I indicated him, my new acquaintance practically roared. He started up, then sat down again, and finally stood to his feet. I must have looked as bewildered as I felt, for he said:

"My dear young lady," (he was perhaps one year older than I, mind you) "yours is the most romantic story I have ever heard in India, except the ones out of cheap novels. I think it only fair to tell you that you have been the victim of a joke."


"Yes. You see...oh, it scarcely matters. But actually, I myself am, not the Rajah, but the Maharajah of Shikapur. And I am very glad you have come."

He bowed low and charmingly.
I was covered with embarrassment.

"Naturally you want to know all about it Well, the gigantic devil who decoyed you very good friend, Bhurlana."

"But why...?"

"Oh, you don't know Bhurlana. He likes the ladies and he is sensitive about them. I can just see his disappointment when you came without the pearl (my pearl, by the way, and you are very welcome to it) he went off and pouted. You see, we were at Oxford together, and I know him. Every time I go away on business, he rather lords it. We are true Hindus, but both of us have spent so much of our time away that we have rather the European sense of humor. Not a bad sort of chap. I shall have a talk with him."

And with this he walked off into the crowd.
All these events seemed totally unreal. You may picture, if you will, a very dazed and very embarrassed young woman. Every burst of laughter I heard as I sat there alone waiting for Shikapur to come back...or hoping he would...I felt was about me and my disillusion. And I could see no reason why he (meaning t he false Shikapur) should have done it.

Well, he came back.
In fact, the two of them came back together, and my embarrassment grew.

"We have come to beg your pardon," said the real Maharajah, by the way of opening the subject. "You will find Bhurlana very humble."

He did not look it.

"Dear lady," he said, bowing, "you were the victim of circumstances over which we none of us have control, and I come to ask your kind forgiveness for my part in those circumstances. May I have the pleasure of taking you through Shikapur's elegant palace and into his picturesque gardens?"

Before I could answer, the Maharajah himself answered.

"Not at all. Shikapur himself will have that pleasure." And stepping forward he offered me his arm in a manner so assured that I took it, and we wet through the hall into another large room which, in contrast to the reception room, was entirely Hindu in decoration.

Once across the threshold, having left his friend staring and speechless, Shikapur suddenly changed his character.

"Miss Crocker," he said, "there is a certain frankness in your face which inspires confidence. It makes me want to trust you in a way which perhaps I ought not. Will you...and I mean this very seriously...give me your word as an American gentlewoman that anything I say to you within the next few minutes will never be repeated? And will you please promise not to try to draw any conclusions of your own--and even if you do, never to pass them on?"

Mystery, mystery, mystery!

Adventure, adventure, adventure!

I was in my element. Would I promise? Of course I would. Would I keep a secret? I'd keep a million secrets, even if they involved the total destruction of India and the fall of the British Dominion.

I promised. He led me through divers passages into a garden. He brought me to a lawn of rich and perfectly trimmed turf hidden behind hedgerows. He gestured me to be seated on the grass and sat down beside me.

"You see, I have no choice," he said. "If I pretend that this is merely a joke, you will repeat it as a joke and somebody will learn what they should not. I must tell you frankly and trust you..."

He looked sharply at me as he said this, and spoke very coldly and sharply.

"We are not bloody people. We may be idealists, but not that sort."

I showed my puzzlement. He came to the point.

"You see, you were mistaken for some one else. Some one else should have been on the steps of the American consulate at that moment, and should have smiled. It was all prearranged. matter what the were mistaken for that person, and until you came this evening, we did not realize the mistake."

"Political?" I inquired, now regaining a little of my native aplomb.

He darted a sharp look at me. He had power, that young man.

"Naturally I will not answer any such question," he said. "Let us call the whole incident closed."

"In spite of a woman's curiosity?"

"Because of it..."


"And, Miss Crocker, may we now be really friends?"

"Have you a harem?" I countered ironically.

He laughed.

"I'm afraid not," he admitted. "I'm too British, I expect. But Bhurlana has."
He paused a moment. Then:
"And about being friends?"

I was beaten. I was really pleased by this charming young man. It was a page out of a romance that brought in maharajahs and slaves and dark, mysterious things and handsome princes, and I was as happy as a schoolgirl.

Could we be friends? How could we miss it? Indeed, Shikapur and I did become excellent friends, which we are to this day. He became my key to India and the haunting spirit of her in which I had come there to bathe myself.

From Bombay to Benares to Agra to Amber to Calcutta, he was my guide and my interpreter and my companion. He explained to me those things that the foreign eye and mind could never understand about the mingled, yet separate races of the Orient, and the mysteries and the symbols. And if I have ver drawn into my life some of that beauty, some of the peace and rest that is India's soul, then I have him to thank for it.

But I wanted adventure and I got it.

You will remember how my friend had mentioned that Bhurlana had a harem. Well, I saw something of that tall, handsome man, for his good friend and I had arrived at a basis of courtship, and one day I taxed him on the subject.

He laughed.

"I suppose I ought to put you in your place for such a suggestion," he said. "But as you are as un-Indian as possible (I resented that) "you are already forgiven for all the gaucheries of that sort you may make."

Why is that gauche? You have one, haven't you?"

"Certainly. But that is not a thing we mention with outsiders."

"But I want to see it."

"Ah? Why?"

"I mean, really see it. Live in it for a few days."

That floored him. He couldn't believe I was serious. And after some discussion he began, I was sure, to think I was completely mad.

Nevertheless I won. He eventually challenged me to spend an entire week in his mysterious assemblage of beauties (such, I supposed, they were) his guest. He declared that I would ask to be released in a day or two. He insisted that no woman but an Easterner could possibly adapt herself to the life. He even implied that I might be shocked.

Naturally, this sealed the bargain. Headstrong as usual, I left with him and Shikapur for a settlement outlying Bombay where the harem was. On the way I learned a little about what I was getting into and it was far less glamorous than it had been in the abstract.
The fact is that harems do not exist in India as they do in Turkey or in other purely Mohammedan countries. They are not a national institution, and they are not a large lodging house for the legal wives of the richer men. As a matter of fact, they are rather devoted to the mistresses of the richer nobility, and have no place in organized society at all. Had I realized this, I doubt if I would have been so free to accept Bhurlana’s challenge.
But I had “made by bed”…and so forth.
We arrived. I shall not name the place, because it enjoyed a certain amount of notoriety, and Bhurlana came in for a great deal of criticism from the British Civil Servants and their wives. Nor am I going into the splendors of an Eastern potentate’s harem, for you have all seen your cinemas, and read your romances, and you probably therefore know as much about the subject as I do. Well, I took my disillusionment fairly well.
I was first introduced—if that be the word—to a gorgeous, fat, and really very beautiful mountain of a woman who was the dominating spirit of the establishment. She had the power that comes of priority, and if the owner himself had grown tired of her charms, or had passed on to other blandishments, it was only contributory to the authority she wielded in her own palace.
But there was real beauty there. I soon learned to distinguish between the confined inmates of this woman-colony and the innumerable little dancers, mostly very young girls, who were employed there for entertainment. I found that many of the former were women of considerable culture, and that many had traveled or had lived in Europe. In fact my English and what I remembered of my French was quite sufficient to get me on a friendly basis with most of them.
But hardly had I been given my sumptuous apartments and my attendants, than I realized how completely in the power of the tall Hindu nobleman I had gotten myself. He was God here. They kissed the ground before him. They prostated themselves as he passed. He was their religion and their idol. It was slavery and despotism, and it was wonderful.
But…you cannot put some forty odd women into one fairly confined space and expect no tension. And tension there certainly was.
First I made friends with a charming girl called Radipurtha. She had been “sold” into the service of the maharajah (although she called it by a nicer name) by her lordly parents who owed his father a considerable sum of money. Banal story. This little girl took the trouble to warn me and finally to protect me. A warning may not have seemed necessary, but actually it was. If the masks could have been lifted from the faces of Bhurlana’s favorites, the whiskers of the feline would have been the first things to appear. I will give an example.
You should know that I was the “guest” of the master, and not a regular inmate of the harem. This did little to inspire popularity for me, especially as I was privileged to sit at the right when he deigned to dine in state in the enormous dome-covered hall in the center of the main palace, while at my right sat the young and handsome Shikapur, even more fascinating in his Oriental costume.
The Mountain Woman, whose name I cannot remember, never took her eyes off me that first night. I made no effort to cover the blondness of my hair nor to color my skin, and I know that I was far more red than white during that first dinner.
The little dancers noticed me, too. I could feel it rather than see it.
Well, that night things happened. I suppose my attitude towards Panya, my attendant, was a little different from that taken by the other women. She was a charming and trembling little thing, and I tried to be kind to her. It paid, apparently.
I went to bed…really a matter of considerable ceremony, perfuming and oiling…and promptly went to sleep from the sheer exhaustion of nerves that the day had brought me. Suddenly I was awakened by a scream. I started up and saw my little Panya writhing on the floor. For an instant paralyzed with fear, I did not understand what it was. Then I could see that she was struggling with a snake about ten feet long and whose flat, triangular head told even me that it was a cobra.
Other women and a fat negro broke into my apartment. There was a moment of mad excitement during which I remained useless in bed. Then the eunuch, with a simple movement which I could never explain to myself, lifted the snake near the head and calmly walked off with him.
Panya had fainted. I had, nearly, but I felt no little shame for myself when I learned that it was a fangless, aged cobra belonging to the Mountain Women, incapable of harm. Still, it was not a nice visitor, and little Panya, who doubtless should have know better, did not recognize it. She would have risked her life to save mine.
Some of the beautiful ladies had played me a rather terrifying joke.
That practical joke…with its rather mean twist…will serve to illustrate for you the jealousy and suspicion which reigned in that colony of women.
I have one story to tell which is really odd. I did not witness it, but it is typical, and ought to be written. Some years before my visit to the place there was a murder. The loveliest girl who ever found her way into that questionable paradise was killed by a jealous inmate in a manner that is worthy of mention.
She was taken gravely ill one day, suffered all the tortures of the damned, and died in exquisite pain and agony, in spite of every effort of Hindu art and British medicine. Bhurlana, really fond of the girl, was beside himself. He had an autopsy performed, and the British army doctor in charge discovered that she died…not of any strange poisoning, as had been suspected, but of millions of tiny perforations of the stomach and intestinal tract by short hairs. Some of those she-devils had put chopped tiger hair in her food.
I need not tell you that I was very careful about my own food after hearing that story.
Another thing I recall was the strange devotion of the women to snakes. I had later in life a chance to observe this from a more personal point of view, but it was first brought to my attention here.
Snakes, when they are big enough, are fascinating even to a woman of my Western culture, but to the Oriental they assume an importance and significance we can hardly conceive. And there is a certain sexual side of the attraction, too, which I am not able to explain but which, I hear, has been recognized by modern psychologists.
There was a sort of feast day. It had a religious meaning, but its purport missed me altogether, as I never fully understood the many strange rituals of the Hindu doctrine and their symbolic meaning. Part of this ceremony was dancing, and very exotic and exciting it was, too. I sat with Bhurlana and young Shikapur and some of the favorites, while the paid dancing-girls went through their movements.
At the end of the ceremonies, came the famous snake dance which, I understand, was suppressed by Queen Victoria. Personally I fail to see why she should care whether her Indian subjects dance with snakes or not, but I suppose that is none of my business. However, whatever it meant, a naked girl—and not an Indian either, but a pure negress—appeared with a basket. From it she took a long sleepy python and let him coil on the floor. Then she began a series of movements which were carefully calculated to rouse the sleepy monster to attention. He lifted his head and watched her, fascinated. At the end of the dance, as she reached a point of something like madness, she picked him up in both hands and allowed him to coil himself about her body while she moved in a slow, undulating rhythm.
Closer and closer the coil gripped her. His head peered over hers. He seemed to peer into her face, his tongue darting like a whiplash. Gradually her movements became less and less pronounced until at last she stopped altogether, standing still with her arms outstretched.
It seemed to me that she was growing pale, if that were possible. Then suddenly, before any one realized what was happening, she toppled over. Guards and women rushed to her. The coils were gripping her with a vise-like grip. She was being stifled. But the extraordinary thing was that she seemed to want to be stifled. She was in a state of ecstasy while her entire body was being crushed. And when they tried to tear the serpent from her, she opened her eyes and screamed to them in protest.
It was a narrow escape.
Well, I won my bet with Bhurlana. But, believe me, for I say it was a certain fervor, all is not beer and skittles in those musty, jealousy-ridden, feline dens. Reconstruct your rosy ideas of them.
But India…!
I am going to digress, and give you some of the more fundamental sides of what India became to me. You may already have gathered that there is a strong religious streak in me. I do not mean for one moment that I am a fervent follower of any of the accepted creeds and doctrines. Religion to me has never meant doctrines nor forms nor methods. I believe that the philosophers of today and of yesterday are more or less agreed upon this point also. I have gathered this, not from any study, but from the conversations of those more learned than myself.
There was a reason for my coming to India which had nothing to do with adventure, with the so-called “freedom” of young women who are bored with their lives at home, nor with flirtation (already much too prevalent in this book, I am afraid). This reason cannot be called other than religious. If you want to be hard on me and my insufficient understanding of the mysticism of the East, you will probably say that I was sentimentalizing about what I did not know.
You will remember that, twenty years before the wheel of life had spun and tossed me into Bombay, I had had a vision of a beautiful and radiant woman, dressed in an Oriental costume, lying on my childhood’s bed. A glimpse, a cry, and it vanished. But it had remained vivid in my childish imagination, and became in later life symbolic of something that I wanted, wanted to know and to understand.
All through my life I have been drawn to that which I cannot clearly define. The Buddhism of China and its beautiful pageantry fascinated me and became a narcotic to me, as did the rites of the Japanese and their (to me) incomprehensible symbolism.
Thus in India.
Now there are two important influences which threw me into an adventure (a badly chose word) which colored my entire after life. The first was another vision and the second was a book.
The vision occurred in my hotel in Bombay, some weeks after my experience in Bhurlana’s harem. I had returned from an evening’s amusement, and had been dancing, and using those other devices by which we decoy ourselves into thinking that we are having a good time. I returned alone and was tired. My mind was relaxed and concentrated on nothing in particular, and I was so exhausted bodily as to be almost in a state of coma.
I opened the door of my apartment, walked through the anteroom, through the drawing-room where the moon was pouring in like an arc light, and into my bedroom. I went to the mirror without lighting the kerosene lamp which the up-do-date hotel afforded and stared at myself. A very feminine gesture. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself that I was still beautiful though tired.
In the mirror, I saw that something radiant and shining was on my bed. I turned quickly. The same beautiful woman I had seen when I was a little girl was lying there. She was purdah, but her veil did not conceal the beauty of the eyes. They were smiling at me. Slowly and gracefully she raised herself and sat up on the bed, drawing her feet under her, and holding out her hand to me. Her clothes were of the richest silks and her head crowned with a diadem of the most glorious pearls.
I was not afraid. I started forward…just one step.
She vanished.
Nothing was there. Nothing. I lighted the lamp and saw that the pressure of no body had indented the perfectly smooth bed. But I seemed to be conscious of a faint perfume…very faint…probably imaginary. That was all.
I could not sleep that night. It was too real, too convincing. But tired as I was, a certain refreshment came over me, and in the morning I found myself possessed of great joy.
Now for the book.
It was a book which had been published a few years before in Bombay…the translation of Jogindra’s Hathaparidipika, the book of the Yoga. My friend Shikapur made me a present of it in reply to several rather childish questions I had put to him about Hindu religions. It was perhaps a hard subject for me, but it was, all the same, a great revelation, and it gave me a comprehension of the deeper things of existence.
Yoga is a Sanscrit word meaning concentration. It is today the name of one of the orthodox Hindu systems of belief. It has for its teaching the way in which the human being can become perfectly united with the Supreme Being. There are eight stages of this concentration: self-control, external and internal purity; postures (which have served as basis for many of the false Yoga “rackets” popularized in Europe and America by would-be intellectuals and handsome, money-seeking Hindus); regulation of the breath; restraint of the senses; steadying of the mind; fixing of the mind on the Supreme Being; and profound contemplation.
The Yogin, or follower of the Yogi creed, may attain eight great powers when he arrives at maturity of the samyama, the last three of the stages. He may shrink into the diminutive form of the atom or may obtain perfect control and dominion over everything or yet possess a knowledge of all things that have or may happen in the earth or in the heavenly bodies. The Yogin may even attain the powers of comprehension of the most subtle elements and be able to see all objects at once as he approaches the identity with the Supreme and become part of Him.
Perhaps it is not given to Westerners to comprehend or to have sufficient faith to master these conceptions. I failed as all Occidentals have failed, so far as I know, but I brought a great beauty into my life and I can only wish that I were a big enough person…I was about to say “soul”…to fill my life and mind with the richness of this majestic conception. But to my story. 
It begins when, shortly after my odd vision of which I had told nobody, I heard an account of a strange thing. It seems that there was a famous Yogin who dwelt in a cave near Poona and who had arrived at an envious stage of concentration. He practiced what is called the Hatha-Yoga which is the near means to the supreme end of liberation, and he was able, when the spirit moved, to explain any of the mysterious phenomena of life, death, or life after death. Hundreds of soul-hungry persons visited his cave, and some were rewarded, while others to whom he took no notice, were turned away with no more knowledge that before.
An American newspaper man, whom I leave nameless, sailed form San Francisco and paid a visit to Bhojaveda, the Great Yogin. He went as though on a great Christian pilgrimage of the Middle Ages, on foot, with no guide and no money, in perfect humility, perfect simplicity, and was never again heard of.
There was considerable speculation among the residents of Bombay as to whether he ever reached the Yogin or not, or whether the revelations of the great Contemplation were such that he made an end of his life after the interview. The government attempted to solve the mystery of his disappearance but nothing ever was known, least of all from the Yogin himself.
But an idea was born in me then. It became almost a fetish. I determined to visit the Yogin, if it was my last experience in this life. I finally told my plan to Shikapur, who was seriously upset and concerned, and did everything in his power to dissuade me.
Stubborn as I was, I became even more determined to go. I was troubled by my vision, and by a certain inner disturbance of mind or soul which I associated with it. I was not a very happy girl and I wanted that Great Peace which the Kaivalya or true Liberation brings. Call it the sentimental or romantic ignorance of a silly young woman if you will. I was not the first nor yet the last. There was something I wanted. I did not understand but I wanted it fervently.
Result: I went to Poona.
I rode on a mule, accompanied by Shikapur, to the city, through a dark jungle and protected only by a few native bearers and guides and my very worried young friend. Nothing happened, however, that showed cause for his disturbance, and I reached there after five days of slow going, tired, a little frightened, and very sorry that I had come…but determined to go on.
The cave of Bhojaveda is situated about seven miles from Poona under a low wooded hill. It is less a true cave than a rock-shelter which runs some fifty feet back into a turf-covered gigantic boulder.
My guide would not approach it nearer than a half mile off, whether from fear or from some religious concept. However, I rode on alone, until three totally naked, blackened men barred my way. I exposed a little note written in Sanscrit which Shikapur had prepared for me. They read it very gravely and slowly and then stared at me. I wanted to cry or to faint. I was afraid to be there and afraid to go away. It was no fear of the ordinary sort, rather a fear of the mystic and of the powers of which I knew nothing. But one man made a motion for me to follow and then walked ahead of me towards the huge cleft of the boulder.
At a certain distance, the men motioned me to halt and to dismount. I did, and one remained there with me while the other walked very slowly forward and into the cave.
He remained there a long time. Meanwhile the one who had stayed with me stood rigid and erect, his eyes and body turned away from me and towards the cave. A statue.
After an endless while, the first man returned, slowly, with an exaggerated, measured step. He did not look at me. He took his place by his companion and fixed his gaze somewhere, saying…in plain English which was fairly understandable:
“Go. It is the moment.”
I went forward and into the cave as though in a trance.
Another naked Hindu emerged from somewhere and preceded me down the blackened shaft until we came to a dim room-like opening where the rock had formed a natural internal shelter. It was faintly lighted by a break which ended in daylight far overhead, aided by a feeble oil lamp.
My silent guide stopped and held up his hand.
I stood breathless, waiting.
Then from the shadows there appeared a phantom.
The being who moved silently into my vision was practically transparent. He was a man who was very aged. His perfectly white hair hung to his waist and his beard to his knees. He was without any garment at all and his skin seemed to be wax, and one could notice that the fingers and the flesh of the face were actually translucent. All the veins of his body were as clear as if they had been painted on him.
He stood before me, erect. But I knew that his eyes were not fixed on me, and this gave me the courage to look at them.
They were enormous, lustrous, and seemed to glow, as the light of the lamp struck them, deep in the caverns of his eye-sockets. His face was a skull with transparent wax-skin scarcely concealing the bones. But in some way which I cannot explain he was beautiful. It was an ethereal beauty. There was something of another world in that face from which all color had vanished.
Then, in a soft, clear, sweetly vibrant voice he spoke. It was probably Sanscrit in which he spoke, or some old Indian dialect. He spoke rhythmically and with no inflection of the voice. It was like a machine speaking, like some strange singing or intonations of sounds and accents. And I understood nothing.
But while I stood, too far out of myself for terror or any definite emotion, I became hypnotized by that voice. I was lulled by the timbre, by the rhythmic speech. I felt so far away from everything, and could see nothing definitely.
Then, somewhere in that dim light, I saw a vision…or perhaps a reality.
It was the image of a young Indian boy, very beautiful indeed. He moved towards me and smiled at me. He lifted his hands half-way towards me. He was dressed in the rich costume of a Hindu noble, and it was remarkable…I shall always remember it…that he wore about his neck twelve strings of magnificent pearls. I have never seen their equal for luster.
And then the voice ceased.
And then the boy vanished.
And the Bhojaveda, the Great Yogin, turned without motion, without sound, and silently faded into the shadow.
The naked Hindu was once more beside me. I realized the interview was at an end, and I followed him dazedly back along the passage, I could see the light of the entrance growing larger and larger, but I was not conscious of moving towards it.
Then the sunlight and the air.
Then more complete consciousness.
Then I recalled that I had learnt nothing at all, and that I had understood nothing.
The two naked Hindus were still waiting in their rigid, motionless pose. I walked towards them until one of them lifted his hand for me to stop. He spoke to me in English. Years have dimmed by memory of his words, but the substance is this:
“You have heard, but you did not understand. Know that it has been given to you to see what all do not see. The vision you had in your childhood and have again had recently, is a vision of your mother. The young child who visited you in the cave was yourself in your last reincarnation, son of that mother. Once more will you see the vision of the mother who is watching you, one last time, and on that day you will go to her. You have read the Truth, but it is not given to you to understand the Truth. You cannot change what is to come, and you cannot escape it. It is of no purpose that more should be revealed to you.”
Now I will make no further comment. You may imagine for yourself the effect that such an interpretation had on me, the more especially as the man who now spoke to me had certainly not been within two hundred feet of the sound of the Yogin’s sweet, quietly modulated voice. I left with a new passion and a new fear. I was inarticulate when I returned to the worried, waiting Shikapur. The East, its depths, its penetration, its mysticism, had gripped me still tighter in its long fingers. My curiosity had grown into passion like a sudden flowering.
But there remained the fear of that beautiful vision which would foretell the end of my life.
But there are other facets to my days in India. A curious story comes from Bombay concerning a friend of mine. I say “friend” with a certain emphasis, because there came a time in Bombay society when I was completely without friends. I had, as you may have gathered, broken the “code,” and had appeared publicly with “the natives.”
The story concerns a young English girl named Ellen Purling and her stiff chaperon, Mrs. Reginald Benn. This latter would have made a good character from Dickens or Thackeray, but was born too late. I christened her “the Battle-Ax.” She was the estranged wife of an M.P., I learnt after three weeks’ acquaintance over a dinner table. She had been engaged by the Purling family, who were apparently “good county stock,” to escort Dear Ellen on a voyage of education through the British Empire, and at the same time to keep Dear Ellen from the hands of any “impossible foreigner” who might aspire to the well-rounded money-bags of the Essex Purlings.
And this she did.
Mrs. Benn, armed with lorgnette, and a thick fringe of chilling respectability, had routed more than the “impossible foreigners.” Even the most presentable and sweet young Englishmen, en route to a good civil service post, had been completely daunted by the weapons of this hardy lady. Much to the harm of her charge, be it said.
Ellen Purling was just twenty when I made her acquaintance in my hotel. She was as pretty, in a sweet-pea way, as a rosy, classical-featured, English virgin can be. I learned after some timid and unconfiding weeks that the only men she had known in her life were her father, the rector of St. Winifred’s, Purling, and the rector’s son. She became, in time, very friendly with me in spite of the Battle-Ax’s first hesitation and obvious mefiance. Mrs. Benn rather liked me herself, after the first two weeks. She was a lonely soul, although she did not know it, and her professional ferocity made most people careful not to have any more contact with her than was politely necessary.
Ellen I really liked. Perhaps her diffidence and her innate and starving sweetness contrasted so much with my own hardy and swashbuckling young ladyhood. I was a little envious of her, in a way. I had maybe lost something, in not having that sweetness…not being capable of having it. I suspected in her, too, a quiet little unhappiness. It was not long before this was translated into very clear terms.
At all events, Mrs. Benn made a very special exception in my case, and allowed Ellen to go about with me now and then. And one day it happened.
Ellen and I were doing the bazaars and shops. There was a curious little place where birds and strange fish and odd little animals like mongooses were for sale. Ellen had seen somewhere some pet fish that had sunset heads and whose bodies graduated through the whole gamut of colors into one long streaming blue tail-strip and another long crimson one. We were directed to the store in question, and it was really an adventure in itself. But not the least curious and fascinating in the place was the proprietor himself. I have no idea to what caste he belonged, but he had the dignity of a noble, the grace of an Apollo, and the beauty of a god. I can still picture him in his immaculate white turban, his black tunic of mohair, his white and not-so-immaculate trousers and bare feet, his delicate, nervous hands and long finger-nails, and his neatly parted beard which added to his air of a distinguished but impoverished young philosopher.
I was amused at him. But Ellen stared at him with round eyes. I did not recognize the symptoms at first, but afterwards I remembered that stare.
We bought the fish, whatever its name was, and we bought a red, green, and violet bird of some sort and we would have bought perhaps the entire shop if the bearded young man who owned it had not been interrupted by the entry of some chattering young couples in search of souvenirs.
What a way that young proprietor had with him. His limited, but effective English, his bowing, his “Ah, but the memsahib would to see be interested…,” and his really enchanting smile. We went out of his shop at last, complete with aquarium and menagerie. We went to tea—I have forgotten where—and then suddenly I got rather a shock.
“Wasn’t he wonderful?” asked little Ellen Purling, breathlessly and radiant as a June bride. “Did you ever see any one so good-looking? Such eyes? Why, they fairly compelled me.”
Now I can understand schoolgirl enthusiasm, but I never expected to hear little Miss Prim talking about a man’s eyes compelling her. She babbled and chattered about him for over an hour, and I was just as astonished to learn that she had found out his name during the first few minutes I had wandered away from her to look at some of the finny wonders of his place. It was Rabani, or something of that kind.
We returned to the hotel, and Ellen asked me, childishly, not to mention to the Battle-Ax that she had talked so much about the shop-keeper. I promised, and that was that.
But that night, who should come to my room in a state of nervous hysterics but Mrs. Reginald Benn herself, proclaiming between sniffs of smelling salts and waving of anxious hands, that Little Ellen had vanished, was probably murdered and thrown in the river, or had been sold into white slavery by “those terrible natives, the horrid beasts.”
I doubted it. But I wondered if Little Ellen had not somehow escaped the watchfulness of her chaperon and gone off to see the night-life of the city with one of those nice young men I had seen about and with whom I had even flirted mildly myself in the hotel drawing-room.
I suggested it, but it made matters worse. Evidently white slavery was bad enough, but running about at night in the wicked city of Bombay with strange young officers of C.S. lads was unspeakably worse. Perhaps because less dramatic and more probable.
To be brief, days went on, and no Ellen. Investigations of every sort were made, and the hotel was turned into a rendezvous for soldiery, police, and officials, for the next fortnight. And then, exactly one month afterwards, came my part in it all.
I was again visiting the consulate, in order to get some long-delayed mail from America. Returning on foot to my hotel and all alone, I passed through the crowd of mixed races with English trimmings, sunk in a brown study, when suddenly I heard my name called.
“Aimée, Aimée….”
It was whispered and barely audible. At first I thought it was my imagination. But then it was repeated again, almost in my ear.
“Aimée, Aimée…wait…listen….”
Right next to me was a Hindu woman in purdah, and slightly behind me a tall Parsee, and several coolies also were near me in the street, but not an Anglo-Saxon in sight. Then I became conscious that the voice was coming from the Hindu women.
“Aimée, it’s I…Ellen….”
I stopped short. Under the band that concealed the lower part of her face I detected a whiteness that no native could match. Ellen Purling!
“Walk along with me and don’t say anything,” she said. “I must talk to you. I’ll show you where we can talk freely.”
You can imagine how I was astounded. But I walked along with her and said nothing. Eventually we came to a densely populated district where Europeans seldom if ever, penetrate, and then on no good mission.
“Here we are,” said Ellen, suddenly, and she turned towards a doorway in a very humble and very dirty house in front of which scraggy children, totally naked and totally unwashed, were rolling about and taking shelter from the intense sun under a stretched-out skin. She walked straight in and I followed. There was something that was used for a stairway, very steep and open in the back of each stair like a ladder of flat boards.
Upstairs was a very decent room (compared, I mean, to the rest of the house) and relatively clean. There were two doors and a window that was partly glass and had its broken panes mended with skin.
Ellen tore off her veil, and stood with the merriest face in the world, grinning at me and at my obvious puzzlement.
“Now don’t be stuffy and moral and like the Battle-Ax,” was the first thing she said. “Oh, I’ve tried so hard to see you and to talk to you, Aimée. I have caught glimpses of you when I dared to come near the hotel, but I never have been able to talk to you. I knew all the time you were the only white woman I can tell it to. I’m so happy, Aimée….”
Disconcerting, all this.
“Well,” said I, “what’s it all about? I suppose you know that you have the whole government in a state of fever.”
She only laughed.
“I know it, and as far as I’m concerned they will have to stay that way. I’m never going to appear again. I’m dead as far as my former life is concerned. Oh, if I’ve been penned up inside, starving, praying for a miracle, wanting…somebody, something.”
“And now…?”
“I’ve got him….”
“Him…? Who?” But I knew perfectly well, and she knew that I did.
“Rabani, the wonderful man we saw together in the birdshop. Oh, Aimée, I can’t tell you what he is like…wonderful.”
Nothing I could say would change her mind. I pointed out that Mrs. Benn, who was well-meaning in her stuffy way, would be disgraced. But no. Little Miss Prim was quite a different girl from the one I had known in the hotel. She was alive, aglow. She was in love. She had suddenly discovered that which had been hidden away from her for years by stuffy people and stuffier conventions. We talked very frankly about “him”…in fact so frankly that I was even a little embarrassed, well-schooled though I was in human relations.
Ellen never returned. She was married to Rabani in a serious Hindu ceremony. She abandoned Christianity and became a believer in the Supreme Being and in the possibility of humans to unite themselves with it. I have a letter from her, not many years old, telling me of her great and continued happiness.
So that story is finished.
     Now let me tell a serious and tragic adventure, with myself as spectator. I had started one day for a restful fortnight with some amusing English people…some of the few whites who did not believe me an adventuress or a woman of evil…together with Shikapur. We were going to a place between Bombay and Kaiyan, not more than thirty miles from the seaport.
At the railroad station I learned something amusing about Indian mentality that may explain, in an indirect way, the difficulty the English have had in colonizing them, and in making them like it.
At the Bombay station-one of the world’s greatest horrors, half Gothic and half Hindu-I saw several hundred natives asleep all over the platform, the green lawn, and every other place where a human creature could possibly lay himself down. It was explained to me that when the low-caste Indians desire to travel, they never think of consulting a time-table, but merely make ready and go to the station. Now trains in India do not run every fifteen minutes, and there are some which do not run more than once in several days. But the native merely go to the station and wait…for days, if necessary, sleeping or eating or talking, until the train arrives.
We reached the country place somewhere towards evening and I found myself in a perfect heaven. Date-trees with feathery tops and the sacred fig-trees with their open air roots were filled with multi-colored birds, parakeets, monkeys and all manner of life. Despite the burning sun, it was fresh and vigorous, and the mansion of European design to which I had been invited was situated on an artificial island in the middle of a rectangular artificial pool, banked by hedgerows and flowers. No American millionaire could have built its equal for beauty, for the life about it, the rich jungle green and the gorgeous sky added to the magnificence of the place and made it into a fairy castle.
In the evening I walked out alone.
The vista of my friend’s estate lay before me for over one thousand yards and gave into a large, clear field, which, in turn, stretched out towards the heavy forest. There was practically no town, only a few huts and small squat native houses of the agricultural inhabitants. But there was a great peace, a great nearness to that Supreme Being towards whom millions of Indians strive.
I walked out of the geometrical estate and into nature. Dusk was falling, softly, like a cloud of gray feathers through which the sun poured crimson and cobalt rays.
At one side of the open field there was a house which seemed to be quite modern and western in design. Attracted, I made towards it across the tall grass of the field, as though I were swimming in nature’s green. I was elated, ecstatic.
Then suddenly I heard a rustling in the grass behind me and a magnificent black greyhound leapt past me like a whirlwind. He checked a few yards beyond me and came back sniffing and rather friendly. As I patted his head, I heard a woman’s voice calling in English:
“Here Crom, here Crom….”
I turned and saw a young woman in cork helmet and puttees coming towards me, running, red-faced and out of breath. She was English, I guessed, and very soon confirmed it. I reached for the dog’s collar as he stood to be patted and held him for her.
“Thanks awfully,” she said, coming up. “He runs rather wild and keeps me out of breath trying to catch him. You’re rather a terror, Cromwell.”
I asked her if she lived across the field in the house I had noticed, and was surprised to see that her face became very serious in a flash. She admitted that she lived there, and we talked for a brief moment while she smoked a cigarette. Suddenly she excused herself…hastily, I thought, and as though she were not wanting to be seen with me. But that she said she would be glad to see me there again, I would have thought she did not care to know me.
I followed her through the dusk to the house. There was no light visible in it. In fact it seemed to be closed. Everything seemed a little bit odd.
Returning to my friends, I asked about the house and was told that nobody lived there at all.
Another mystery.
Well, I saw the young woman again. We had quite a talk on the second day and we became friendly. She never vouchsafed her name although I gave her mine readily enough, and when I walked right near her house with her, she stopped suddenly and said:
“I’d better leave you here. You won’t mind, will you? It wouldn’t be understood if you came over with me. But please see me often.”
I thought there was something wistful about her, and I was able, at the shorter distance, to see quite clearly that the house was boarded up and that there was no sign of life apparent within it.
Stranger and more strange.
Then one day towards the end of my stay, the young woman asked me if I would care to come and meet her friend. I was a little surprised that she had never mentioned a friend before, and I concluded that this was some sort of a clandestine love affair where the man in question could not marry and could not live publicly with her because of the “Honor of a gentleman” and that sort of rot.
Naturally I accepted the invitation. It was for dinner on the following evening. I made my way afoot as usual across the field and came to the door of what was now plainly a house of the Devonshire cottage type. The shutters were on all the windows, but I could see a faint light within and I had scarcely touched the bell when a tall, gaunt butler in livery admitted me with mournful correctitude.
I was shown into a delightful and beautifully appointed drawing room, where the young woman received me.
She was radiant. She was dressed in a low-necked dinner-gown of white satin with tufted sleeves and the bodice effect of the time that might seem a little ridiculous today but then had a sweet character of its own. She was really very handsome, in a strong, ruddy, athletic and Nordic way, with her blond hair pulled tightly back and her blue eyes wide and smiling.
“I’m so glad. Mrs. Llewellyn will join us in a moment. Do you take cocktails? Or are you shy of these new fads?”
I took one, served beautifully by the mournful butler. We chatted for a while until a footstep on the threshold and the swish of a portiere interrupted us.
Then I saw a vision.
It was a woman of some forty years, whose hair was pure white and seemed like a powdered wig of the Queen Anne period, and she had the most perfectly chiseled features I have ever seen.
“Miss Crocker?” she enquired, with a soft stateliness and in the moderate, firm voice inbred in the true gentlewoman. “I am so glad you were able to come. Joan has spoken of you often. You will excuse my quiet natural curiosity.”
Did I detect a certain bitterness? A hardness? Later I wondered about those first words she used.
“Joan, dear, would you be sweet enough to find my fan?”
The younger woman fairly leapt for it, vanished, appeared, and sat down again.
Conversation whiled away the dinner. Mrs. Llewellyn (not her name, and I knew it) was cultured in the extreme, and Joan (whatever her name happened to have been I do not know for I never learned) was vivid and keen. It was an enjoyable evening.
I left at ten-thirty, and Mrs. Llewellyn insisted that a servant accompany me to my home, although I protested.
“You’ll come often, now, won’t you? Joan will let you know. You see, for reasons of…health…I never appear. Joan is so robust and vigorous. She takes the exercise for both of us.”
Again, was she ironical?
The servant followed me to the very door of the small house which flanked the big mansion which had been assigned to me for privacy’s sake, and scraped the ground, Indian-fashion, as he left. He was a huge Parsee, and very impressive in his Sadaro and kusti.
I spoke of the people to my friends the next day, but they had no ideas. They were determined that somebody of no particular interest…to them, at least…had taken over an otherwise empty house for the summer and they looked upon them as “intruders.”
But I never saw either of the women again.
For three successive nights I wandered about, hoping to see Joan and her dog. Cromwell. Not a sign. I was curious, but naturally not very disturbed. On the evening of the fourth day, I went to bed early and did not bother looking for my friend. It must have been towards midnight when I was suddenly awakened by somebody touching my arm.
“Memsahib…memsahib….” A voice was saying.
It was the Parsee servant. He was excited.
“It would be kind if the Memsahib come now, at once. There is trouble….”
It was his look rather than his words that startled me. That usually impassive face was holding back more than it could bear. I sat up, and he withdrew while I pulled some clothes on over my nightdress.
We fairly flew across the sunken gardens, the hedge-bound paths of the estate, into the open fields and across to the house of mystery. The Parsee said nothing. He maintained an obstinate silence in answer to all the breathless questions I flung at him, and I was forced to satisfy my curiosity with my own imagination.
At the door, the mournful butler in his shirtsleeves and liveried vest met us. His hair was a rat’s nest from a recent pillow, his face absolutely expressionless save for its habitual gloom. But he showed a certain lack of ceremony.
“I trust you are not too late, Madam,” he said, and that was all. He walked ahead of my hurrying footsteps up the stairs.
At the door he stopped and listened. I nearly fainted from excitement and curiosity. There was no sound within. He tried the door. It would not open. Other servants, whose presence in the house I had not even suspected, crowded round. The butler drew himself up with real dignity, and, by a single, crushing look, dismissed them all. That man was a power.
“It would perhaps be wise to break open the door, Madam, but I preferred not to assume that responsibility myself. Does Madam suggest…”
I certainly did suggest that he do it. I have no idea why, for I had absolutely no suspicion of what had happened in that room, or what I was about to see.
By nature no man of violence, the butler. First he produced several keys, chose one carefully, tried to fit it to the door. It fitted, but another key was in the lock on the inside. He turned to me, and as though pained to utilize force, said:-
“With your permission, Madam,” and proceeded to hurl his very large body against the door with unsuspected strength. It was a good solid door, too, and although I thought the house would go down in the crash, it did not yield. He shouldered it again, and this time the lock snapped and the door burst open.
I can promise you that never in my life have I had such a shock as awaited me within that room. A lamp was burning and gave its flickering luminosity to an interior of perfect beauty, perfect femininity and perfect strangeness. The room and everything in it was blue. Blue…I mean every detail, every single object, the walls, the curtains, the little things on the dressing stand…everything was blue, from the deep marine of the lacquered flooring, its rugs, to the pale hues of the bed linen, the rich ultramarine of the velvet curtains that shut out day or night, and the delicate blue of the enameled furniture.
But on the bed, shockingly and indecently white against all this blue, and looking even more ghastly than the death they symbolized, were the naked bodies of Mrs. Llewellyn and my young athletic friend Joan, tangled, still writhing in death, they seemed, the hands of the older woman still gripping the throat of the young girl, her face still contracted, her muscles still straining, her head caught under the clasping arm of Joan, their bodies woven together. Not a motion. They were as dead as dead. Their beauty had fled before expressions of agony and the struggle that appeared to have taken place.
The butler kept muttering, “My God, my God….”
He remained motionless. He stared at those lovely bodies, still rhythmic, still perfect. The white hair of Mrs. Llewellyn, rich as a girl’s, fell over her immaculate breasts and was in turn covered by the curls of silk that were Joan’s, almost like stains of blood they seemed so red. And the blue light, the blue atmosphere over this tableau created an impression I have never in my whole life been able to forget.
“What does it mean?” I whispered at last to the butler.
He looked at me blankly and shook his head.
I pressed him for an explanation.
“It would be better for you to return, Madam, and may I…er…suggest that it will not be necessary to mention these circumstances to any one,” was all he said. “I will do what is right, you may be sure.”
I nodded. I was incapable of coherent thought. I turned toward the door, and there I saw the Parsee servant standing like a pillar of stone, expressionless, fixed, staring…not at the sight on the bed…but at the butler.
As I turned he bowed low.
“If the Memsahib will return…”
“Oh, yes, Madam, he will accompany you,” said the butler in back of me. I thought his voice sounded slightly strained.
I followed the Parsee down the stairs, out the door, across the fields. Always in silence. He remained just behind me, never making a sound. In a way, he frightened me. He knew something. There was something between him and the butler. He was anxious to get me out of the house. So was the butler. But there was something between them and I could feel it, and it wasn’t something friendly or pleasant.
I began to wonder if what I had seen was all it appeared. I bean to wonder why two women…obviously women of culture and obviously fond of each other…should have killed each other…should have killed each other in such a ghastly manner. I began to recall all the detective stories I had read and to wonder if it were possible that two persons should strangle one another. I began to wonder if this was not staged for me. By whom? Why? I began, in fact, to agitate myself considerably. Hysterics, perhaps. I do not know. I began to fear the Parsee, to wish that he would walk a little in front of me instead of a little behind me.
But that was absurd. Nothing happened. He took me to my quarters and left with his scraping bow. All he said was: —
“It is perhaps better that the Memsahib does not remember these things.”
That reminded me of the butler’s caution.
I returned to my bed. It was already early morning, and the sun was fresh and bright, and I was so exhausted nervously that sleep was impossible. But when I finally arose, a little before tiffin, the vision of what I had witnessed early in the morning was so clear, and the fears and misgivings I had made for myself so    strong, that I came to a real decision.

Now I have none of the good, honest, Anglo-Saxon feeling of duty towards society. I care very little indeed about society and I find myself under no sort of obligation to that imaginary force. Under most conditions, I would have kept as silent as possible concerning what I had seen and my suspicions, but in this case my woman-hood triumphed where my social conscience would have failed. I liked Joan and was sure I would have liked the remarkable woman who styled herself Mrs. Llewellyn. I reasoned about the matter in this way: Here are two cultured women, of English origin, living together, hidden away in India. The situation looks a little shady, and suggests that they were intent on avoiding the public eye. The term Lesbian was not current then, but every one who knew anything about life knew all about that. Then here they are found dead under conditions which seem both impossible and unnatural. Could two women kill each other by mutual strangulation? I doubted it. Had there been a different crime from the one I had been made to see?
These things tormented by brain until finally I decided then on the chance of a double murder by the butler or the Parsee, or both together, or any of the other servants, I ought to tell somebody what I knew.
I did so.
I told Shikapur. He laughed and said I was romantic and that I was either trying to impress him with a detective story, or else that I had had a nightmare. I tried in vain to convince him. At last I made him promise to go with me as far as the field and see the house, and then go and investigate for himself if he dared.
The next day he dared.
I waited for him where I would not be seen from the windows in case any of the servants were watching. He was not gone more than five minutes. When he returned he was laughing.
“Well you nearly won. It was as good story, but I won’t let you tease the others with it.”
“What do you mean?”
Shikapur looked at me sharply. He told me then that the house was closed and that he had forced his way in through a back window, and that there was nothing in the house at all, not a stick of furniture, not the slightest signs of habitation, nothing.
And if you think that I was able to convince him that not more than 28 hours previously I had really been inside that house and seen what I had seen, then you are mistaken. I went myself to the house and confirmed his report. In the blue room, which still was blue, there was nothing but the walls and the lacquered flooring. Nothing else. Nothing else at all.
An although I knew perfectly well that things had been moved out in the night, and that every trace of life had been removed by some means…all except the vague odor of perfume that had belonged to Mrs. Llewellyn…I had nothing more to say. And I was teased, of course. Of that you can be sure.
I received by mail, several times forwarded to different addresses, a clipping from a London paper, with photographs, saying that the bodies of Lady Maud M….and Miss Joan P…., prominent society women, had been returned to England for burial from India, where they had died of fever while on an expedition into the interior of one of the lesser known states.
There was no letter, no signature. Nothing but the clipping.

C H A P T E R  X X I I

IN RECOUNTING that incident, another tragic story has been brought vividly back into my memory.
It happened in Benares, that extraordinary city on the river Ganges. I had taken a small house there, just room enough for myself and a few servants. I lazed and did nothing. I had no adventures, practically no friends there, yet I was very happy and peaceful and gave myself up to meditation and thought and the rich, sober, powerful doctrines that are the soul of India.
One day, I returned from a walk to find, squatting cross-legged in the hall-way, a young man engaged in mending the straw mats of rented houses. He looked up at me as I came in and looked through me. I have often been touched by strong emotion in the presence of human beauty, but I must confess that the exquisite carving of the features of that youth…he could scarcely have been more than 19…was as nothing I had ever known in my life. He was naked save for a loincloth, and as perfectly made as though carved in brownstone by the hand of some rich minded sculptor.
If I had known that right then and there some sort of a spark had snapped, if I had realized what the finger of destiny was writing, I might have been hard enough to have reprimanded him for cluttering up the hall and have chased him into the kitchen. That is the way a conventional woman, accustomed to India, would have acted.
But I did not.
As he smiled up at me, boyishly, I smiled at him, and passed on into my room, and promptly forgot him. But I had scarcely changes my clothes and made myself ready for tea when I heard the patter of bare feet behind me, and there was the young man, standing dazed and worshipful. He looked at me as a little dog I had once had used to look…as though he simply could not bear any longer not to be spoken to by me and was coming over to put his paw on my knee.
“Memsahib….” He said, in a whisper, “Memsahib….”
“What is it?” I asked. But he said nothing, could understand nothing, only repeated:
Then slowly and edgingly he came over to where I was seated and put out his hand, very timidly, and touched me on the arm, pulling his hand away again immediately as though he were frightened.
Now it is difficult to tell you what was going on inside me, but it is not a usual experience and there is nothing with which one may compare it. I was pleased as one is pleased when a great dog comes over and manifests a liking for one, but I was a little frightened, too, because there was only one translation of the burning of those enormous eyes…love. I have never seen such passion silently expressed in my life. This boy, still in his teens, was entirely consumed with it. He stood there trembling. He was speechless and even gasping. I was frightened a little, pleased a little, flatter, and amused too, and quite touched in the vanity. The latter is what made me do the wrong thing. I held out my hand to him as one might to a little boy. Entirely unexpectedly, he seized it in both of his and pressed his face to it, making strange groaning sounds that alarmed me. And then, without warning, he sprang at me, unleashed and temporarily mad, like a little wild animal that knows no control.
I had one bad moment. Then I managed to extricate one of my hands and caught him a good, old-fashioned slap across the face. That had the desired effect. He stopped his absurd efforts at once, looked terribly frightened, stared at me for a minute, and then fell to the floor and groveled, muttering something in Hindu by which I knew he was meaning to ask my pardon.
Now according to British law in India, this boy was now a criminal and I could have him flogged and imprisoned. However, I did nothing of the sort. I patted his head, called my maidservant and explained that I was going to engage the young man for a punkah boy, and told her to see that he had a bath and some clothes.
She explained this to him, and again he fell down and worshiped me, and had almost to be dragged from the room to his cleansing process.
Well, I was a little ashamed of, and a little pleased with myself. One naturally does not carry on flirtations with children, and still less with Indians of impossibly low caste found by hazard in the service of mending one’s mats. But I was touched by the lad’s passionate adoration of me. I felt, after some strong self-criticism, that I had probably done a good thing, all the same.
You will be able to judge when you see how it turned out.
The following day brought me a visit from a very large and spongy-looking native woman, a man so completely emaciated that I thought he would evaporate while talking to me, and about six children. My servants would not let them into the house, so that I had to go out to see them, while the servants explained that they were the parents of my new punkah boy who had come to thank me for being his benefactress…. Also my servants, who were of another caste, were indignant that I should have had anything to do with the boy or his family and they showed plainly that I had lost caste in their eyes.
The family gratitude scene was pathetic. I understood not one word they said but I gathered that the pittance I offered to pay Mouki (so I discovered he was called) was more money than they had seen in their lives, and that I had become the new goddess of their creed. I had the servants give them something, and I left them scraping and chattering, and that was that.
Well, things went on with Mouki not only being the best punkah boy that I had ever seen but following me around like a little poodle and mooning at me from his beautiful eyes whenever I was not looking directly at him. Furthermore, it was marked by some of my women friends who occasionally dropped in, and I am afraid that my arrangement was not quite understood. However, nobody ever does understand.
One day Mouki was taken sick. I did not know what was the matter with him, but he was very definitely ill, and I was heartily afraid that it might be the pest. I had him taken to an American doctor, and learned that the poor boy was dying of typhoid. Apparently nothing could be done for he had stoically gone on suffering and concealing it until his state was so bad that he was really beyond help.
Well, as you may imagine, I had grown very attached to the young man by this time. It was natural, for even if it had not fascinated me merely to look at him, he had rather upset my household, brought his family into my life, and had followed me about like a young watch-dog with such loving care that I was often embarrassed. I sent him to a good hospital, had everything done for him, but it was no use. He died in a fortnight, calling weekly after me, saying Good-by, and being sad only that he knew he was going to leave me.
This is morbid, I suppose, and what I am about to add is even more so. But it is worth writing down, if only for the ceremony that attended the funeral.
Mouki was of a caste that cremates its dead. I cannot possibly make clear to you the great differences between the various religious beliefs of India, but it is significant that some bury, others leave for vultures to destroy and consume, and still others burn their dead.
In Mouki’s case the mother and entire family took the body from my house, carrying my poor punkah boy on a rough litter, and I followed them, trudgingly. Far out of the city they carried it until, on one of the ghats of the Ganges, they came to that place reserved for the cremation of the dead, and there they laid him on a pyre while the flames destroyed the beauty of his earthly remains.
It was very tragic. It was tragedy particularly for the family, and I felt in some curious and twisted fashion that I had been guilty of something which I could never repair…. It was almost as though I had been responsible for Mouki’s death. Absurd and impossible, but that is the way I felt…. I was glad to be able to subsidize the family with a few rupees. I never missed them, but there was joy mingled with the new sorrow of those poor people when they were able to have enough rice for a while.
The gloomy part of this, the burning of Mouki at the ghats, recalls another experience which is not pleasant at all. The Parsees, as is pretty well known, neither bury nor burn their dead. They take the bodies to what are known as the Towers of Silence, and there the carrion birds destroy them.
Such towers are in Bombay on what is called Malabar Hill. I followed a funeral procession up that hill one day, irresistibly drawn and horribly fascinated. All were in white, all were droning some funeral chant. There was real sorrow there, such as we only counterfeit in our splendid European funeral rites. The body of the lost relative was carried to a raised platform on the hill’s top, and then, from the nearby trees, swarms, hundreds of vultures, circled the place and flopped down on those remains to gorge themselves in a diabolical feast, a banquet such as Poe or Baudelaire would have hesitated to describe.
I came away sick.
And as I reeled towards my hotel, down the side of that hill of horror, the dark shadow of a huge vulture flapped over me, high in the air. Something fell from his talons, some morsel of human flesh. I ran down that hill as though pursued by the devil, and never emerged from my room for the whole rest of the day.
But there are more joyous things to tell about India. One concerns another Hindu prince who was quite a different sort of person from Bhurlana and the Maharajah of Shikapur.
It all happened because of some friends of mine. They insisted that I join them at a dinner party which was supposed to be something of a rarity, because our host, the Rajah of K., was an eccentric who gave the most splendid parties.
It took place in Calcutta, where I had gone to visit these friends. The Rajah lived in a palace that rivals anything you have ever seen in the movies for splendor, and the banquet he offered us was equal to the expectations of the most exigent. But there was one false note. I noticed that our host was under the influence of something. I first thought that he was slightly drunk, but then I discovered that it was some kind of narcotic. I mentioned it to my friends, and learned that, among his other eccentricities, the prince was an addict of the bangha, a preparation derived from hasheesh, and that it caused him to be most unusual and exciting.
It was, as you may suspect, a woman who gave me this reply.
As the evening wore on, the Rajah paid a certain amount of attention to me. I was not in the least annoyed, either, for he was a handsome man and an entertaining conversationalist. But when he made me a great protestation of eternal love as we walked together about the gardens of his palace, I felt that I had heard all this before and was not impressed.
In fact, when he became a little demonstrative I suggested we go inside.
We did. I did not notice exactly how we went in, nor by what door, but I suddenly found myself in a small, windowless room, with no light except that coming from a small oil lamp. The Rajah faced me with a look in his eye that could only mean one thing. He told me plainly what he wanted. I told him I was not interested, and that I had known schoolboys whose technique was far better. He tried being brutal. He practically tore the clothes from my body while I screamed and screamed. He laughed at me, and said:
“Madam, you will learn as others have that I get what I want. There is no use screaming. No sound can get out of this room.”
Things looked bad. He had worked himself into a frenzy, and I was frightened. He threw himself on me, striking and tearing at me, while I tried to evade him round the room. He caught me and held my arms with his powerful hands while I kicked and bit and he laughed in a wild, mad way. He held my neck under his arm, and I thought my time had come when suddenly he made a choking sound and fell on the floor and lay there moaning. I brought over the lamp to see what had happened, and saw that the veins of his forehead were standing out in bunches and that his face was red and congested.
Then suddenly he stiffened, and relaxed.
He was dead, and I knew it. He had been taken with a stroke of apoplexy.

C H A P T E R  X X I I I

OH, India! Perhaps the years that I spent in that never-to-be-understood land were the best of my life. I have told stories of it here, and stories of people, but I never can tell the poetry, the rich beauty of it. It was the last strand of truly free adventure and romance in my life. I returned once more to America and Europe, never to go back there, never to follow that curious call, that strangely beckoning and invisible finger. I have often regretted it, but I was never to return. Even now when I am too old for wandering I have sometimes considered going back there to spend the rest of my life, but I know that the golden memories I have of it would be spoiled, and even the less pleasant ones would have been molded into such realities that I would merely suffer disappointment. 
It was the people I loved. The Parsee girls with the white band over their heads, the beggars in the streets, rocking from side to side and crying “Dhurrum…dhurrum…” the piper with his Bansula, the worshipers before the images of Rama with their palms pressed tightly together. There is a realness about it, a closeness to the origin of things, which we miss in the West. I have not mentioned the lace-like beauty of the Taj Mahal. I have not told you of Amber, the dead city, inhabited only by monkeys and the ghosts of past glory, nor have I dwelt upon the circles of listeners gathered at the ghats of the sacred river while a learned native recited legends or poems or something that had been fascinating those people for centuries. I have not…but there is so much description that I have not given. These are simple recollections, and no travelogue. And my memory has grown faulty.
But let me say that in spite of the suffering, real and imagined, that pinches India, in spike of the smugness of foreign rule there, in spite of the impossible bad taste of the new buildings, the Victorian glass furniture in the ancient palaces, the hiatuses and incongruities that have been India since Europeans came there to teach that beautiful civilization how to live like our rather cheap one, India is and always will be a kind of Eden. I could find it in my heart to urge the every girl be sent, not to Europe for that veneer called “finishing,” but to India to have an understanding of the meaning of life poured into her and distilled in the sunshine of that agonizing, pulsating, suffering, beautiful country.