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  • 1870
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or frolicked in their nurses’ arms. It was, indeed, a grateful change from the oppressive, irritating heat and glare through which we had just passed.

The loungers started up to greet our motherly guide, who humbly prostrated herself before them; and then refreshments were brought in on large silver trays, with covers of scarlet silk in the form of a bee-hive. As no knife or fork or spoon was visible, Boy and I were fain to content ourselves with oranges, wherewith we made ourselves an unexpected but cheerful show for the entertainment and edification of those juvenile spectators of the royal family of Siam. I smiled and held out my hand to them, for they were, almost without exception, attractive children; but they shyly shrank from me.

Meanwhile the “child-wife,” to whom his Majesty had presented me at my first audience, appeared, and after saluting profoundly the sister of the Kralahome, and conversing with her for some minutes, lay down on the cool floor, and, using her betel-box for a pillow, beckoned to me. As I approached, and seated myself beside her, she said: “I am very glad to see you. It is long time I not see. Why you come so late?” to all of which she evidently expected no reply. I tried baby-talk, in the hope of making my amiable sentiments intelligible to so infantile a creature, but in vain. Seeing me disappointed and embarrassed, she oddly sang a scrap of the Sunday-school hymn, “There is a Happy Land, far, far away”; and then said, “I think of you very often. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

This meritorious but disjointed performance was followed by a protracted and trying silence, I sitting patient, and Boy wondering in my lap. At last she half rose, and, looking around, cautiously whispered, “Dear Mam Mattoon! I love you. I think of you. Your boy dead, you come to palace; you cry–I love you”; and laying her finger on her lips, and her head on the betel-box again, again she sang, “There is a Happy Land, far, far away!”

Mrs. Mattoon is the wife of that good and true American apostle who has nobly served the cause of missions in Siam as a co-laborer with the excellent Dr. Samuel House. While the wife of the latter devoted herself indefatigably to the improvement of schools for the native children whom the mission had gathered round it, Mrs. Mattoon shared her labors by occasionally teaching in the palace, which was for some time thrown open to the ladies of her faithful sisterhood. Here, as elsewhere, the blended force and gentleness of her character wrought marvels in the impressible and grateful minds to which she had access.

So spontaneous and ingenuous a tribute of reverence and affection from a pagan to a Christian lady was inexpressibly charming to me.

Thus the better part of the day passed. The longer I rested dreaming there, the more enchanted seemed the world within those walls. I was aroused by a slight noise proceeding from the covered gallery, whence an old lady appeared bearing a candlestick of gold, with branches supporting four lighted candles. I afterward learned that these were daily offerings, which the king, on awakening from his forenoon slumber, sent to the Watt P’hra Keau. This apparition was the signal for much stir. The Lady Talap started to her feet and fled, and we were left alone with the premier’s sister and the slaves in waiting. The entire household seemed to awake on the instant, as in the “Sleeping Palace” of Tennyson, at the kiss of the Fairy Prince,–

“The maid and page renewed their strife; The palace banged, and buzzed, and clackt; And all the long-pent stream of life
Dashed downward in a cataract.”

A various procession of women and children–some pale and downcast, others bright and blooming, more moody and hardened–moved in the one direction; none tarried to chat, none loitered or looked back; the lord was awake.

“And last with these the king awoke, And in his chair himself upreared,
And yawned, and rubbed his face, and spoke.”

Presently the child-wife reappeared,–arrayed now in dark blue silk, which contrasted well with the soft olive of her complexion,–and quickly followed the others, with a certain anxious alacrity expressed in her baby face. I readily guessed that his Majesty was the awful cause of all this careful bustle, and began to feel uneasy myself, as my ordeal approached. For an hour I stood on thorns. Then there was a general frantic rush. Attendants, nurses, slaves, vanished through doors, around corners, behind pillars, under stairways; and at last, preceded by a sharp, “cross” cough, behold the king!

We found his Majesty in a less genial mood than at my first reception. He approached us coughing loudly and repeatedly, a sufficiently ominous fashion of announcing himself, which greatly discouraged my darling boy, who clung to me anxiously. He was followed by a numerous “tail” of women and children, who formally prostrated themselves around him. Shaking hands with me coldly, but remarking upon the beauty of the child’s hair, half buried in the folds of my dress, he turned to the premier’s sister, and conversed at some length with her, she apparently acquiescing in all that he had to say. He then approached me, and said, in a loud and domineering tone:–

“It is our pleasure that you shall reside within this palace with our family.”

I replied that it would be quite impossible for me to do so; that, being as yet unable to speak the language, and the gates being shut every evening, I should feel like an unhappy prisoner in the palace.

“Where do you go every evening?” he demanded.

“Not anywhere, your Majesty. I am a stranger here.”

“Then why you shall object to the gates being shut?”

“I do not clearly know,” I replied, with a secret shudder at the idea of sleeping within those walls; “but I am afraid I could not do it. I beg your Majesty will remember that in your gracious letter you promised me ‘a residence adjoining the royal palace,’ not within it.”

He turned and looked at me, his face growing almost purple with rage. “I do not know I have promised. I do not know former condition. I do not know anything but you are our servant; and it is our pleasure that you must live in this palace, and–_you shall obey_.” Those last three words he fairly screamed.

I trembled in every limb, and for some time knew not how to reply. At length I ventured to say, “I am prepared to obey all your Majesty’s commands within the obligation of my duty to your family, but beyond that I can promise no obedience.”

“You _shall_ live in palace,” he roared,–“you _shall _live in palace! I will give woman slaves to wait on you. You shall commence royal school in this pavilion on Thursday next. That is the best day for such undertaking, in the estimation of our astrologers.”

With that, he addressed, in a frantic manner, commands, unintelligible to me, to some of the old women about the pavilion. My boy began to cry; tears filled my own eyes; and the premier’s sister, so kind but an hour before, cast fierce glances at us both. I turned and led my child toward the oval brass door. We heard voices behind us crying. “Mam! Mam!” I turned again, and saw the king beckoning and calling to me. I bowed to him profoundly, but passed on through the brass door. The prime minister’s sister bounced after us in a distraction of excitement, tugging at my cloak, shaking her finger in my face, and crying, “_My di! my di!_” [Footnote: “Bad, bad!”] All the way back, in the boat, and on the street, to the very door of my apartments, instead of her jocund “Good morning, sir,” I had nothing but _my di_.

But kings, who are not mad, have their sober second-thoughts like other rational people. His Golden-footed Majesty presently repented him of his arbitrary “cantankerousness,” and in due time my ultimatum was accepted.


Well! by this time I was awake to the realities of time, place, and circumstance. The palace and its spells, the impracticable despot, the impassible premier, were not the phantasms of a witching night, but the hard facts of noonday. Here were the very Apollyons of paganry in the way, and only the Great Hearts of a lonely woman and a loving child to challenge them.

With a heart heavy with regret for the comparatively happy home I had left in Malacca, I sought an interview with the Kralahome, and told him (through his secretary, Mr. Hunter) how impossible it would be for me and my child to lodge within the walls of the Grand Palace; and that he was bound in honor to make good the conditions on which I had been induced to leave Singapore. At last I succeeded in interesting him, and he accorded me a gracious hearing. My objection to the palace, as a place of residence as well as of business, seemed to strike him as reasonable enough; and he promised to plead my cause with his Majesty, bidding me kindly “give myself no further trouble about the matter, for he would make it right.”

Thus passed a few days more, while I waited monotonously under the roof of the premier, teaching Boy, studying Siamese, paying stated visits to the good Koon Ying Phan, and suffering tumultuous invasions from my “intimate enemies” of the harem, who came upon us like a flight of locusts, and rarely left without booty, in the shape of trifles they had begged of me. But things get themselves done, after a fashion, even in Siam; and so, one morning, came the slow but welcome news that the king was reconciled to the idea of my living outside the palace, that a house had been selected for me, and a messenger waited to conduct me to it.

Hastily donning our walking-gear, we found an elderly man, of somewhat sinister aspect, in a dingy red coat with faded facings of yellow, impatient to guide us to our unimaginable quarters. As we passed out, we met the premier, whose countenance wore a quizzing expression, which I afterward understood; but at the moment I saw in it only the characteristic conundrum that I had neither the time nor the talent to guess. It was with a lively sense of relief that I followed our conductor, in whom, by a desperate exploit of imagination, I discovered a promise of privacy and “home.”

In a long, slender boat, with a high, uneven covering of wood, we stowed ourselves in the Oriental manner, my dress and appearance affording infinite amusement to the ten rowers as they plied their paddles, while our escort stood in the entrance chewing betel, and looking more ill-omened than ever. We alighted at the king’s pavilion facing the river, and were led, by a long, circuitous, and unpleasant road, through two tall gates, into a street which, from the offensive odors that assailed us, I took to be a fish-market. The sun burned, the air stifled, the dust choked us, the ground blistered our feet; we were parching and suffocating, when our guide stopped at the end of this most execrable lane, and signed to us to follow him up three broken steps of brick. From a pouch in his dingy coat he produced a key, applied it to a door, and opened to us two small rooms, without a window in either, without a leaf to shade, without bath-closet or kitchen. And this was the residence sumptuously appointed for the English governess to the royal family of Siam!

And furnished! and garnished! In one room, on a remnant of filthy matting, stood the wreck of a table, superannuated, and maimed of a leg, but propped by two chairs that with broken arms sympathized with each other. In the other, a cheap excess of Chinese bedstead, that took the whole room to itself; and a mattress!–a mutilated epitome of a Lazarine hospital.

My stock of Siamese words was small, but strong. I gratefully recalled the emphatic monosyllables wherewith the premier’s sister had so berated me; and turning upon the king’s messenger with her tremendous _my di! my di!_ dashed the key from his hand, as, inanely grinning, he held it out to me, caught my boy up in my arms, cleared the steps in a bound, and fled anywhere, anywhere, until I was stopped by the crowd of men, women, and children, half naked, who gathered around me, wondering. Then, remembering my adventure with the chain-gang, I was glad to accept the protection of my insulted escort, and escape from that suburb of disgust. All the way back to the premier’s our guide grinned at us fiendishly, whether in token of apology or ridicule I knew not; and landing us safely, he departed to our great relief, still grinning.

Straight went I to the Kralahome, whose shy, inquisitive smile was more and more provoking. In a few sharp words I told him, through the interpreter, what I thought of the lodging provided for me, and that nothing should induce me to live in such a slum. To which, with cool, deliberate audacity, he replied that nothing prevented me from living where I was. I started from the low seat I had taken (in order to converse with him at my ease, he sitting on the floor), and not without difficulty found voice to say that neither his palace nor the den in the fish-market would suit me, and that I demanded suitable and independent accommodations, in a respectable neighborhood, for myself and my child. My rage only amused him. Smiling insolently, he rose, bade me, “Never mind: it will be all right by and by,” and retired to an inner chamber.

My head throbbed with pain, my pulse bounded, my throat burned. I staggered to my rooms, exhausted and despairing, there to lie, for almost a week, prostrated with fever, and tortured day and night with frightful fancies and dreams. Beebe and the gentle Koon Ying Phan nursed me tenderly, bringing me water, deliciously cool, in which the fragrant flower of the jessamine had been steeped, both to drink and to bathe my temples. As soon as I began to recover, I caressed the soft hand of the dear pagan lady, and implored her, partly in Siamese, partly in English, to intercede for me with her husband, that a decent home might be provided for us. She assured me, while she smoothed my hair and patted my cheek as though I were a helpless child, that she would do her best with him, begging me meanwhile to be patient. But that I could not be; and I spared no opportunity to expostulate with the premier on the subject of my future abode and duties, telling him that the life I was leading under his roof was insupportable to me; though, indeed, I was not ungrateful for the many offices of affection I received from the ladies of his harem, who in my trouble were sympathetic and tender. From that time forth the imperturbable Kralahome was ever courteous to me. Nevertheless, when from time to time I grew warm again on the irrepressible topic, he would smile slyly, tap the ashes from his pipe, and say, “Yes, sir! Never mind, sir! You not like, you can live in fish-market, sir!” The apathy and supineness of these people oppressed me intolerably. Never well practised in patience, I chafed at the _sang-froid_ of the deliberate premier. Without compromising my dignity, I did much to enrage him; but he bore all with a _nonchalance_ that was the more irritating because it was not put on.

Thus more than two months passed, and I had desperately settled down to my Oriental studies, content to snub the Kralahome with his own indifference, whilst he, on the other hand, blandly ignored our existence, when, to my surprise, he paid me a visit one afternoon, complimented me on my progress in the language, and on my “great heart,”–or _chi yai_, as he called it,–and told me his Majesty was highly incensed at my conduct in the affair of the fish-market, and that he had found me something to do. I thanked him so cordially that he expressed his surprise, saying, “Siamese lady no like work; love play, love sleep. Why you no love play?”

I assured him that I liked play well enough when I was in the humor for play; but that at present I was not disposed to disport myself, being weary of my life in his palace, and sick of Siam altogether. He received my candor with his characteristic smile and a good-humored “Good by, sir!”

Next morning ten Siamese lads and a little girl came to my room. The former were the half-brothers, nephews, and other “encumbrances” of the Kralahome; the latter their sister, a simple child of nine or ten. Surely it was with no snobbery of condescension that I received these poor children, but rather gratefully, as a comfort and a wholesome discipline.

And so another month went by, and still I heard nothing from his Majesty. But the premier began to interest me. The more I saw of him the more he puzzled me. It was plain that all who came in contact with him both feared and loved him. He displayed a kind of passive amiability of which he seemed always conscious, which he made his _forte_. By what means he exacted such prompt obedience, and so completely controlled a people whom he seemed to drive with reins so loose and careless, was a mystery to me. But that his influence and the prestige of his name penetrated to every nook of that vast yet undeveloped kingdom was the phenomenon which slowly but surely impressed me. I was but a passing traveller, surveying from a distance and at large that vast plain of humanity; but I could see that it was systematically tilled by one master mind.


Rebuked and saddened, I abandoned my long-cherished hope of a home, and resigned myself with no good grace to my routine of study and instruction. Where were all the romantic fancies and proud anticipations with which I had accepted the position of governess to the royal family of Siam? Alas! in two squalid rooms at the end of a Bangkok fish-market. I failed to find the fresh strength and courage that lay in the hope of improving the interesting children whose education had been intrusted to me, and day by day grew more and more desponding, less and less equal to the simple task my “mission” had set me. I was fairly sick at heart and ready to surrender that morning when the good Koon Ying Phan came unannounced into our rooms to tell us that a tolerable house was found for us at last. I cannot describe with what an access of joy I heard the glad tidings, nor how I thanked the messenger, nor how in a moment I forgot all my chagrin and repining, and hugged my boy and covered him with kisses. It was not until that “order for release” arrived, that I truly felt how offensive and galling had been the life I had led in the premier’s palace. It was with unutterable gladness that I followed a half-brother of the Kralahome, Moonshee leading Boy by the hand, to our new house. Passing several streets, we entered a walled enclosure, abounding in broken bricks, stone, lime, mortar, and various rubbish.

A tall, dingy storehouse occupied one side of the wall; in the other, a low door opened toward the river; and at the farther end stood the house, sheltered by a few fine trees, that, drooping over the piazza, made the place almost picturesque. On entering, however, we found ourselves face to face with overpowering filth. Poor Moonshee stood aghast. “It must be a paradise,” he had said when we set out, “since the great Vizier bestows it upon the Mem Sahib, whom he delights to honor.” Now he cursed his fate, and reviled all viziers. I turned to see to whom his lamentations were addressed, and beheld another Mohammedan seated on the floor, and attending with an attitude and air of devout respect. The scene reminded Boy and me of our old home, and we laughed heartily. On making a tour of inspection, we found nine rooms, some of them pleasant and airy, and with every “modern convenience” (though somewhat Oriental as to style) of bath, kitchen, etc. It was clear that soap and water without stint would do much here toward the making of a home for us. Beebe and Boy were hopeful, and promptly put a full stop to the rhetorical outcry of Moonshee by requesting him to enlist the services of his admiring friend and two China coolies to fetch water. But there were no buckets. With a few dollars that I gave him, Moonshee, with all a Moslem’s resignation to any new turn in his fate, departed to explore for the required utensils, while the brother of the awful Kralahome, perched on the piazza railing, adjusted his anatomy for a comfortable oversight of the proceedings. Boy, with his “pinny” on, ran off in glee to make himself promiscuously useful, and I sat down to plan an attack.

Where to begin?–that was the question. It was such filthy filth, so monstrous in quantity and kind,–dirt to be stared at, defied, savagely assaulted with rage and havoc. Suddenly I arose, shook my head dangerously at the prime minister’s brother,–who, fascinated, had advanced into the room,–marched through a broken door, hung my hat and mantle on a rusty nail, doffed my neat half-mourning, slipped on an old wrapper, dashed at the vile matting that in ulcerous patches afflicted the floor, and began fiercely tearing it up.

In good time Moonshee and his new friend returned with half a dozen buckets, but no coolies; in place of the latter came a neat and pleasant Siamese lady, Mrs. Hunter, wife of the premier’s secretary, bringing her slaves to help, and some rolls of fresh, sweet China matting for the floor. How quickly the general foulness was purified, the general raggedness repaired, the general shabbiness made “good as new”! The floors, that had been buried under immemorial dust, arose again under the excavating labors of the sweepers; and the walls, that had been gory with expectorations of betel, hid their “damned spots” under innocent veils of whitewash.

Moonshee, who had evidently been beguiled by a cheap and spurious variety of the wine of Shiraz, and now sat maudlin on the steps, weeping for his home in Singapore, I despatched peremptorily in search of Beebe, bedsteads, and boxes. But the Kralahome’s brother had vanished, doubtless routed by the brooms.

Bright, fresh, fragrant matting; a table neither too low to be pretty nor too high to be useful; a couple of armchairs, hospitably embracing; a pair of silver candlesticks, quaint and homely; a goodly company of pleasant books; a piano, just escaping from its travelling-cage, with all its pent-up music in its bosom; a cosey little cot clinging to its ampler mother; a stream of generous sunlight from the window gilding and gladdening all,–behold our home in Siam!

I worked exultingly till the setting sun slanted his long shadows across the piazza. Then came comfortable Beebe with the soup and dainties she had prepared with the help of a “Bombay man.” Boy slept soundly in an empty room, overcome by the spell of its sudden sweetness, his hands and face as dirty as a healthy, well-regulated boy could desire. Triumphantly I bore him to his own pretty couch, adjusted my hair, resumed my royal robes of mauve muslin, and prepared to queen it in my own palace.

And even as I stood, smiling at my own small grandeur, came tender memories crowding thick upon me,–of a soft, warm lap, in which I had once loved to lay my head; of a face, fair, pensive, loving, lovely; of eyes whose deep and quiet light a shadow of unkindness never crossed; of lips that sweetly crooned the songs of a far-off, happy land; of a presence full of comfort, hope, strength, courage, victory, peace, that perfect harmony that comes of perfect faith,–a child’s trust in its mother.

Passionately I clasped my child in my arms, and awoke him with pious promises that took the form of kisses. Beebe, soup, teapot, candlesticks, teacups, and dear faithful Bessy, looked on and smiled.

Hardly had we finished this, our first and finest feast, in celebration of our glorious independence, when our late guide of fish-market fame, he of the seedy red coat and faded yellow facings, appeared on the piazza, saluted us with that vacant chuckle and grin wherefrom no inference could be drawn, and delivered his Majesty’s order that I should now come to the school.

Unterrified and deliberate, we lingered yet a little over that famous breakfast, then rose, and prepared to follow the mechanical old ape. Boy hugged Bessy fondly by way of good-by, and, leaving Beebe on guard, we went forth. The same long, narrow, tall, and very crank boat received us. The sun was hot enough to daunt a sepoy; down the bare backs of the oarsmen flowed miniature Meinams of sweat, as they tugged, grunting, against the strong current. We landed at the familiar (king’s) pavilion, the front of which projects into the river by a low portico. The roof, rising in several tiers, half shelters, half bridges the detached and dilapidated parts of the structure, which presents throughout a very ancient aspect, parts of the roof having evidently been renewed, and the gables showing traces of recent repairs, while the rickety pillars seem to protest with groans against the architectural anachronism that has piled so many young heads upon their time-worn shoulders.


The fact is remarkable, that though education in its higher degrees is popularly neglected in Siam, there is scarcely a man or woman in the empire who cannot read and write. Though a vain people, they are neither bigoted nor shallow; and I think the day is not far off when the enlightening influences applied to them, and accepted through their willingness, not only to receive instruction from Europeans, but even to adopt in a measure their customs and their habits of thought, will raise them to the rank of a superior nation. The language of this people advances but slowly in the direction of grammatical perfection. Like many other Oriental tongues, it was at first purely monosyllabic; but as the Pali or Sanskrit has been liberally engrafted on it, polysyllabic words have been formed. Its pronouns and particles are peculiar, its idioms few and simple, its metaphors very obvious. It is copious to redundancy in terms expressive of royalty, rank, dignity–in fact, a distinct phraseology is required in addressing personages of exalted station; repetitions of word and phrase are affected, rather than shunned. Sententious brevity and simplicity of expression belong to the pure spirit of the language, and when employed impart to it much dignity and beauty; but there is no standard of orthography, nor any grammar, and but few rules of universal application. Every Siamese writer spells to please himself, and the purism of one is the slang or gibberish of another.


The Siamese write from left to right, the words running together in a line unbroken by spaces, points, or capitals; so that, as in ancient Sanskrit, an entire paragraph appears as one protracted word,

“That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.”

When not written with a reed on dark native paper, the characters are engraved with a style (of brass or iron, one end sharp for writing, the other flat for erasing) on palm-leaves prepared for the purpose.

In all parts of the empire the boys are taught by priests to read, write, and cipher. Every monastery is provided with a library, more or less standard. The more elegant books are composed of tablets of ivory, or of palmyra leaves delicately prepared; the characters engraved on these are gilt, the margins and edges adorned with heavy gilding or with flowers in bright colors.

The literature of the Siamese deals principally with religious topics. The “Kammarakya,” or Buddhist Ritual,–a work for the priesthood only, and therefore, like others of the Vinnaya, little known,–contains the vital elements of the Buddhist Moral Code, and, _per se_, is perfect; on this point all writers, whether partial or captious, are of one mind. Spence Hardy, a Wesleyan missionary, speaking of that part of the work entitled “Dhamma-Padam,” [Footnote: Properly _Dharmna_,–“Footsteps of the Law.”] which is freely taught in the schools attached to the monasteries, admits that a compilation might be made from its precepts, “which in the purity of its ethics could hardly be equalled from any other heathen author.”

M. Laboulaye, one of the most distinguished members of the French Academy, remarks, in the _Debats_ of April 4, 1853, on a work known by the title of “Dharmna Maitri,” or “Law of Charity”:–

“It is difficult to comprehend how men, not aided by revelation, could have soared so high and approached so near the truth. Beside the five great commandments,–not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie, not to get drunk,–every shade of vice, hypocrisy, anger, pride, suspicion, greed, gossip, cruelty to animals, is guarded against by special precepts. Among the virtues commended we find, not only reverence for parents, care for children, submission to authority, gratitude, moderation in time of prosperity, resignation and fortitude in time of trial, equanimity at all times, but virtues unknown to any heathen system of morality, such as the duty of forgiving insults, and of rewarding evil with good.”

All virtues, we are told, spring from _maitri_, and this _maitri_ can only be rendered by charity and love.

“I do not hesitate,” says Burnouf, in his _Lotus de la Bonne Loi_, “to translate by ‘charity’ the word _maitri_, which expresses, not merely friendship, or the feeling of particular affection which a man has for one or more of his fellow-creatures, but that universal feeling which inspires us with good-will toward all men and a constant willingness to help them.”

I may here add the testimony of Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire: “I do not hesitate to add,” he writes, “that, save the Christ alone, there is not among the founders of religion a figure more pure, more touching, than that of Buddha. His life is without blemish; his constant heroism equals his conviction; and if the theory he extols is false, the personal examples he affords are irreproachable. He is the accomplished model of all the virtues he preaches; his abnegation, his charity, his unalterable sweetness, never belie themselves. At the age of twenty-nine he retires from the court of the king, his father, to become a devotee and a beggar. He silently prepares his doctrine by six years of seclusion and meditation. He propagates it, by the unaided power of speech and persuasion, for more than half a century; and when he dies in the arms of his disciples, it is with the serenity of a sage who has practised goodness all his life, and knows that he has found Truth.”

Another work, as sacred and more mystic, is the “Parajika,” read in the temples with closed doors by the chief priests exclusively, and only to such devotees as have entered the monastic schools for life.

Then there are the “P’ra-jana Para-mita,” (the “Accomplishment of Reason,” or “Transcendental Wisdom,)” and other works in abstruse philosophy. The “Lalita Vistara” contains the life of Buddha, and is esteemed the highest authority as to the more remarkable events in the career of the great reformer. The “Saddharma-pundikara” (or _pundariki_ in Ceylon), “The White Lotos of the True Religion,” presents the incidents of Buddha’s life in the form of legend and fable.

The “Ganda-Veyuha,” but little known, consists of remarkable and very beautiful forms of prayer and thanksgiving, with psalms of praise addressed to the Perfection of the Infinite and to the Invisible, by Sakya Muni, the Buddha. The “Nirwana” treats of the end of material existence, and is universally read, and highly esteemed by Buddhists as a treatise of rare merit.

But the most important parts of the theological study of the Siamese priesthood are found in a work revered under the titles of “Tautras” and “Kala-Chakara,”–that is, “Circles of Time, Matter, Space”; probably a translation of the Sanskrit symbolic word, _Om_, “Circle.” There are twenty-two volumes, treating exclusively of mystics and mystical worship.

The libraries of the monasteries are rich in works on the theory and practice of medicine; but very poor in historical books, the few preserved dealing mainly with the lives and actions of Siamese rulers, oddly associated with the genii and heroes of the Hindoo mythology. Like the early historians of Greece and Rome, the writers are careful to furnish a particular account of all signs, omens, and predictions relating to the several events recorded. They possess also a few translated works in Chinese history.

The late king was an authority on all questions of religion, law, and custom, and was familiar with the writings of Pythagoras and Aristotle.

The Siamese have an extravagant fondness for the drama, and for poetry of every kind. In all the lyric form predominates, and their compositions are commonly adapted for instrumental accompaniment. Their dramatic entertainments are mainly musical, combining rudely the opera with the ballet,–monotonous singing, and listless, mechanical dancing. Dialogue is occasionally introduced, the favorite subjects being passages from the Hindoo Avatars, the epic “Ramayana,” and the “Mahabharata”; or from legends, peculiar to Siam, of gods, heroes, and demons. Throughout their literature, mythology is the all-pervading element; history, science, arts, customs, conversation, opinion, doctrine, are alike colored and flavored with it.

With so brief and meagre a sketch of the literature of Siam, I would fain prepare the reader to appreciate the peculiarities of an English classical school in the Royal Palace at Bangkok. In Siam, all schools, literary societies, monasteries, even factories, all intellectual and progressive enterprises of whatever nature and intention, are opened and begun on Thursday, “One P’ra Hatt”; because that day is sacred to the goddess of Mind or Wisdom, probably the Hindoo Saraswati. On the Thursday appointed for the opening of my classes in the palace, one of the king’s barges conveyed us across the Meinam. At the landing I was met by slave-girls, who conducted me to the palace through the gate called Patoo Sap, “Gate of Knowledge.” Here I was received by some Amazons, who in turn gave notice to other slave-girls waiting to escort us to a pavilion–or, more correctly, temple–dedicated to the wives and daughters of Siam. [Footnote: _Watt Khoon Choom Manda Thai_,–“Temple of the Mothers of the Free.”] The profound solitude of this refuge, embowered in its twilight grove of orange and palm trees, was strangely tranquillizing. The religion of the place seemed to overcome us, as we waited among the tall, gilded pillars of the temple. On one side was an altar, enriched with some of the most curious and precious offerings of art to be found in the East. There was a gilded rostrum also, from which the priests daily officiated; and near by, on the summit of a curiously carved trunk of an old Bho tree, [Footnote: The sacred tree under which Guadama discoursed with his disciples.] the goddess of Mind presided.

The floor of this beautiful temple was a somewhat gaudy mosaic of variegated marble and precious stones; but the gilded pillars, the friezes that surmounted them, and the vaulted roof of gilded arabesques, seemed to tone down the whole to their own chaste harmony of design.

In the centre of the temple stood a long table, finely carved, and some gilt chairs. The king and most of the nobler ladies of the court were present, with a few of the chief priests, among whom I recognized, for the first time, his Lordship Chow Khoon Sah.

His Majesty received me and my little boy most kindly. After an interval of silence he clapped his hands lightly, and instantly the lower hall was filled with female slaves. A word or two, dropped from his lips, bowed every head and dispersed the attendants. But they presently returned laden, some with boxes containing books, slates, pens, pencils, and ink; others with lighted tapers and vases filled with the white lotos, which they set down before the gilded chairs.

At a signal from the king, the priests chanted a hymn from the “P’ra-jana Para-mita”; [Footnote: “Accomplishment of Reason,” or “Transcendental Wisdom.”] and then a burst of music announced the entrance of the princes and princesses, my future pupils. They advanced in the order of their ages. The Princess Ying You Wahlacks (“First-born among Women”), having precedence, approached and prostrated herself before her royal father, the others following her example. I admired the beauty of her skin, the delicacy of her form, and the subdued lustre of her dreamy eyes. The king took her gently by the hand, and presented me to her, saying simply, “The English teacher.” Her greeting was quiet and self-possessed. Taking both my hands, she bowed, and touched them with her forehead; then, at a word from the king, retired to her place on the right. One by one, in like manner, all the royal children were presented and saluted me; and the music ceased.

His Majesty then spoke briefly, to this effect: “Dear children, as this is to be an English school, you will have to learn and observe the English modes of salutation, address, conversation, and etiquette; and each and every one of you shall be at liberty to sit in my presence, unless it be your own pleasure not to do so.” The children all bowed, and touched their foreheads with their folded palms, in acquiescence.

Then his Majesty departed with the priests; and the moment he was fairly out of sight, the ladies of the court began, with much noise and confusion, to ask questions, turn over the leaves of books, and chatter and giggle together. Of course, no teaching was possible in such a din; my young princes and princesses disappeared in the arms of their nurses and slaves, and I retired to my apartments in the prime minister’s palace. But the serious business of my school began on the following Thursday.

On that day a crowd of half-naked children followed me and my Louis to the palace gates, where our guide gave us in charge to a consequential female slave, at whose request the ponderous portal was opened barely wide enough to admit one person at a time. On entering we were jealously scrutinized by the Amazonian guard, and a “high private” questioned the propriety of admitting my boy; whereat a general tittering, and we passed on. We advanced through the noiseless oval door, and entered the dim, cool pavilion, in the centre of which the tables were arranged for school. Away flew several venerable dames who had awaited our arrival, and in about an hour returned, bringing with them twenty-one scions of Siamese royalty, to be initiated into the mysteries of reading, writing, and arithmetic, after the European, and especially the English manner.

It was not long before my scholars were ranged in chairs around the long table, with Webster’s far-famed spelling-books before them, repeating audibly after me the letters of the alphabet. While I stood at one end of the table, my little Louis at the other, mounted on a chair, the better to command his division, mimicked me with a fidelity of tone and manner very quaint and charming. Patiently his small finger pointed out to his class the characters so strange to them, and not yet perfectly familiar to himself.

About noon, a number of young women were brought to me, to be taught like the rest. I received them sympathetically, at the same time making a memorandum of their names in a book of my own. This created a general and lively alarm, which it was not in my power immediately to allay, my knowledge of their language being confined to a few simple sentences; but when at last their courage and confidence were restored, they began to take observations and an inventory of me that were by no means agreeable. They fingered my hair and dress, my collar, belt, and rings. One donned my hat and cloak, and made a promenade of the pavilion; another pounced upon my gloves and veil, and disguised herself in them, to the great delight of the little ones, who laughed boisterously. A grim duenna, who had heard the noise, bustled wrathfully into the pavilion. Instantly hat, cloak, veil, gloves, were flung right and left, and the young women dropped on the floor, repeating shrilly, like truant urchins caught in the act, their “ba, be, bi, bo.”

One who seemed the infant phenomenon of the royal harem, so juvenile and artless were her looks and ways, despising a performance so rudimentary as the a, b, c, demanded to be steered at once into the mid-ocean of the book; but when I left her without pilot in an archipelago of hard words, she soon showed signals of distress.

At the far end of the table, bending over a little prince, her eyes riveted on the letters my boy was naming to her, stood a pale young woman, whose aspect was dejected and forlorn. She had entered unannounced and unnoticed, as one who had no interest in common with the others; and now she stood apart and alone, intent only on mastering the alphabet with the help of her small teacher. When we were about to dismiss the school, she repeated her lesson to my wise lad, who listened with imposing gravity, pronounced her a “very good child,” and said she might go now. But when she perceived that I observed her curiously, she crouched almost under the table, as though owning she had no right to be there, and was worthy to pick only the crumbs of knowledge that might fall from it. She was neither very young nor pretty, save that her dark eyes were profound and expressive, and now the more interesting by their touching sadness. Esteeming it the part of prudence as well as of kindness to appear unconscious of her presence, and so encourage her to come again, I left the palace without accosting her, before his Majesty had awakened from his forenoon nap. This crushed creature had fallen under the displeasure of the king, and the after chapters of her story, which shall be related in their proper connection, were romantic and mournful.


Our blue chamber overlooked the attap roofs of a long row of houses, badly disfigured by the stains and wear of many a wet season, in which our next neighbor, a Mohammedan of patriarchal aspect and demeanor, stored bags of sugar, waiting for a rise in the market. This worthy paid us the honor of a visit every afternoon, and in the snug little eastern chamber consecrated to the studies and meditations of my Persian teacher propounded solemn problems from the Alkoran.

Under Moonshee’s window the tops of houses huddled, presenting forms more or less fantastic according to the purse or caprice of the proprietors. The shrewd old man was not long in finding tenants for all these roofs, and could even tell the social status and the means of each. It tickled his vanity to find himself domiciled in so aristocratic a quarter. Our house–more Oriental than European in its architecture–was comparatively new, having been erected upon the site of the old palace, the _debris_ of which had furnished the materials of which it was constructed. Among the loose slabs of marble and fragments of pottery that turned up with the promiscuous rubbish every day, we sometimes found surfaces of stone bearing Siamese or Cambodian inscriptions; others with grotesque figures in bass-relief, taken from the mythology of the Hindoos. Had these relics a charm for Moonshee, and was he animated by the antiquarian’s enthusiasm, that he delved away hour after hour, unearthing, with his spade, bricks and stones and tiles and slabs? I was at a loss to account for this new freak in the old man; but seeing him infatuated with his eccentric pursuit, and Boy enraptured over grubs and snails and bits of broken figures, the resurrections of the nimble spade, I left them to their cheap and harmless bliss.

One evening, as I sat musing in the piazza, with my book unopened on my lap, I heard Boy’s clear voice ringing in happy, musical peals of laughter that drew me to him. On the edge of a deep hole, in a corner of the compound, sat Moonshee, an effigy of doleful disappointment, and beside him stood the lad, clapping his little hands and laughing merrily. The old child had taken the young one into his confidence, and by their joint exertions they had dug this hole in search of treasure; and lo! at the bottom lay something that looked like a rusty purse. With a long look and a throbbing heart Moonshee, after several empty hauls, had fished it up; and it was–a toad! a huge, unsightly, yellow toad!

“May the foul fiend fly away with thee!” cried the enthusiast in his rage, as he flung the astonished reptile back into the pit, and sat down to bewail his _kismut_, while Boy made merry with his groans.

For some days the spade was neglected, though I observed, from the cautious drift of his remarks at the conclusion of our evening lesson, that Moonshee’s thoughts still harped on hidden treasure. The fervid imagination of the child had uncovered to his mind’s eye mines of wealth, awaiting only the touch of the magic spade to bare their golden veins to the needs of his Mem Sahib and himself. There was no dispelling his golden visions by any shock of hard sense; the more he dreamed the more he believed. But the spot? the right spot? “Only wait.”

Another week elapsed, and Boy and I worked harder than ever in our school in the cool pavilion. I had flung off the dead weight of my stubborn repinings, and my heart was light again. There were delightful discoveries of beauty in the artless, childish faces that greeted us every morning; and now the only wonder was that I had been so slow to penetrate the secret of their charm. That eager, radiant elf, the Princess Somdetch Chow Fa-ying, [Footnote: “First-Born of the Skies.”] the king’s darling (of whom, by and by, I shall have a sadder tale to tell), had become a sprite of sunshine and gladness amid the sombre shadows of those walls. In her deep, dark, lustrous eyes, her simple, trusting ways, there was a springtide of refreshment, a pure, pervading radiance, that brightened the darkest thing it touched. Even the grim hags of the harem felt its influence, and softened in her presence.

As Boy was reciting his tasks one morning before breakfast, Moonshee entered the room with one of his profoundest salaams, and an expression at once so earnest and so comical that I anxiously asked him what was the matter. Panting alike with the eagerness of childhood and the feebleness of age, he stammered, “I have something of the greatest importance to confide to you, Mem Sahib! Now is the time! Now you shall prove the devotion of your faithful Moonshee, who swears by Allah not to touch a grain of gold without your leave, in all those bursting sacks, if Mem Sahib will but lend him ten ticals, only ten ticals, to buy a screw-driver!”

“What in the world can you want with a screw-driver, Moonshee?”

“O Mem, listen to me!” he cried, his face glowing with the very rapture of possession; “I have discovered the exact spot on which the old duke, Somdetch Ong Yai, expired. It is a secret, a wonderful secret, Mem Sahib; not a creature in all Siam knows it.”

“Then how came you by it,” I inquired, “seeing that you know not one word of the language, which you have bravely scorned as unworthy to be uttered by the Faithful, and of no use on earth but to confound philosophers and Moonshees?”

“_Sunnoh, sunnoh!_ [Footnote: “Listen, listen!”] Mem Sahib! No human tongue revealed it to me. It was the Ange Gibhrayeel. [Footnote: The Angel Gabriel.] He came to me last night as I slept, and said, ‘O son of Jaffur Khan! to your prayers is granted the knowledge that, for all these years, has been denied to Kafirs. Arise! obey! and with humility receive the treasures reserved for thee, thou faithful follower of the Prophet!’ And so saying he struck the golden palms he bore in his hand; and though I was now awake, Mem Sahib, I was so overpowered by the beauty and effulgence of his person, that I was as one about to die. The radiant glory of his wings, which were of the hue of sapphires, blinded my vision; I could neither speak nor see. But I felt the glow of his presence and heard the rustle of his pinions, as once more he beat the golden palms and cried, ‘Behold, O son of Jaffur Khan! behold the spot where lie the treasures of that haughty Kafir chief!’ I arose, and immediately the angel flashed from my sight; and as I gazed there appeared a luminous golden hen with six golden chickens, which pecked at bits of blazing coal that, as they cooled, became nuggets of pure gold. When suddenly I beheld a great light as of _rooshnees_, [Footnote: Fire-balls.] and it burst upon the spot where the hen had been; and then all was darkness again. Mem Sahib, your servant ran down and placed a stone upon that spot, and kneeling on that stone, with his face to the south, repeated his five Kalemahs.” [Footnote: Thanksgivings.]

I am ashamed to say I laughed; whereat the old man was so mortified that he vowed the next time the angel appeared to him, he would call us all to see. I accepted the condition; and even promised that if I saw the nuggets of pure gold that Gabriel’s chickens pecked, I would immediately accommodate him with the ten ticals to invest in a screw-driver. So perfect was his faith in the vision, that he accepted the promise with complete satisfaction.

Not many nights after this extraordinary apparition, we were aroused by Beebe and her husband calling, “Awake, awake!” Thinking the house was on fire, I threw on my dressing-gown and ran into the next room with Boy in my arms. There was indeed a fire, but it was in a distant corner of the yard. The night was dark, a thick mist rose from the river, and the gusty puffs of wind that now and then swept through the compound caused the wood fire to flare up and flicker, casting fitful and fantastic shadows around. Moonshee stared, with fixed eyes, expecting every moment the reappearance of the supernatural poultry; but I, being as yet sceptical, descended the stairs, followed by my trembling household, and approached the spot.

On a remnant of matting, with a stone for a pillow, lay an old Siamese woman asleep. Driven by the heat to the relief of the open air, she had kindled a fire to keep off the mosquitoes.

“Now, Moonshee,” said I, “here is your Angel Gabriel. Don’t you ever again trouble me for ticals to invest in screw-drivers.”


The city of Bangkok is commonly supposed to have inherited the name of the ancient capital, Ayudia; but in the royal archives, to which I have had free access, it is given as Krung Thep’ha Maha-Nakhon Si-ayut-thia Maha-dilok Racha-thani,–“The City of the Royal, Invincible, and Beautiful Archangel.” It is ramparted with walls within and without, which divide it into an inner and an outer city, the inner wall being thirty feet high, and flanked with circular forts mounted with cannon, making a respectable show of defence. Centre of all, the heart of the citadel, is the grand palace, encompassed by a third wall, which encloses only the royal edifice, the harems, the temple of Watt P’hra Keau, and the Maha P’hrasat.

The Maha Phrasat is an immense structure of quadrangular facades, surmounted by a tall spire of very chaste and harmonious design. It is consecrated; and here dead sovereigns of Siam lie in state, waiting twelve months for their cremation; here also their ashes are deposited, in urns of gold, after that fiery consummation. In the Maha Phrasat the supreme king is crowned and all court ceremonies performed. On certain high holidays and occasions of state, the high-priest administers here a sort of mass, at which the whole court attend, even the chief ladies of the harem, who, behind heavy curtains of silk and gold that hang from the ceiling to the floor, whisper and giggle and peep and chew betel, and have the wonted little raptures of their sex over furtive, piquant glimpses of the world; for, despite the strict confinement and jealous surveillance to which they are subject, the outer life, with all its bustle, passion, and romance, will now and then steal, like a vagrant, curious ray of light, into the heart’s darkness of these tabooed women, thrilling their childish minds with eager wonderment and formless longings.

Within these walls lurked lately fugitives of every class, profligates from all quarters of the city, to whom discovery was death; but here their “sanctuary” was impenetrable. Here were women disguised as men, and men in the attire of women, hiding vice of every vileness and crime of every enormity,–at once the most disgusting, the most appalling, and the most unnatural that the heart of man has conceived. It was death in life, a charnel-house of quick corruption; a place of gloom and solitude indeed, wherefrom happiness, hope, courage, liberty, truth, were forever excluded, and only mother’s love was left.

The king [Footnote: All that is here written applies to Maha Mongkut, the supreme king, who died October, 1868; not to his successor (and my pupil), the present king.] was the disk of light and life round which these strange flies swarmed. Most of the women who composed his harem were of gentle blood,–the fairest of the daughters of Siamese nobles and of princes of the adjacent tributary states; the late queen consort was his own half-sister. Beside many choice Chinese and Indian girls, purchased annually for the royal harem by agents stationed at Peking, Foo-chou, and different points in Bengal, enormous sums were offered, year after year, through “solicitors” at Bangkok and Singapore, for an English woman of beauty and good parentage to crown the sensational collection; but when I took my leave of Bangkok, in 1868, the coveted specimen had not yet appeared in the market. The cunning _commissionnaires_ contrived to keep their places and make a living by sending his Majesty, now and then, a piquant photograph of some British Nourmahal of the period, freshly caught, and duly shipped, in good order for the harem; but the goods never arrived.

Had the king’s tastes been Gallic, his requisition might have been filled. I remember a score of genuine offers from French demoiselles, who enclosed their _cartes_ in billets more surprising and enterprising than any other “proposals” it was my office to translate. But his whimsical Majesty entertained a lively horror of French intrigue, whether of priests, consuls, or _lionnes_, and stood in vigilant fear of being beguiled, through one of these adventurous sirens, into fathering the innovation of a Franco-Siamese heir to the throne of the celestial P’hrabatts.

The king, as well as most of the principal members of his household, rose at five in the morning, and immediately partook of a slight repast, served by the ladies who had been in waiting through the night; after which, attended by them and his sisters and elder children, he descended and took his station on a long strip of matting, laid from one of the gates through all the avenues to another. On his Majesty’s left were ranged, first, his children in the order of rank; then the princesses, his sisters; and, lastly, his concubines, his maids of honor, and their slaves. Before each was placed a large silver tray containing offerings of boiled rice, fruit, cakes, and the seri leaf; some even had cigars.

A little after five, the Patoo Dharmina (“Gate of Merit,” called by the populace “Patoo Boon”) was thrown open and the Amazons of the guard drawn up on either side. Then the priests entered, always by that gate,–one hundred and ninety-nine of them, escorted on the right and left by men armed with swords and clubs,–and as they entered they chanted: “Take thy meat, but think it dust! Eat but to live, and but to know thyself, and what thou art below! And say withal unto thy heart, It is earth I eat, that to the earth I may new life impart.”

Then the chief priest, who led the procession, advanced with downcast eyes and lowly mien, and very simply presented his bowl (slung from his neck by a cord, and until that moment quite hidden under the folds of his yellow robe) to the members of the royal household, who _offered_ their fruit or cakes, or their spoonfuls of rice or sweetmeats. In like manner did all his brethren. If, by any chance, one before whom a tray was placed was not ready and waiting with an offering, no priest stopped, but all continued to advance slowly, taking only what was freely offered, without thanks or even a look of acknowledgment, until the end of the royal train was reached, when the procession retired, chanting as before, by the gate called Dinn, or, in the Court language, _Prithri_, “Gate of Earth.”

After this, the king and all his company repaired to his private temple, Watt Sasmiras Manda-thung, [Footnote: “Temple in Memory of Mother.”] so called because it was dedicated by his Majesty to the memory of his mother. This is an edifice of unique and charming beauty, decorated throughout by artists from Japan, who have represented on the walls, in designs as diverse and ingenious as they are costly, the numerous metempsychoses of Buddha.

Here his Majesty ascended alone the steps of the altar, rang a bell to announce the hour of devotion, lighted the consecrated tapers, and offered the white lotos and the roses. Then he spent an hour in prayer, and in reading texts from the P’ra-jana Para-mita and the P’hra-ti-Mok-sha.

This service over, he retired for another nap, attended by a fresh detail of women,–those who had waited the night before being dismissed, not to be recalled for a month, or at least a fortnight, save as a peculiar mark of preference or favor to some one who had had the good fortune to please or amuse him; but most of that party voluntarily waited upon him every day.

His Majesty usually passed his mornings in study, or in dictating or writing English letters and despatches. His breakfast, though a repast sufficiently frugal for Oriental royalty, was served with awesome forms. In an antechamber adjoining a noble hall, rich in grotesque carvings and gildings, a throng of females waited, while his Majesty sat at a long table, near which knelt twelve women before great silver trays laden with twelve varieties of viands,–soups, meats, game, poultry, fish, vegetables, cakes, jellies, preserves, sauces, fruits, and teas. Each tray, in its order, was passed by three ladies to the head wife or concubine, who removed the silver covers, and at least seemed to taste the contents of each dish; and then, advancing on her knees, she set them on the long table before the king.

But his Majesty was notably temperate in his diet, and by no means a gastronome. In his long seclusion in a Buddhist cloister he had acquired habits of severe simplicity and frugality, as a preparation for the exercise of those powers of mental concentration for which he was remarkable. At these morning repasts it was his custom to detain me in conversation relating to some topic of interest derived from his studies, or in reading or translating. He was more systematically educated, and a more capacious devourer of books and news, than perhaps any man of equal rank in our day. But much learning had made him morally mad; his extensive reading had engendered in his mind an extreme scepticism concerning all existing religious systems. In inborn integrity and steadfast principle he had no faith whatever. He sincerely believed that every man strove to compass his own ends, _per fas et nefas_. The _mens sibi conscia recti_ was to him an hallucination, for which he entertained profound contempt; and he honestly pitied the delusion that pinned its faith on human truth and virtue. He was a provoking _melange_ of antiquarian attainments and modern scepticism. When, sometimes, I ventured to disabuse his mind of his darling scorn for motive and responsibility, I had the mortification to discover that I had but helped him to an argument against myself: it was simply “my peculiar interest to do so.” Money, money, money! that could procure anything.

But aside from the too manifest bias of his early education and experience, it is due to his memory to say that his practice was less faithless than his profession, toward those persons and principles to which he was attracted by a just regard. In many grave considerations he displayed soundness of understanding and clearness of judgment,–a genuine nobility of mind, established upon universal ethics and philosophic reason,–where his passions were not dominant; but when these broke in between the man and the majesty, they effectually barred his advance in the direction of true greatness; beyond them he could not, or would not, make way.

Ah, if this man could but have cast off the cramping yoke of his intellectual egotism, and been loyal to the free government of his own true heart, what a demi-god might he not have been among the lower animals of Asiatic royalty!

At two o’clock he bestirred himself, and with the aid of his women bathed and anointed his person. Then he descended to a breakfast- chamber, where he was served with the most substantial meal of the day. Here he chatted with his favorites among the wives and concubines, and caressed his children, taking them in his arms, embracing them, plying them with puzzling or funny questions, and making droll faces at the babies: the more agreeable the mother, the dearer the child. The love of children was the constant and hearty virtue of this forlorn despot. They appealed to him by their beauty and their trustfulness, they refreshed him with the bold innocence of their ways, so frolicsome, graceful, and quaint.

From this delusive scene of domestic condescension and kindliness he passed to his Hall of Audience to consider official matters. Twice a week at sunset he appeared at one of the gates of the palace to hear the complaints and petitions of the poorest of his subjects, who at no other time or place could reach his ear. It was most pitiful to see the helpless, awe-stricken wretches, prostrate and abject as toads, many too terrified to present the precious petition after all.

At nine he retired to his private apartments, whence issued immediately peculiar domestic bulletins, in which were named the women whose presence he particularly desired, in addition to those whose turn it was to “wait” that night.

And twice a week he held a secret council, or court, at midnight. Of the proceedings of those dark and terrifying sittings I can, of course, give no exact account. I permit myself to speak only of those things which were but too plain to one who lived for six years in or near the palace.

In Siam, the king–Maha Mongkut especially–is not merely enthroned, he is enshrined. To the nobility he is omnipotence, and to the rabble mystery. Since the occupation of the country by the Jesuits, many foreigners have fancied that the government is becoming more and more silent, insidious, secretive; and that this midnight council is but the expression of a “policy of stifling.” It is an inquisition,–not overt, audacious, like that of Rome, but nocturnal, invisible, subtle, ubiquitous, like that of Spain; proceeding without witnesses or warning; kidnapping a subject, not arresting him, and then incarcerating, chaining, torturing him, to extort confession or denunciation. If any Siamese citizen utter one word against the “San Luang,” (the royal judges), and escape, forthwith his house is sacked and his wife and children kidnapped. Should he be captured, he is brought to secret trial, to which no one is admitted who is not in the patronage and confidence of the royal judges. In themselves the laws are tolerable; but in their operation they are frustrated or circumvented by arbitrary and capricious power in the king, or craft or cruelty in the Council. No one not initiated in the mystic _seances_ of the San Luang can depend upon Siamese law for justice. No man will consent to appear there, even as a true witness, save for large reward. The citizen who would enjoy, safe from legal plunder, his private income, must be careful to find a patron and protector in the king, the prime minister, or some other formidable friend at court. Spies in the employ of the San Luang penetrate into every family of wealth and influence. Every citizen suspects and fears always his neighbor, sometimes his wife. On more than one occasion when, vexed by some act of the king’s, more than usually wanton and unjust, I instinctively gave expression to my feelings by word or look in the presence of certain officers and courtiers, I observed that they rapped, or tapped, in a peculiar and stealthy manner. This I afterward discovered was one of the secret signs of the San Luang; and the warning signal was addressed to me, because they imagined that I also was a member of the Council.

_En passant_, a word as to the ordinary and familiar costumes of the palace. Men and women alike wear a sort of kilt, like the _pu’sho_ of the Birmans, with a short upper tunic, over which the women draw a broad silk scarf, which is closely bound round the chest and descends in long, waving folds almost to the feet. Neither sex wears any covering on the head. The uniform of the Amazons of the harem is green and gold, and for the soldiers scarlet and purple.

There are usually four meals: breakfast about sunrise; a sort of tiffin at noon; a more substantial repast in the afternoon; and supper after the business of the day is over. Wine and tea are drunk freely, and perfumed liquors are used by the wealthy. An indispensable preparation for polite repast is by bathing and anointing the body. When guests are invited, the sexes are never brought together; for Siamese women of rank very rarely appear in strange company; they are confined to remote and unapproachable halls and chambers, where nothing human, being male, may ever enter. The convivial entertainments of the Court are usually given on occasions of public devotion, and form a part of these.


As, month, after month, I continued to teach in the palace,–especially as the language of my pupils, its idioms and characteristic forms of expression, began to be familiar to me,–all the dim life of the place “came out” to my ken, like a faint picture, which at first displays to the eye only a formless confusion, a chaos of colors, but by force of much looking and tracing and joining and separating, first objects and then groups are discovered in their proper identity and relation, until the whole stands out, clear, true, and informing in its coherent significance of light and shade. Thus, by slow processes, as one whose sight has been imperceptibly restored, I awoke to a clearer and truer sense of the life within “the city of the beautiful and invincible angel.”

Sitting at one end of the table in my school-room, with Boy at the other, and all those far-off faces between, I felt as though we were twenty thousand miles away from the world that lay but a twenty minutes’ walk from the door; the distance was but a speck in space, but the separation was tremendous. It always seemed to me that here was a sudden, harsh suspension of nature’s fundamental law,–the human heart arrested in its functions, ceasing to throb, and yet alive.


The fields beyond are fresh and green, and bright with flowers. The sun of summer, rising exultant, greets them with rejoicing; and evening shadows, falling soft among the dewy petals, linger to kiss them good-night. There the children of the poor–naked, rude, neglected though they be–are rich in the freedom of the bounteous earth, rich in the freedom of the fair blue sky, rich in the freedom of the limpid ocean of air above and around them. But within the close and gloomy lanes of this city within a city, through which many lovely women are wont to come and go, many little feet to patter, and many baby citizens to be borne in the arms of their dodging slaves, there is but cloud and chill, and famishing and stinting, and beating of wings against golden bars. In the order of nature, evening melts softly into night, and darkness retreats with dignity and grace before the advancing triumphs of the morning; but here light and darkness are monstrously mixed, and the result is a glaring gloom that is neither of the day nor of the night, nor of life nor of death, nor of earth nor of–yes, hell!

In the long galleries and corridors, bewildering with their everlasting twilight of the eye and of the mind, one is forever coming upon shocks of sudden sunshine or shocks of sudden shadow,–the smile yet dimpling in a baby’s face, a sister bearing a brother’s scourging; a mother singing to her “sacred infant,” [Footnote: P’hra-ong.] a slave sobbing before a deaf idol. And O, the forlornness of it all! You who have never beheld these things know not the utterness of loneliness. Compared with the predicament of some who were my daily companions, the sea were a home and an iceberg a hearth.

How I have pitied those ill-fated sisters of mine, imprisoned without a crime! If they could but have rejoiced once more in the freedom of the fields and woods, what new births of gladness might have been theirs,–they who with a gasp of despair and moral death first entered those royal dungeons, never again to come forth alive! And yet have I known more than one among them who accepted her fate with a repose of manner and a sweetness of smile that told how dead must be the heart under that still exterior. And I wondered at the sight. Only twenty minutes between bondage and freedom,–such freedom as may be found in Siam! only twenty minutes between those gloomy, hateful cells and the fair fields and the radiant skies! only twenty minutes between the cramping and the suffocation and the fear, and the full, deep, glorious inspirations of freedom and safety!

I had never beheld misery till I found it here; I had never looked upon the sickening hideousness of slavery till I encountered its features here; nor, above all, had I comprehended the perfection of the life, light, blessedness and beauty, the all-sufficing fulness of the love of God as it is in Jesus, until I felt the contrast here,–pain, deformity, darkness, death, and eternal emptiness, a darkness to which there is neither beginning nor end, a living which is neither of this world nor of the next. The misery which checks the pulse and thrills the heart with pity in one’s common walks about the great cities of Europe is hardly so saddening as the nameless, mocking wretchedness of these women, to whom poverty were a luxury, and houselessness as a draught of pure, free air.

And yet their lot is light indeed compared with that of their children. The single aim of such a hapless mother, howsoever tender and devoted she may by nature be, is to form her child after the one strict pattern her fate has set her,–her master’s will; since, otherwise, she dare not contemplate the perils which might overtake her treasure. Pitiful indeed, therefore, is the pitiless inflexibility of purpose with which she wings from her child’s heart all the dangerous endearments of childhood,–its merry laughter, its sparkling tears, its trustfulness, its artlessness, its engaging waywardness; and in their place instils silence, submission, self-constraint, suspicion, cunning, carefulness, and an ever-vigilant fear. And the result is a spectacle of unnatural discipline simply appalling. The life of such a child is an egg-shell on an ocean; to its helpless speck of experience all horrors are possible. Its passing moment is its eternity; and that overwhelmed with terrors, real or imaginary, what is left but that poor little floating wreck, a child’s despair?

I was often alone in the school-room, long after my other charges had departed, with a pale, dejected woman, whose name translated was “Hidden-Perfume.” As a pupil she was remarkably diligent and attentive, and in reading and translating English, her progress was extraordinary. Only in her eager, inquisitive glances was she child-like; otherwise, her expression and demeanor were anxious and aged. She had long been out of favor with her “lord”; and now, without hope from him, surrendered herself wholly to her fondness for a son she had borne him in her more youthful and attractive days. In this young prince, who was about ten years old, the same air of timidity and restraint was apparent as in his mother, whom he strikingly resembled, only lacking that cast of pensive sadness which rendered her so attractive, and her pride, which closed her lips upon the past, though the story of her wrongs was a moving one.

It was my habit to visit her twice a week at her residence, [Footnote: Each of the ladies of the harem has her own exclusive domicile, within the inner walls of the palace.] for I was indebted to her for much intelligent assistance in my study of the Siamese language. On going to her abode one afternoon, I found her absent; only the young prince was there, sitting sadly by the window.

“Where is your mother, dear?” I inquired.

“With his Majesty up stairs, I think,” he replied, still looking anxiously in one direction, as though watching for her.

This was an unusual circumstance for my sad, lonely friend, and I returned home without my lesson for that day.

Next morning, passing the house again, I saw the lad sitting in the same attitude at the window, his eyes bent in the same direction, only more wistful and weary than before. On questioning him, I found his mother had not yet returned. At the pavilion I was met by the Lady Talap, who, seizing my hand, said, “Hidden-Perfume is in trouble.”

“What is the matter?” I inquired.

“She is in prison,” she whispered, drawing me closely to her. “She is not prudent, you know,–like you and me,” in a tone which expressed both triumph and fear.

“Can I see her?” I asked.

“Yes, yes! if you bribe the jailers. But don’t give them more than a tical each. They’ll demand two; give them only one.”

In the pavilion, which served as a private chapel for the ladies of the harem, priests were reading prayers and reciting homilies from that sacred book of Buddha called _Sasanah Thai_, “The Religion of the Free”; while the ladies sat on velvet cushions with their hands folded, a vase of flowers in front of each, and a pair of odoriferous candles, lighted. Prayers are held daily in this place, and three times a day during the Buddhist Lent. The priests are escorted to the pavilion by Amazons, and two warriors, armed with swords and clubs, remain on guard till the service is ended. The latter, who are eunuchs, also attend the priests when they enter the palace, in the afternoon, to sprinkle the inmates with consecrated water.

Leaving the priests reciting and chanting, and the rapt worshippers bowing, I passed a young mother with a sleeping babe, some slave-girls playing at _sabah_ [Footnote: Marbles, played with the knee instead of the fingers.] on the stone pavement, and two princesses borne in the arms of their slaves, though almost women grown, on my way to the palace prison.

If it ever should be the reader’s fortune, good or ill, to visit a Siamese dungeon, whether allotted to prince or peasant, his attention will be first attracted to the rude designs on the rough stone walls (otherwise decorated only with moss and fungi and loathsome reptiles) of some nightmared painter, who has exhausted his dyspeptic fancy in portraying hideous personifications of Hunger, Terror, Old Age, Despair, Disease, and Death, tormented by furies and avengers, with hair of snakes and whips of scorpions,–all beyond expression devilish. Floor it has none, nor ceiling, for, with the Meinam so near, neither boards nor plaster can keep out the ooze. Underfoot, a few planks, loosely laid, are already as soft as the mud they are meant to cover; the damp has rotted them through and through. Overhead, the roof is black, but not with smoke; for here, where the close steam of the soggy earth and the reeking walls is almost intolerable, no fire is needed in the coldest season. The cell is lighted by one small window, so heavily grated on the outer side as effectually to bar the ingress of fresh air. A pair of wooden trestles, supporting rough boards, form a makeshift for a bedstead, and a mat (which may be clean or dirty, the ticals of the prisoner must settle that) is all the bed.

In such a cell, on such a couch, lay the concubine of a supreme king and the mother of a royal prince of Siam, her feet covered with a silk mantle, her head supported by a pillow of glazed leather, her face turned to the clammy wall.

There was no door to grate upon her quivering nerves; a trap-door in the street overhead had opened to the magic of silver, and I had descended a flight of broken steps of stone. At her head, a little higher than the pillow, were a vase of flowers, half faded, a pair of candles burning in gold candlesticks, and a small image of the Buddha. She had brought her god with her. Well, she needed his presence.

I could hardly keep my feet, for the footing was slippery and my brain swam. Touching the silent, motionless form, in a voice scarcely audible I pronounced her name. She turned with difficulty, and a slight sound of clanking explained the covering on the feet. She was chained to one of the trestles.

Sitting up, she made room for me beside her. No tears were in her eyes; only the habitual sadness of her face was deepened. Here, truly, was a perfect work of misery, meekness, and patience.

Astonished at seeing me, she imagined me capable of yet greater things, and folding her hands in an attitude of supplication, implored me to help her. The offence for which she was imprisoned was briefly this:–

She had been led to petition, through her son, [Footnote: A privilege granted to all the concubines.] that an appointment held by her late uncle, Phya Khien, might be bestowed on her elder brother, not knowing that another noble had already been preferred to the post by his Majesty.

Had she been guilty of the gravest crime, her punishment could not have been more severe. It was plain that a stupid grudge was at the bottom of this cruel business. The king, on reading the petition, presented by the trembling lad on his knees, became furious, and, dashing it back into the child’s face, accused the mother of plotting to undermine his power, saying he knew her to be at heart a rebel, who hated him and his dynasty with all the rancor of her Peguan ancestors, the natural enemies of Siam. Thus lashing himself into a rage of hypocritical patriotism, and seeking to justify himself by condemning her, he sent one of his judges to bring her to him. But before the myrmidon could go and come, concluding to dispense with forms, he anticipated the result of that mandate with another,–to chain and imprison her. No sooner was she dragged to this deadly cell, than a third order was issued to flog her till she confessed her treacherous plot; but the stripes were administered so tenderly, [Footnote: In these cases the executioners are women, who generally spare each other if they dare.] that the only confession they extorted was a meek protestation that she was “his meanest slave, and ready to give her life for his pleasure.”

“Beat her on the mouth with a slipper for lying!” roared the royal tiger; and they did, in the letter, if not in the spirit, of the brutal sentence. She bore it meekly, hanging down her head. “I am degraded forever!” she said to me.

When once the king was enraged, there was nothing to be done but to wait in patience until the storm should exhaust itself by its own fury. But it was horrible to witness such an abuse of power at the hands of one who was the only source of justice in the land. It was a crime against all humanity, the outrage of the strong upon the helpless. His madness sometimes lasted a week; but weeks have their endings. Besides, he really had a conscience, tough and shrunken as it was; and she had, what was more to the purpose, a whole tribe of powerful connections.

As for myself, there was but one thing I could do; and that was to intercede privately with the Kralahome. The same evening, immediately on returning from my visit to the dungeon, I called on him; but when I explained the object of my visit he rebuked me sharply for interfering between his Majesty and his wives.

“She is my pupil,” I replied. “But I have not interfered; I have only come to you for justice. She did not know of the appointment until she had sent in her petition; and to punish one woman for that which is permitted and encouraged in another is gross injustice.” Thereupon he sent for his secretary, and having satisfied himself that the appointment had not been published, was good enough to promise that he would explain to his Majesty that “there had been delay in making known to the Court the royal pleasure in this matter”; but he spoke with indifference, as if thinking of something else.

I felt chilled and hurt as I left the premier’s palace, and more anxious than ever when I thought of the weary eyes of the lonely lad watching for his mother’s return; for no one dared tell him the truth. But, to do the premier justice, he was more troubled than he would permit me to discover at the mistake the poor woman had made; for there was good stuff in the moral fabric of the man,–stern rectitude, and a judgment, unlike the king’s, not warped by passion. That very night [Footnote: All consultations on matters of state and of court discipline are held in the royal palace at night.] he repaired to the Grand Palace, and explained the delay to the king, without appearing to be aware of the concubine’s punishment.

On Monday morning, when I came to school in the pavilion, I found, to my great joy, that Hidden-Perfume had been liberated, and was at home again with her child. The poor creature embraced me ardently, glorifying me with grateful epithets from the extravagant vocabulary of her people; and, taking an emerald ring from her finger, she put it upon mine, saying, “By this you will remember your thankful friend.” On the following day she also sent me a small purse of gold thread netted, in which were a few Siamese coins, and a scrap of paper inscribed with cabalistic characters,–an infallible charm to preserve the wearer from poverty and distress.

Among my pupils was a little girl about eight or nine years old, of delicate frame, and with the low voice and subdued manner of one who had already had experience of sorrow. She was not among those presented to me at the opening of the school. Wanne Ratana Kania was her name (“Sweet Promise of my Hopes”), and very engaging and persuasive was she in her patient, timid loveliness. Her mother, the Lady Khoon Chom Kioa, who had once found favor with the king, had, at the time of my coming to the palace, fallen into disgrace by reason of her gambling, in which she had squandered all the patrimony of the little princess. This fact, instead of inspiring the royal father with pity for his child, seemed to attract to her all that was most cruel in his insane temper. The offence of the mother had made the daughter offensive in his sight; and it was not until long after the term of imprisonment of the degraded favorite had expired that Wanne ventured to appear at a royal _levee_. The moment the king caught sight of the little form, so piteously prostrated there, he drove her rudely from his presence, taunting her with the delinquencies of her mother with a coarseness that would have been cruel enough if she had been responsible for them and a gainer by them, but against one of her tender years, innocent toward both, and injured by both, it was inconceivably atrocious.

On her first appearance at school she was so timid and wistful that I felt constrained to notice and encourage her more than those whom I had already with me. But I found this no easy part to play; for very soon one of the court ladies in the confidence of the king took me quietly aside and warned me to be less demonstrative in favor of the little princess, saying, “Surely you would not bring trouble upon that wounded lamb.”

It was a sore trial to me to witness the oppression of one so unoffending and so helpless. Yet our Wanne was neither thin nor pale. There was a freshness in her childish beauty, and a bloom in the transparent olive of her cheek, that were at times bewitching. She loved her father, and in her visions of baby faith beheld him almost as a god. It was true joy to her to fold her hands and bow before the chamber where he slept. With that steadfast hopefulness of childhood which can be deceived without being discouraged, she would say, “How glad he will be when I can read!” and yet she had known nothing but despair.

Her memory was extraordinary; she delighted in all that was remarkable, and with careful wisdom gathered up facts and precepts and saved them for future use. She seemed to have built around her an invisible temple of her own design, and to have illuminated it with the rushlight of her childish love. Among the books she read to me, rendering it from English into Siamese, was one called “Spring-time.” On translating the line, “Whom He loveth he chasteneth,” she looked up in my face, and asked anxiously: “Does thy God do that? Ah! lady, are _all_ the gods angry and cruel? Has he no pity, even for those who love him? He must be like my father; _he_ loves us, so he has to be _rye_ (cruel), that we may fear evil and avoid it.”

Meanwhile little Wanne learned to spell, read, and translate almost intuitively; for there were novelty and hope to help the Buddhist child, and love to help the English woman. The sad look left her face, her life had found an interest; and very often, on _fete_ days, she was my only pupil;–when suddenly an ominous cloud obscured the sky of her transient gladness. Wanne was poor; and her gifts to me were of the riches of poverty,–fruits and flowers. But she owned some female slaves; and one among them, a woman of twenty-five perhaps (who had already made a place for herself in my regard), seemed devotedly attached to her youthful mistress, and not only attended her to the school day after day, but shared her scholarly enthusiasm, even studied with her, sitting at her feet by the table. Steadily the slave kept pace with the princess. All that Wanne learned at school in the day was lovingly taught to Mai Noie in the nursery at night; and it was not long before I found, to my astonishment, that the slave read and translated as correctly as her mistress.

Very delightful were the demonstrations of attachment interchanged between these two. Mai Noie bore the child in her arms to and from the school, fed her, humored her every whim, fanned her naps, bathed and perfumed her every night, and then rocked her to sleep on her careful bosom, as tenderly as she would have done for her own baby. And then it was charming to watch the child’s face kindle with love and comfort as the sound of her friend’s step approached.

Suddenly a change; the little princess came to school as usual, but a strange woman attended her, and I saw no more of Mai Noie there. The child grew so listless and wretched that I was forced to ask the cause of her darling’s absence; she burst into a passion of tears, but replied not a word. Then I inquired of the stranger, and she answered in two syllables,–_My ru_ (“I know not”).

Shortly afterward, as I entered the school-room one day, I perceived that something unusual was happening. I turned toward the princes’ door, and stood still, fairly holding my breath. There was the king, furious, striding up and down. All the female judges of the palace were present, and a crowd of mothers and royal children. On all the steps around, innumerable slave-women, old and young, crouched and hid their faces.

But the object most conspicuous was little Wanne’s mother, manacled, and prostrate on the polished marble pavement. There, too, was my poor little princess, her hands clasped helplessly, her eyes tearless but downcast, palpitating, trembling, shivering. Sorrow and horror had transformed the child.

As well as I could understand, where no one dared explain, the wretched woman had been gambling again, and had even staked and lost her daughter’s slaves. At last I understood Wanne’s silence when I asked her where Mai Noie was. By some means–spies probably–the whole matter had come to the king’s ears, and his rage was wild, not because he loved the child, but that he hated the mother.

Promptly the order was given to lash the woman; and two Amazons advanced to execute it. The first stripe was delivered with savage skill; but before the thong could descend again, the child sprang forward and flung herself across the bare and quivering back of her mother.

_Ti chan, Tha Moom! [Footnote: Tha Mom or Moom, used by children in addressing a royal father.] Poot-thoo ti chan, Tha Mom!_ (“Strike _me_, my father! Pray, strike me, O my father!”)

The pause of fear that followed was only broken by my boy, who, with a convulsive cry, buried his face desperately in the folds of my skirt.

There indeed was a case for prayer, any prayer!–the prostrate woman, the hesitating lash, the tearless anguish of the Siamese child, the heart-rending cry of the English child, all those mothers with grovelling brows, but hearts uplifted among the stars, on the wings of the Angel of Prayer. Who could behold so many women crouching, shuddering, stupefied, dismayed, in silence and darkness, animated, enlightened only by the deep whispering heart of maternity, and not be moved with mournful yearning?

The child’s prayer was vain. As demons tremble in the presence of a god, so the king comprehended that he had now to deal with a power of weakness, pity, beauty, courage, and eloquence. “Strike _me_, O my father!” His quick, clear sagacity measured instantly all the danger in that challenge; and though his voice was thick and agitated (for, monster as he was at that moment, he could not but shrink from striking at every mother’s heart at his feet), he nervously gave the word to remove the child, and bind her. The united strength of several women was not more than enough to loose the clasp of those loving arms from the neck of an unworthy mother. The tender hands and feet were bound, and the tender heart was broken. The lash descended then, unforbidden by any cry.


“Will you teach me to draw?” said an irresistible young voice to me, as I sat at the school-room table, one bright afternoon. “It is so much more pleasant to sit by you than to go to my Sanskrit class. My Sanskrit teacher is not like my English teacher; she bends my hands back when I make mistakes. I don’t like Sanskrit, I like English. There are so many pretty pictures in your books. Will you take me to England with you, Mam cha?” [Footnote: “Lady, dear.”] pleaded the engaging little prattler.

“I am afraid his Majesty will not let you go with me,” I replied.

“O yes, he will!” said the child with smiling confidence. “He lets me do as I like. You know I am the Somdetch Chow Fa-ying; he loves me best of all; he will let me go.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said I, “and very glad to hear that you love English and drawing. Let us go up and ask his Majesty if you may learn drawing instead of Sanskrit.”

With sparkling eyes and a happy smile, she sprang from my lap, and, seizing my hand eagerly, said, “O yes! let us go now.” We went, and our prayer was granted.

Never did work seem more like pleasure than it did to me as I sat with this sweet, bright little princess, day after day, at the hour when all her brothers and sisters were at their Sanskrit, drawing herself, as the humor seized her, or watching me draw; but oftener listening, her large questioning eyes fixed upon my face, as step by step I led her out of the shadow-land of myth into the realm of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”; and I felt that this child of smiles and tears, all unbaptized and unblessed as she was, was nearer and dearer to her Father in heaven than to her father on earth.

This was the Somdetch Chowfa Chandrmondol, best known in the palace by her pet name of Fa-ying. Her mother, the late queen consort, in dying, left three sons and this one daughter, whom, with peculiar tenderness and anxiety, she commended to the loving kindness of the king; and now the child was the fondled darling of the lonely, bitter man, having quickly won her way to his heart by the charm of her fearless innocence and trustfulness, her sprightly intelligence and changeful grace.

Morning dawned fair on the river, the sunshine flickering on the silver ripples, and gilding the boats of the market people as they softly glide up or down to the lazy swing of the oars. The floating shops were all awake, displaying their various and fantastic wares to attract the passing citizen or stranger. Priests in yellow robes moved noiselessly from door to door, receiving without asking and without thanks the alms wherewith their pious clients hoped to lay up treasures in heaven, or, in Buddhist parlance, to “make merit.” Slaves hurried hither and thither in the various bustle of errands. Worshippers thronged the gates and vestibules of the many temples of this city of pagodas and _p’hra- cha-dees_, and myriads of fan-shaped bells scattered aeolian melodies on the passing breeze. As Boy and I gazed from our piazza on this strangely picturesque panorama, there swept across the river a royal barge filled with slaves, who, the moment they had landed, hurried up to me.

“My lady,” they cried, “there is cholera in the palace! Three slaves are lying dead in the princesses’ court; and her Highness, the young Somdetch Chow Fa-ying, was seized this morning. She sends for you. O, come to her, quickly!” and with that they put into my hand a scrap of paper; it was from his Majesty.

“MY DEAR MAM,–Our well-beloved daughter, your favorite pupil, is attacked with cholera, and has earnest desire to see you, and is heard much to make frequent repetition of your name. I beg that you will favor her wish. I fear her illness is mortal, as there has been three deaths since morning. She is best beloved of my children.

“I am your afflicted friend,


In a moment I was in my boat. I entreated, I flattered, I scolded, the rowers. How slow they were! how strong the opposing current! And when we did reach those heavy gates, how slowly they moved, with what suspicious caution they admitted me! I was fierce with impatience. And when at last I stood panting at the door of my Fa-ying’s chamber–too late! even Dr. Campbell (the surgeon of the British consulate) had come too late.

There was no need to prolong that anxious wail in the ear of the deaf child, “P’hra-Arahang! P’hra-Arahang!” [Footnote: One of the most sacred of the many titles of Buddha, repeated by the nearest relative in the ear of the dying till life is quite extinct.] She would not forget her way; she would nevermore lose herself on the road to Heaven. Beyond, above the P’hra-Arahang, she had soared into the eternal, tender arms of the P’hra-Jesus, of whom she was wont to say in her infantine wonder and eagerness, _Mam cha, chan rak P’hra-Jesus mak_ (“Mam dear, I love your holy Jesus.”)

As I stooped to imprint a parting kiss on the little face that had been so fair to me, her kindred and slaves exchanged their appealing “P’hra-Arahang” for a sudden burst of heart-rending cries.

An attendant hurried me to the king, who, reading the heavy tidings in my silence, covered his face with his hands and wept passionately. Strange and terrible were the tears of such a man, welling up from a heart from which all natural affections had seemed to be expelled, to make room for his own exacting, engrossing conceit of self.

Bitterly he bewailed his darling, calling her by such tender, touching epithets as the lips of loving Christian mothers use. What could I say? What could I do but weep with him, and then steal quietly away and leave the king to the Father?

“The moreover very sad & mournful Circular [Footnote: From the pen of the king.] from His Gracious Majesty Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, the reigning Supreme King of Siam, intimating the recent death of Her Celestial Royal Highness, Princess Somdetch Chowfa Chandrmondol Sobhon Baghiawati, who was His Majesty’s most affectionate & well beloved 9th Royal daughter or 16th offspring, and the second Royal child by His Majesty’s late Queen consort Rambery Bhamarabhiramy who deceased in the year 1861. Both mother and daughter have been known to many foreign friends of His Majesty.

“To all the foreign friends of His Majesty, residing or trading in Siam, or in Singapore, Malacca, Pinang, Ceylon, Batavia, Saigon, Macao, Hong-kong, & various regions in China, Europe, America, &c. &c….

“Her Celestial Royal Highness, having been born on the 24th April, 1855, grew up in happy condition of her royal valued life, under the care of her Royal parents, as well as her elder and younger three full brothers; and on the demise of her royal mother on the forementioned date, she was almost always with her Royal father everywhere day & night. All things which belonged to her late mother suitable for female use were transferred to her as the most lawful inheritor of her late royal mother; She grew up to the age of 8 years & 20 days. On the ceremony of the funeral service of her elder late royal half brother forenamed, She accompanied her royal esteemed father & her royal brothers and sisters in customary service, cheerfully during three days of the ceremony, from the 11th to 13th May. On the night of the latter day, when she was returning from the royal funeral place to the royal residence in the same sedan with her Royal father at 10 o’clock P.M. she yet appeared happy, but alas! on her arrival at the royal residence, she was attacked by most violent & awful cholera, and sunk rapidly before the arrival of the physicians who were called on that night for treatment. Her disease or illness of cholera increased so strong that it did not give way to the treatment of any one, or even to the Chlorodine administered to her by Doctor James Campbell the Surgeon of the British Consulate. She expired at 4 o’clock P.M., on the 14th May, when her elder royal half brother’s remains were burning at the funeral hall outside of the royal palace, according to the determined time for the assembling of the great congregation of the whole of the royalty & nobility, and native & foreign friends, before the occurrence of the unforeseen sudden misfortune or mournful event.

“The sudden death of the said most affectionate and lamented royal daughter has caused greater regret and sorrow to her Royal father than several losses sustained by him before, as this beloved Royal amiable daughter was brought up almost by the hands of His Majesty himself, since she was aged only 4 to 5 months, His Majesty has carried her to and fro by his hand and on the lap and placed her by his side in every one of the Royal seats, where ever he went; whatever could be done in the way of nursing His Majesty has done himself, by feeding her with milk obtained from her nurse, and sometimes with the milk of the cow, goat &c. poured in a teacup from which His Majesty fed her by means of a spoon, so this Royal daughter was as familiar with her father in her infancy, as with her nurses.

“On her being only aged six months, his Majesty took this Princess with him and went to Ayudia on affairs there; after that time when she became grown up His Majesty had the princess seated on his lap when he was in his chair at the breakfast, dinner & supper table, and fed her at the same time of breakfast &c, almost every day, except when she became sick of colds &c. until the last days of her life she always eat at same table with her father. Where ever His Majesty went, this princess always accompanied her father upon the same, sedan, carriage, Royal boat, yacht &c. and on her being grown up she became more prudent than other children of the same age, she paid every affectionate attention to her affectionate and esteemed father in every thing where her ability allowed; she was well educated in the vernacular Siamese literature which she commenced to study when she was 3 years old, and in last year she commenced to study in the English School where the schoolmistress, Lady L—- has observed that she was more skillful than the other royal Children, she pronounced & spoke English in articulate & clever manner which pleased the schoolmistress exceedingly, so that the schoolmistress on the loss of this her beloved pupil, was in great sorrow and wept much.

“…. But alas! her life was very short. She was only aged 8 years & 20 days, reckoning from her birth day & hour, she lived in this world 2942 days & 18 hours. But it is known that the nature of human lives is like the flames of candles lighted in open air without any protection above & every side, so it is certain that this path ought to be followed by every one of human beings in a short or long while which cannot be ascertained by prediction, Alas!

“Dated Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok, 16th May, Anno Christi 1863.”

Not long after our darling Fa-ying was taken from us, the same royal barge, freighted with the same female slaves who had summoned us to her death-bed, came in haste to our house. His Majesty had sent them to find and bring us. We must hurry to the palace. On arriving there, we found the school pavilion strangely decorated with flowers. My chair of office had been freshly painted a glaring red, and on the back and round the arms and legs fresh flowers were twined. The books the Princess Fa-ying had lately conned were carefully displayed in front of my accustomed seat, and upon them were laid fresh roses and fragrant lilies. Some of the ladies in waiting informed me that an extraordinary honor was about to be conferred on me. Not relishing the prospect of favors that might place me in a false position, and still all in the dark, I submitted quietly, but not without misgivings on my own part and positive opposition on Boy’s, to be enthroned in the gorgeous chair, whereof the paint was hardly dry. Presently his Majesty sent to inquire if we had arrived, and being apprised of our presence, came down at once, followed by all my pupils and a formidable staff of noble dowagers,–his sisters, half-sisters, and aunts, paternal and maternal.

Having shaken hands with me and with my child, he proceeded to enlighten us. He was about to confer a distinction upon me, for my “courage and conduct,” as he expressed it, at the death-bed of her Highness, his well-beloved royal child, the Somdetch Chow Fa-ying. Then, bidding me “remain seated,” much to the detriment of my white dress, in the sticky red chair, and carefully taking the ends of seven threads of unspun cotton (whereof the other ends were passed over my head, and over the dead child’s books, into the hands of seven of his elder sisters), he proceeded to wind them round my brow and temples. Next he waved mysteriously a few gold coins, then dropped twenty-one drops of cold water out of a jewelled shell, [Footnote: The conch, or chank shell] and finally, muttering something in Sanskrit, and placing in my hand a small silk bag containing a title of nobility and the number and description of the roods of lands pertaining to it, bade me rise, “Chow Khoon Crue Yai”!

My estate was in the district of Lophaburee and P’hra Batt, and I found afterward that to reach it I must perform a tedious journey overland, through a wild, dense jungle, on the back of an elephant. So, with wise munificence, I left it to my people, tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses, wild boars, armadillos, and monkeys to enjoy unmolested and untaxed, while I continued to pursue the even tenor of a “school-marm’s” way, unagitated by my honorary title. In fact, the whole affair was ridiculous; and I was inclined to feel a little ashamed of the distinction, when I reflected on the absurd figure I must have cut, with my head in a string like a grocer’s parcel, and Boy imploring me, with all his astonished eyes, not to submit to so silly an operation. So he and I tacitly agreed to hush the matter up between us.

Speaking of the “chank” shell, that is the name given in the East Indies to certain varieties of the _voluta gravis_, fished up by divers in the Gulf of Manaar, on the northwest coast of Ceylon. There are two kinds, _payel_ and _patty,_–the one red, the other white; the latter is of small value. These shells are exported to Calcutta and Bombay, where they are sawed into rings of various sizes, and worn on the arms, legs, fingers, and toes by the Hindoos, from whom the Buddhists have adopted the shell for use in their religious or political ceremonies. They employ, however, a third species, which opens to the right, and is rare and costly. The demand for these shells, created by the innumerable poojahs and pageants of the Hindoos and Buddhists, was formerly so great that a bounty of sixty thousand rix dollars per annum was paid to the British government for the privilege of fishing for them; but this demand finally ceased, and the revenue became not worth collecting. The fishing is now free to all.


One morning we were startled by a great outcry, from which we presently began to pick out, here and there, a coherent word, which, put together, signified that Moonshee was once more in trouble. I ran down into the compound, and found that the old man had been cruelly beaten, by order of one of the premier’s half-brothers, for refusing to bow down before him. Exhausted as he was, he found voice to express his sense of the outrage in indignant iteration. “Am I a beast? Am I an unbelieving dog? O son of Jaffur Khan, how hast thou fallen!”

I felt so shocked and insulted that I went at once, and without ceremony, to the Kralahome, and complained. To my surprise and disgust, his Excellency made light of the matter, saying that the old man was a fool; that he had no time to waste upon such trifles; and that I must not trouble him so often with my meddling in matters of no moment, and which did not concern me.

When he was done with this explosion of petulance and brow-beating, I endeavored to demonstrate to him the unfairness of his remarks, and the disadvantage to himself if he should appear to connive at the ruffianly behavior of his people. But I assured him that in future I should not trouble him with my complaints, but take them directly to the British Consul. And so saying I left this unreasonable prime minister, meeting the cause of all our woes (the half-brother) coming in as I went out. That same evening, as I sat in our little piazza, where it was cooler than in the house, embroidering a new coat for Boy to wear on his approaching birthday, I felt a violent blow on my head, and fell from my chair stunned, overturning the small table at which I was working, and the heavy Argand lamp that stood on it.

On recovering my senses I found myself in the dark, and Boy, with all his little strength, trying to lift me from the floor, while he screamed, “_Beebe maree! Beebe maree!_” [Footnote: Maree, “Come here” (Malay).] I endeavored to rise, but feeling dizzy and sick lay still for a while, taking Louis in my arms to reassure him.

When Beebe came from the river, where she had been bathing, she struck a light, and found that the mischief had been done with a large stone, about four inches long and two wide; but by whom or why it had been thrown we could not for some time conjecture. Beebe raised the neighborhood with her cries: “First my husband, then my mistress! It will be my turn next; and then what will become of the _chota baba sahib?_” [Footnote: The little master.] But I begged her to have done with her din and help me to the couch, which she did with touching tenderness and quiet, bathing my head, which had bled so profusely that I sank, exhausted, into a deep sleep, though the sight of my boy’s pale, anxious face, as he insisted on sharing Beebe’s vigil, would have been more than enough to keep me awake at any other time. When I awoke in the morning, there sat the dear little fellow in a chair asleep, but dressed, his head resting on my pillow.

I now felt so much better, though my head was badly swollen, that I rose and paid a visit to Moonshee, who was really ill, though not dying, as his wife declared. The shame and outrage of his beating was the occasion of much sorrow and trouble to me, for my Persian teacher now begged to be sent back to Singapore, and I thought that Beebe could not be persuaded to let him go alone, though my heart had been set on keeping them with me as long as I remained in Siam. It was in vain that I tried to convince the terrified old man that such a catastrophe could hardly happen again; he would not be beguiled, but, shedding faithful tears at the sight of my bandaged head, declared we should all be murdered if we tarried another day in a land of such barbarous Kafirs. I assured him that my wound was but skin-deep, and that I apprehended no further violence. But all to no purpose; I was obliged to promise them that they should depart by the next trip of the Chow Phya steamer.

I deemed it prudent, however, to send for the premier’s secretary, and warn him, in his official capacity, that if a repetition of the outrage already perpetrated upon members of my household should be attempted from any quarter, I would at once take refuge at the British consulate, and lodge a complaint against the government of Siam.

Mr. Hunter, who was always very serious when he was sober and very volatile when he was not, took the matter to heart, stared long and thoughtfully at my bandaged head and pallid countenance, and abruptly started for the premier’s palace, whence he returned on the following day with several copies of a proclamation in the Siamese language, signed by his Excellency, to the effect that persons found injuring or in any way molesting any member of my household should be severely punished. I desired him to leave one or two of them, in a friendly way, at the house of my neighbor on the left, the Kralahome’s half-brother; for it was he, and no other, who had committed this most cowardly act of revenge. The expression of Mr. Hunter’s face, as the truth slowly dawned upon him, was rich in its blending of indignation, disgust, and contempt. “The pusillanimous rascal!” he exclaimed, as he hurried off in the direction indicated.

“The darkest hour is just before day.” So the gloom now cast over our little circle by Moonshee’s departure was quickly followed by the light of love in Beebe’s tearful eyes as she bade her husband adieu. “How could she,” she asked, “leave her Mem and the _chota baba sahib_ alone in a strange land?”


Ascending the Meinam (or Chow Phya) from the gulf, and passing Paknam, the paltry but picturesque seaport already described, we come next to Paklat Beeloo, or “Little Paklat,” so styled to distinguish it from Paklat Boon, a considerable town higher up the river, which we shall presently inspect as we steam toward Bangkok. Though, strictly speaking, Paklat Beeloo is a mere cluster of huts, the humble dwellings of a colony of farmers and rice-planters, it is nevertheless a place of considerable importance as a depot for the products of the ample fields and gardens which surround it on every side. The rice and vegetables which these supply are shipped for the markets of Bangkok and Ayudia. At Paklat Beeloo that bustle of traffic begins which, more and more as we approach the capital, imparts to the river its characteristic aspect of activity and thrift,–an animated procession of boats of various form and size, deeply laden with grain, garden stuffs, and fruits, drifting with the friendly helping tide, and requiring little or no manual labor for their navigation, as they sweep along tranquilly, steadily, from bank to bank, from village to village.

Diverse as are the styles and uses of these boats, the most convenient, and therefore the most common, are the Rua-keng and the Rua-pet. The former resembles in all respects the Venetian gondola, while the Rua-pet has either a square house with, windows amidships, or (more commonly) a basket cover, long and round, like the tent-top of some Western wagons. The dimensions of many of these boats are sufficient to accommodate an entire family, with their household goods and merchandise, yet one seldom sees more than a single individual in charge of them. The tide, running strongly up or down, affords the motive-power; “the crew” has but to steer. Often unwieldy, and piled clumsily with cargo, one might reasonably suppose their safe piloting to be a nautical impossibility; yet so perfect is the skill–the instinct, rather–of these almost amphibious river-folk, that a little child, not uncommonly a girl, shall lead them. Accidents are marvellously rare, considering the thousands of large, heavy, handsome keng boats that ply continually between the gulf and the capital, now lost in a sudden bend of the stream, now emerging from behind a screen of mangroves, and in their swift descent threatening quick destruction to the small and fragile market-boats, freighted with fish and poultry, fruit and vegetables.

From Paklat Beeloo a great canal penetrates directly to the heart of Bangkok, cutting off thirty miles from the circuitous river route. But the traveller, faithful to the picturesque, will cling to the beautiful Meinam, which will entertain him with scenery more and more charming as he approaches the capital,–higher lands, a neater cultivation, hamlets and villages quaintly pretty, fantastic temples and pagodas dotting the plain, fine Oriental effects of form and color, scattered Edens of fruit-trees,–the mango, the mangostein, the bread-fruit, the durian the orange,–their dark foliage contrasting boldly with the more lively and lovely green of the betel, the tamarind, and the banana. Every curve of the river is beautiful with an unexpectedness of its own,–here the sugar-cane swaying gracefully, there the billow-like lights and shadows of the supple, feathery bamboo, and everywhere ideal paradises of refreshment and repose. As we drift on the flowing thoroughfare toward the golden spires of Bangkok, kaleidoscopic surprises of summer salute us on either hand.

Presently we come to Paklat Boon, a place of detached cottages and orchards, fondly courting the river, the pretty homesteads of husbandmen and gardeners. Here, too, is a dock-yard for the construction of royal barges and war-boats, some of them more than eighty feet long, with less than twelve feet beam.

From Paklat Boon to Bangkok the scene is one of ever-increasing splendor, the glorious river seeming to array itself more and more grandly, as for the admiration of kings, and proudly spreading its waters wide, as a courtier spreads his robes. Its lake-like expanses, without a spiteful rock or shoal, are alive with ships, barks, brigs, junks, proas, sampans, canoes; and the stranger is beset by a flotilla of river pedlers, expertly sculling under the stern of the steamer, and shrilly screaming the praises of their wares; while here and there, in the thick of the bustle and scramble and din, a cunning, quick-handed Chinaman, in a crank canoe, ladles from a steaming caldron his savory chow-chow soup, and serves it out in small white bowls to hungry customers, who hold their peace for a time and loll upon their oars, enraptured by the penetrating brew.

Three miles below the capital are the royal dock-yards, where most of the ships composing the Siamese navy and merchant marine are built, under the supervision of English shipwrights. Here, also, craft from Hong-Kong, Canton, Singapore, Rangoon, and other ports, that have been