Robert Chauvelot.

Parvati; a romance of present day India online

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Copyright, 1919, by

Published, September, 1919



. . . The day when men master the senses, the
Vindhya Mountains will swim across the ocean.




Back of us, our past stretches, a long perspective. It
sleeps there, in the distance, like an abandoned city in the
mist. A few mountain peaks outline and dominate it.

VJT U p later than usual. Rays of sunshine
were playing in the bedroom of the bungalow
where his Highness Bhagavat Singh, Maha-
raja of the State of Jeypore, had installed
him a few days before, in company with his
friend Noel Verdier, Orientalist and theoso-

Out of doors was the splendor of the morn-
ing under the pure sky of India. The velvet
and silk of multicolored butterflies rivaled the
flowers in the garden of the Guest House.



Turquoise paroquets and emerald parrots flew
about and chattered in the branches of palms
and tufted banana trees. Dominating the
symphony of shrill cries was the grave and
monotonous cawing of crows.

Gilbert stretched himself on his couch,
looked at the time, and with one bound stood
on the leopard skin that lay on the floor.

"Zahour! Zahour!" he cried, with the im-
patience characteristic of the Frenchman.
"Ah! the brute, the animal!"

A bronzed "boy," with a short black beard
and features typical of a despot, appeared, his
head adorned with a pale rose turban wound
in the Mohammedan fashion.

"The master called me?" he asked in irre-
proachable English, for he boasted of having
accompanied a major of the Fifty-seventh
Wilde's Rifles for a year's sick-leave to Liver-

"Did n't I tell you last evening to waken me
before seven o'clock? Here it is after eight!"

"Quite true, Sahib. But last night the mas-
ter was late going to sleep. And this morn-


ing I had to clean the guns, brush the khaki,
take spots off the pongee suit. The, master
was dozing so nicely, I did not dare "

"Come, that's all right. Help me now."

The servant smiled proudly, like an august
potentate dispossessed, and began to dress his
master with an Oriental nonchalance that
never left him. Gilbert had accustomed him-
self to this exasperating indolence, measur-
ing against it the exceptional services the
worthy Zahour Mahomed rendered him for
so little pay. Zahour's distinguished air
pleased him, it flattered his pride. And then,
Gilbert's imagination had been refined by long
experience in painting the portraits of beauti-
ful Parisiennes.

A voice, colorful and of a sympathetic tim-
bre, called through a partition:

"Gilbert! Gilbert! Your appointment
this morning! What are you thinking about?
Are you counting on me to plead for you
to the maharanee? Mind the all-powerful,
mind the foot of the elephant!"

"Easy now, Noel, easy! I'm not there


yet, thank God I I 'm more afraid of the slow,
sad smile of my model. She is not happy
every day, poor Parvati! What an exist-
ence 1"

A sigh escaped the lips of the young man.
He was standing before the mirror giving a
jaunty turn to his crava*. For a few minutes
he looked at his pleasing blond face in the
mirror. The well-shaven chin with its mu-
tinous dimple "a nest of kisses" the little
Baroness Sejourne had called it and the
mustache ends, upturned by a slight touch of
the curling-iron, showed the care Gilbert took
each morning with his toilet.

The warm voice began again: "I do not
say but take care ! Don't go too far. There
is nothing in it for either of you. It is not
like the baroness. And then, the game is
dangerous, and I advise you not to play it.
Our prince takes women seriously, especially
his own. And you know, since the death of
his father, he is absolute sovereign in his

"You are right, but what can I do? I can't


resist her. The more I see of her, the more I

"More than that, you are in love with her!
You cannot deny it. I can see through you.
I know you as though I had made you myself.
I tell you, you are imprudent!"
"Yes, yes, I will be good, my dear fellow!"
Gilbert Desroches had been an orphan for
many years. Although he had passed thirty,
he had come to look upon Noel as upon a
father. It was not that Gilbert had no fam-
ily ties. He had the affection of his elder
brother, Dr. Philippe Desroches, specialist in
nervous diseases, and consulting physician of
the Salpetriere, who had acquired along the
line of his science a legitimate and enviable
reputation. But after Philippe, it was Noel
Verdier, the companion of his childhood, who
held the chief place in the heart of the con-
firmed bachelor. Gilbert had grown up,
worked, achieved success, with these two men
beside him. They had been his refuge. His
artist soul "had looked to them for comfort, for
the energy that he lacked, for the will to con-


quer his sensitive nature. In the struggle for
existence these valiant workers came to his aid
with a forceful encouragement that was vital
to him.

The intellectual activity of Doctor Des-
roches was consecrated to the mysteries of
physiological study, to the little-explored field
of the relation between the mental and the
physical, called by believers soul and body.
The ddttor was a peaceable unbeliever and in
no sense sectarian. In technical language, he
termed them "Brutal matter and noble ele-

Noel Verdier! What a striking and satis-
fying contrast to Philippe, the smiling atheist 1
All that the soul of a neurologist contains of
material force, circumscribed in the neces-
sarily restricted field of immediate and tangi-
ble experience, Noel possessed superbly in the
unlimited domain of philosophy. The vo-
cation of theosophist and transcendental oc-
cultist came to Verdier, one day, quite unex-
pectedly. He was listening to a gentle and
luminous exposition by a white-haired lecturer


whose face was eternally youthful. It was
in the silent intimacy of a lecture room whose
walls were decorated with symbolic engrav-
ings, whose pillars were of carved lilies and
jasmine. Annie Besant was speaking. Her
voice was full of caressing inflections that were
almost maternal. She told of the suffering
of animals, and how that suffering brings
tears to the eyes of those who are able to see it.
With the persuasive eloquence of an Esse-
nienne she described the useless torture of ani-
mals sacrificed to scientific discoveries of mas-
ters, and, worse still, to the experimental edu-
cation of students. "Her words had a pro-
phetic assurance. She seemed the reflection
of an inner flame, of an essence not material,

Noel left the place with his heart oppressed.
It was his road to Damascus. From that day
he broke with cherished habits, became a vege-
tarian, and sought solid instruction in the doc-
trines of H. P. Blavatsky. Fundamentally
a mystic detached from, realities, he neg-
lected his profession, his beloved mathematics


forgetting, ungrateful son that he was, that
it had brought him at the age of twenty-one
his doctor's degree for an admirable thesis.
From now on he had eyes only for the reading
of texts in liturgical Sanscrit.

Gilbert, although frivolous and superficial,
was at first profoundly impressed by the
metamorphosis of his friend. He twitted
Noel affectionately about the sudden and in-
explicable evolution. But with him Noel af-
fected a little air of jovial condescension and
a camaraderie so protective in its superiority
that the riddle remained unsolved. To other
eyes Verdier was the same, a good giant with
shoulders broad enough to carry other peo-
ple's troubles, a brilliant conversationalist full
of the joy of life. In reality, the mask hid
suffering, the suffering which comes to over-
developed intelligence that realizes its own
ignorance. The truth was, Noel had too
much knowledge and not enough understand-
ing. His case was a pathological one, and in-
dicated, like t-hat of Goethe, the incurable and
special disease called genius.


It was chance, sovereign dispenser of hu-
man encounters, that had brought these two
together in the sacred land of the Brahmans.
It happened that Gilbert, the favorite painter
at the courts of Denmark and Russia, was set-
ting out to India to paint the portrait of the
Queen of Jeypore, the Maharanee Parvati,
while Noel, at the same time, was sent to rep-
resent a Paris newspaper at the Theosophic
Congress at Madras. The philosopher found
it easy to hasten his departure by a month.
He was only too happy to accompany le
petit to that country of fever and peril, en-
chanted but dangerous cradle of the fanati-
cism of tumultuous and suffering humanity.

Half-way between the Guest House and the
stables of the prince, Gilbert accompanied
by the faithful Zahour, his "Prime Minister
and Lord High Guardian of the Paint
Brushes" met the favorite elephant which
was sent every d'ay by the queen. The faith-
ful beast, Rama, stopped for him at the bunga-
low and carried him to the Amber palace,


three or four kilometers from the City of
Roses. At a signal from her driver Rama
knelt down obediently to receive the accus-
tomed passenger.

It had been the maharanee's fancy to choose
for the background of the portrait the ruins
of the ancient Rajput capital. Crumbling
crenelated walls marked the ancient city.
Marble palaces open to the sky, the remote
and mysterious harem or zenana, the romantic
lake and the hanging gardens all these at-
tracted the queen from the first. The pink
light resting softly upon the ruins drew her
there like a seductive charm. Parvati ap-
preciated this jewel of architecture because
she had brought back from Europe a profound
affection for poetry and art. The Occident
had been her school, but the Orient meant to
her the quintessence of the beautiful. And
the pleasure she found in the esthetic mystery
of Asia was all the greater because she knew
why she admired.

She was no longer the timid and ignorant
little Hindu, "the little savage," who during


the first few days of the voyage westward sat
bewildered on the deck of the great liner, re-
fusing to take anything to eat. Lady Doug-
las, a woman of heart and intelligence, had ac-
complished the miracle of taming the child.
It was she who had brought up the descendant
of the deposed King oi Guzerat. The vener-
able Maharaja of Jeypore, feeling his end was
near, had designated the child Parvati as the
future wife of his son Tikka, the direct heir to
the throne.

Parvati, growing in grace and beauty,
shared the family life of Lady Douglas, and
enjoyed the pleasures of an existence that was
necessarily mondaine. Lady Douglas loved
to travel, and the scene changed, according to
her whim, from aristocratic drawing-rooms in
London to those of Paris, from watering-
places like Brighton or Eastbourne to Dau-
ville and Dinard. Parvati was petted by Sir
James Douglas, former Governor of Bengal,
and by his daughters as well. She was the
baby of the house, and her chaperon dreaded
the hour of separation.


But the time was approaching. The little
princess was sixteen years old, the age when
Hindu girls are married. The impending
farewell was hard for the girl and for her
adopted mother. In vain Lady Douglas tried
to enjoy the magnificent fetes of Jeypore when
she, with her husband and daughters, took the
princess back to India to be married. Nor
did Parvati succeed in hiding her sadness.
Too quickly and easily had she become accus-
tomed to the gentleness of European life not
to see that from the day when she became
queen she must say good-by to freedom and
to the hope of loving.

For Parvati made a loveless match. She
married the son of a king because it was her
destiny to mount a throne, because her caste
for more than ten centuries had been of the
noblest. She had seen her fiance twice for a
few minutes during two summers in London,
when he was completing his Anglo-Saxon edu-
cation at the University of Cambridge. She
knew that Tikka was an accomplished horse-
man, a champion polo-, tennis-, and golf-


player; she saw that he had an easy manner
that was agreeable and even sympathetic.
But of his character, of his intimate aspira-
tions, of his real self, she knew nothing. And
this hiatus seemed to her a great abyss black,
empty, fearful.

On his way to Amber, Gilbert thought
about these things. He reflected upon the
strange and painful destiny of the Oriental
princess, a thousand times more disenchanted
than her Ottoman sisters, because, after giving
her the veneer of civilization and a taste of
modern education, the cruelty of her caste
placed her in an Indian harem, where zenana
windows were forever closed. She could con-
sider herself fortunate that, after the death of
the old monarch, her husband allowed her to
leave the palace of the royal wives three
times a week at five o'clock in the afternoon
and mingle with his European guests. The
painter was sad as he thought of the little
fairy sovereign who, like the Queen of Cha-
telet, spoke his language so prettily. He
was seized with a secret desire to prolong in-


definitely the sittings for the portrait. Dur-
ing the fifteen days he had been working on it,
an irresistible and voluptuous attraction had
lured him on.

Ahl how different she was from artificial
Parisienne blondes, this svelte daughter of
rajas! Her eyes were dark with mystery.
Her long brown tresses were parted and
braided on the white Aryan forehead. Her
supple figure showed the strength and ardor
of her race, and her delicate, fragile frame
proclaimed the purity of her blood. An emo-
tion, born of desire unconfessed, more than
of disinterested compassion, invaded his soul
when he called forth the welcoming smile of
the prisoner. She came toward him each
morning to greet him as to a jailer who de-
livers. The little kindly phrase of welcome
that came to the tempting vermilion lips said
more than "good morning."

To-day the sensation was stronger than ever.
He hastened to get there. He wished to ex-
cuse himself for his unintentional lack of gal-
lantry in being late, and to make up exquisite,


fugitive minutes. With voice and gesture he
urged on the colossal animal, who advanced
with her majestic step at her own gait to the
tune of many little silver bells that fringed her
scarlet saddle blankets.

"TchellaoL djaldi! Go on! quicker!"
Prodded by the steel hook with which the
keeper pricked her ears, the good Rama ac-
celerated her pace. She pushed loitering ur-
chins from her path, and made great flocks of
pigeons fly away from the trees, in the square
called Manak-Chowk, when she tossed her
trunk up among the branches.

The City of Roses lay before him like a
shining cameo. Avenues laid out in rectan-
gles, as in New York, swarmed with busy,
colorful, chattering humanity. There was
endless buying-and-selling. The merchants
squatted on the sidewalks along salmon-col-
ored palaces adorned with arches, columns,
balconies, and flat moldings above which
were arabesques picked out in white, sculp-
tured embroidery. They were selling grain,
or brass, or silken materials, or arms inlaid


with gold. At one time the traffic on the high-
way was blocked by two young girls holding
up a long bolt of damp material that they were
drying in the sun. Children played on the
door-sills near a pyramid of rice. Girls with
their noses pierced with silver rings, and arms
and ankles laden with jingling bracelets,
passed by, vending their wares. It was the
rush hour.

Gilbert looked upon this scene with eyes
that were far away. The moving color that
had enchanted him a few weeks before no
longer made more than a superficial kaleido-
scopic impression. He saw a marble foun-
tain in the city of Amber where Parvati
stooped to look at her image mirrored among
perfumed, trembling lotus flowers.


Ah ! to live days that lead to the tomb,

To have the heart swell like fruit that one presses,

So that the sweet juice drips, and the flavor perfumes

the air,

Full of abundant hope and light-heartedness !

"TTOW much longer, Zahour?"
A J. "Twenty minutes, Sahib. We can
already see the ramparts."

"Make Rama hurry, my good Zahour.
One rupee for the keeper and another for you,
if we are in the court of the palace before ten

"We shall be there, Sahib."

In the distance, the suburbs of Jeyporc were
fading into the blue horizon. One could no
longer make out long lines of heavily laden
buffaloes and dromedaries. Only a few sorry
teams of zebus, with painted horns, trotted
slowly along a road hedged on each side with



aloes and cactus. Peasants from the scattered
huts were carrying rice and vegetables to the

The hot sapphire sky seemed to come close
to the earth.

When, at the command of the keeper, the
elephant turned into a portico and slowly
knelt on the marble floor, the artist's watch
showed exactly ten o'clock. The boys had
kept their word. Coins rang on the tiled step.
Bronzed faces lighted up.

And now Gilbert, preceded by the eunuch
on guard, found his way through the corri-
dors of the ancient dwelling to a hall where
the fancy of the Rajput kings had amassed all
that the human mind could imagine in the
way of marbles. It was the Dewankhana,
or the Hall of Mirrors a magic vision of
mosaics in glass and gold. Too glittering,
perhaps. A multitude of gaily colored shin-
ing surfaces finally tires the eye. Under the
double row of columns that supported a mas-
sive triforium ran a profusion of designs
flowers, birds, interlaced geometrical figures.


The infinite complication of detail recalled
the marble treasures of the Grand Moguls of
Agra and Delhi, or the decorations of the pal-
aces of Jahangir and of Ranjit Singh at La-
hore. Many religious myths were expressed
allegorically by the frescos. It was here that
the kings of Amber affirmed their unshaken
Brahman faith. Here it was Ganesha, the
many-armed elephant god with his trunk
wound up like a spiral on his abdomen.
There it was Karttikeya, the peacock god who
presides over war. Again, it was Hanuman,
the monkey god, ally of man, the most oft-
sung hero in the epic page of Ramayana.

The faces of the vaults, made of mirrors
tarnished by saltpeter, reflected to infinity the
halls where, long ago, favorites, courtezans,
and dancing-girls from the plains of Punjab
or the far-away mountains of Kashmir, re-
posed after voluptuous baths and massage.
What royal debauches, what mad orgies these
walls had sheltered walls sometimes stained
with the blood of beautiful captives whom the
monarch ordered to be flogged for his own


pleasure! Amber kept the secret of these
mysteries of love and suffering. The dead
city itself, buried in verdure, hidden under
devouring ivy, seemed a city of ruin half seen
in an opium dream. Abandoned temples,
crumbling porticos, tumble-down palaces,
thorny gardens, dried-up ponds. In the dis-
tance, the interminable ramparts crouched in
the valley, blocking the pass. Beyond that,
mountains and more mountains. And the
desert the dry, yellow desert that would
never end.

The painter had felt the luxuriance of this
scene so profoundly that even at the first sit-
ting for the portrait, in the central hall, he had
frowned because of feeling that was more than
significant. It was clear that the exaggerated
brilliance of the decoration would "kill" the
model. It would be better to place the easel
in a cornerof the veranda, in order to get a
background of softer shades and tones. This
would also show successive colonnades melt-
ing into the cloudy distance toward the ruins
and the little lake of Tal-Kutora.


And Parvati had clapped her hands at
this fancy of Gilbert's. Her background
would be like scenery in an opera. They
would gossip about it in Paris and in London,
as they still talked about the celebrated picture
of Chartran showing his Majesty Jagatjit
Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala, posed in an
attitude full of nobility.

When Desroches entered, the maharanee
was already seated upon her throne of chiseled
silver. She was chatting with a tall, angular
Englishwoman, one of her ladies in waiting, a
sort of half-spy employed by the king to
chaperon the sovereign.

"How late you are this morning, my dear
fellow!" cried Parvati, lifting her soft white
veil with a graceful gesture. She smiled, to
soften the reproach. "I was wondering
whether you were not delaying because of an-
other somebody. Come, confess, you heart-

Gilbert blushed. The memory of a con-
versation with the Baroness Sejourne and the
lateness of the hour when he had parted from


her made him uncomfortable, and, in truth,
there were accusing dark circles under his
blue eyes. But Odette and her kisses were far
away now.

"Alas, Princess!" he said evasively, "I am
lazy, and I find my excuse in the greater lazi-
ness of my Hindu valet, who forgot to wake
me in time. A word from you and I turn
over to you the real culprit."

"Poor Zahourl" said Parvati, laughing.
"I could not forgive myself for depriving you
of a good servant. I should as soon think of
parting with Miss Brown."

The Englishwoman gave a sour and con-
strained little smile at the mention of her
name. She was visibly annoyed at not being
able to understand a word of the conversation.
She knew no language besides her own, with
the exception of a few vague words she had
picked up in a beginner's French book. She
had shrewdly divined that the mention of her
name was a bit ironical.

Gilbert was seated in front of the canvas.
His brush was varnishing the work of yester-


day. The portrait was well advanced. Par-
vati was portrayed with one hand on the arm
of the throne and the other in her lap, her
slender body draped in the silky folds of the
national costume, carried out in Nattier blue
that gave a little air reminiscent of Mary
of Egypt. A golden band, studded with
pearls and emeralds, confined her hair. A
beryl clasp, marvelously beautiful, held the
silk in place on her breast. But it was the lit-
tle smile the portraitist had skilfully caught,
that relieved the severity of the pose and gave
warmth to the picture a smile of goodness,
of tenderness, and of love. Looking at the
painting, one felt respectful admiration for
the queen and sympathy for the woman.

For a few minutes Gilbert considered his
work and his model. He nodded his head ap-
provingly at them both. The deep, soft eyes,
the refined nose with its sensitive nostrils, the
ruddy lips, the little pearly ear, the fluffiness
of the hair, all pleased him. The values were
good, and the picture had spirit and life. The
portrait was coming, and with it the inner joy


that conscious inspiration gives to the heart of
the artist.

"To-day," said he, "I will do the hand, the
little hand that knows how to use a tennis
racquet so well."

"What do you know about it?"

"My friends the Sejournes were talking
about it again last night. It appears that your
serve is celebrated, and that you came near de-
feating the woman champion of Ireland at
the tennis club of Eastbourne."

"Oh! I 'came near' beating her, perhaps,
but there is a big difference between that and
victory. How are the Sejournes? I saw the
baroness yesterday. She came to the palace
of Elysium. We talked painting. She even
sang your praises how shall I say it?
warmly! Is my hand all right like that?"

"Your Highness may straighten the ring on
the little finger like this. There, that is

Parvati sighed. Then she spoke in a
changed voice : " 'Your Highness' ! 'your
Highness'! You always say it. Oh, I know


well enough that I shall never be any more to
you than a model, a model with a crown a
little more amusing to do, perhaps, than your
European princesses 1"

Desroches laughed heartily at her little out-
burst. It reminded him of trying hours when
he had to make the portraits of the jerky little
daughters of royal families in Denmark and

"You admit, however, Madame, that I can-
not call you by your sweet name, Parvati!
That would be treason more than that, sac-

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