Sacred infant

The morning on which his Majesty set out on his annual visit to
Pitchaburee was one of those which occur in the climate of Siam at
almost any season of the year, but are seen in their perfection only in
October. The earth, air, and sky seemed to bask in a glory of sunlight
and beauty, and everything that had life gave signs of perfect and
tranquil enjoyment. Not a sound broke the stillness, and there seemed
nothing to do but to sit and watch the long shadows sleeping on the
distant hills, and on the warm golden fields of waving corn.

Reluctantly quitting my window, I turned my steps toward the palace,
leaving all this beauty behind me in a kind of despair; not that my
temple school-room was not in itself a delicious retreat, but that it
always impressed me with a feeling I could never analyze; when there,
it seemed as if I were removed to some awful distance from the world I
had known, and were yet more remotely excluded from any participation
in its real life.

Taking out my book, I sat down to await the coming of such of my pupils
as might not have accompanied the king on his visit.

In the course of an hour, only one presented herself; she was a young
woman called Choy, a fair and very handsome girl of about twenty
summers, or perhaps not so many, with regular features,–a very rare
thing in a Siamese woman; but the great beauty of her face was in her
large lustrous eyes, which were very eloquent, even in their seeming
indifference. Her hair, which was so long that when unbound it
covered her whole person, even to her feet, was tied in a large knot
behind, and ornamented with the jessamine and Indian myrtle. She had a
careless, and I might almost say even a wicked, expression in her face,
which was slightly marked with the smallpox.

Choy was the youngest sister of the head wife (or concubine) Thieng,
and had been my pupil for about six months. This morning she brought
me a flower; it was a common wild-flower, that grew up everywhere in
great profusion, making a lovely carpet, blossoming as it did in every
nook and crevice of the stone pavements within the palace. It was just
like her to snatch up the first thing that attracted her, and then to
give it away the very next moment. But I received it with pleasure, and
made a place for her at my side. She seemed to be out of humor, and,
jerking herself impatiently into the seat, said abruptly: “Why don’t
you despise me, as all the rest of them do?” Then, without waiting for
an answer, she went on to say: “I can’t be what you wish me to be; I’m
not coming to school any more! Here’s my book! I don’t want it, I hate
English!”

“Why, Choy, what is the matter?” I inquired.

“I am tired of trying to do so much; I am not going to learn English
any more,” she replied.

“Don’t say so, Choy,” I said, kindly; “you can’t do everything at once;
you must learn by degrees, and little by little, you know. No one grows
good or clever at once.”

“But I won’t learn any more, even to grow good and clever. There’s no
use, no one will ever care for me or love me again. I wish they had let
me die that time,” she continued. “Bah! I could kill that stupid old
consul who saved my life. It were better to be quartered, and cast to
the crows and vultures, than to live here. Every one orders me about
as if I were a slave, and treats me like a dog. I wish I could drown
myself and die.”

“But, Choy, you are here now, and you must try to bear it more bravely
than you do,” I said, not fully understanding the passionate nature of
the woman.

“Mam,” she said, suddenly, laying her hand upon my arm, “what would you
do if you were in my place and like me?”

“Like you, Choy? I don’t quite understand you; you must explain
yourself before I can answer you.”

“Listen, then,” she said, passionately, “and I will tell you.”

“When I was hardly ten years old,–O, it seems such a long, long time
ago!–my mother presented me, her favorite child, as a dancing-girl, to
his Majesty. I was immediately handed over to that vicious old woman,
Khoon Som Sak, who was at that time the chief teacher of the dramatic
art in the palace. She is very clever, and knows all the ancient epic
poems by heart, especially the Rāmāyānā, which his Majesty delighted to
see dramatized.

“Under her tuition we were subjected to the most rigorous training,
mentally and physically; we were compelled to leap and jump, to twist
and contort our bodies, and bend our arms, fingers, and ankles in every
direction, till we became so supple that we were almost like young
canes of rattan, and could assume any posture the old hag pleased.
Then we had to learn long passages from all sorts of poets by heart,
with perfect correctness, for if we ever forgot even a single word,
or did not put it in its right place, we were severely beaten. What
with recitations, singing, dancing, playing, and beating time with our
feet, we had a hard life of it; and it was no play for our instructress
either, for there were seventy of us girls to be initiated into all
the mysteries of the Siamese drama.

“At length, with some half-dozen of my companions, I was pronounced
perfect in the art, and was permitted to enter my name among the envied
few who played and danced and acted before the king.

“I would not have you think that the tasks imposed upon me were always
irksome, or that I have always felt so depressed and unworthy as I do
now. The study of the poets, and above all of the Rāmāyānā, opened to
me a new world as it were; and it was a great gain to have even this,
with the half-smothered yearning for life in the outer world that it
inspired. It helped me to live in a world of my own creation, a world
of love, music, and song. Rama was my hero, and I imagined myself the
fair and beautiful Sita, his wife. I particularly delighted to act that
part of the poem describing Rama’s expedition to Lanka[9] to rescue
Sita from the tyrant Râwânâ, and their delicious meeting in the garden,
where Rama greets her with those beautiful lines,–

‘O, what joy! abundant treasures
I have won again to-day,
O, what joy! Of Sita Yanee[10]
Now the hard-won prize is mine.

O, what joy! again thou livest, within this breast.
So mighty, armed with love, and with the wealth of heaven beyond[11]
Soon shall Sita, Indara’s fairest daughter,
Stand by my side, as stands her matchless mother,
Aspārā, in heaven refulgent by the great Indara.’

“My face is slightly pock-marked I know; but when painted and dressed
in the court jewels I looked remarkably well as Sita, with my hair
floating away over my shoulders and down to my feet, bound only by an
exquisite crown of gold, such as Sita is supposed to have worn. On
the very first occasion of my performing before the king I had to take
part in this drama. As soon as we had got through the first scene, the
king inquired my name and age. This set my heart beating in great wild
throbs all through the rest of the play. But after this weeks passed
by, and I heard nothing more from his Majesty. He had forgotten me.

“I grew tired of reciting, and keeping time, and singing my sweetest
songs for no one’s amusement but that of the old hag, who made me work
like a slave for the benefit of the rest of her pupils.

“I began to wish there would be some great _fête_ outside of the
palace, where all the court, nobles and princes, and the king, would
assemble, and where I could act Sita and sing like Narawèke,[12] and
dance like Thawadee.[13]

“Then father and mother might see me too, and O, how pleased they would
be! I thought. You do not know how dull it is to be acting before
women, and with women only, dressed in robes of kings and princesses.
If it were only a real king, or a prince, or even a noble, it would not
be quite so bad; but all that mockery of love, bah! it is too stupid.
I was sick of my life. I wished mother had kept me at home, instead of
Chand. I could then have done just what I had a mind to, and have been
just as gay and idle as she was.

“Well! the day came at last. I was all but sixteen when that great and
eventful day arrived. The _fête_ was in honor of the king’s grandson’s
hair-cutting.

“Though I had performed several times at the court, his Majesty had
taken no further notice of me, and I was sorely discontented with
myself, piqued at the indifference of the king, and enraged against the
old ladies, who seized every opportunity to snub me, and take down my
pride, declaring that a pock-marked face was not a fit offering for the
king.

“The longed-for day arrived at length. How elated I was! I had to
represent the character of the wondrously beautiful Queen Thèwâdee
in one of those ancient dramas of Maha Nagkhon Watt, whose beauty is
said to have entranced even the wild beasts of the forest, so that
they forgot to seize upon their prey as her shadow passed near them.
My dress was of magnificent silk and gold, covered with precious gems;
my crown was an antique and lovely coronet, one that had graced the
brows of the queens of Cambodia. It was richly studded with rubies
and diamonds. The first day of my rehearsal in this costume, all my
companions declared that I looked enchantingly beautiful, that my
fortune was made, and that, if I would only look and act thus, I
could not fail to captivate the king. The bare idea of being elevated
above my hateful old teacher, and above some of the proud women who
domineered over me, half intoxicated me. In this mood I began to
realize my future as already at hand, and, growing impatient with my
doubts and fears, I sought at nightfall a crafty old female astrologer
named Khoon Hate Nah. She took me into a dark and dismal cell
underground, and, putting her ear to my side, numbered the pulsation of
my heart for a whole hour; she then bound my eyes, and bade me select
one of the dark books that lay around me. This done, she expounded to
me my whole future, out of her mysterious book of fate, in which all
my romantic visions of greatness were as clearly predicted as if the
old fiend himself had revealed to her my secret and innermost thoughts.
I was troubled only at one part of the old woman’s revelations, which
said, that, though I was destined to rise to the greatest honors in
the realm, a certain malignant star which would greatly influence my
destiny would be in ascendency during the month of Duenjee,[14], and
that if I neglected to pass the whole of that period in deep fasting,
prayer, and meditation, I should sink at once from the highest pinnacle
of my grandeur into the lowest and most terrible abyss.

“I resolved that I would fast and pray for that entire month every year
of my life. How I wish now that I had never consulted the old hag,
because my confidence in her predictions made me proud and defiant to
the old duennas, who are now my bitterest enemies!

“Alas! dear father and mother. It were better to have cast your
daughter Choy into the Mèinam than to have given her to amuse a king.

“On the day of the _fête_, I awoke at five o’clock in the morning, and
began anointing my person with the perfumes and unguents provided for
us at the king’s expense. I then spent the rest of the forenoon in
making my hair glossy and lustrous, which I did by rubbing it with the
oil of the doksarathe.[15] How I gloried and exulted to see it floating
away in long shining masses, waving over my shoulders and covering my
feet! The afternoon came, and with it the old hags bearing my dress and
the costly jewels I was to appear in. They opened the box and laid them
before me. I had never seen anything so beautiful. The boxes absolutely
sparkled like the stars of heaven in one blaze of light and beauty.

“When I saw these jewels I was seized with a fit of temporary madness.
I could not help skipping and dancing in a sort of frenzy about my
chamber, saying all sorts of absurd things and foretelling my future
triumphs. My slave-women looked on amazed at the wildness of my
spirits; and as for the old women who had the care of robing me for the
evening, they were wrathful and silent.

[Illustration: A ROYAL ACTRESS.]

“We were all ready at last. A small gilt chariot of a tower-like form,
made of ivory and decorated with garlands and crowns of flowers,
drawn by a pair of milk-white ponies, and attended by Amazons dressed
superbly in green and gold, conveyed me, as the Queen Thèwâdee, to the
grand hall where we were to perform. My companions, similarly attended,
followed me on foot. His Majesty, the princes, and princesses,
surrounded by all the courtiers, were already there. The king and royal
family were seated on a raised dais under a tapering golden canopy.

“The moment the king saw me approach, my ponies led gently forward
by Amazons, he rose and, before the whole court of lords and nobles
and princes assembled, inquired my name of one of the duennas.
This recalled me once more to his memory, for he said aloud, ‘Ah!
we remember, she is the one who dances so beautifully.’ O, what a
moment of triumph that was for me! I felt as if my heart in its wild,
ecstatic throbs would burst through its gorgeous fetters of silk and
gold. I rose up in my chariot and bowed low before him three times.
‘But, how now!’ he exclaimed angrily, looking around; ‘where are the
nobles who are to lead the ponies? Let those Amazons fall back to
the right and left.’ In an instant there emerged from the crowd two
most distinguished-looking noblemen, dressed in flowing white robes,
threaded with gold and sparkling with gems; they took their places
beside the ponies on either side of my chariot. One was P’haya[16]
Râtani, the other was a stranger to me.

“They did homage to me, as if I were a real queen, and stationed
themselves at my ponies’ heads.

“At this moment I was saluted with a burst of music and the curtain
fell. P’haya Râtani bent his head close to mine and whispered,
‘How beautiful thou art!’ I turned a frowning look upon him for his
presumption, and replied, ‘Have a care, my lord, a word from me may
be too much for thee’; but he immediately assumed so humble and
penitent an expression that I forgave him. I was both flattered and
piqued, however, at the other nobleman’s conduct; for though he looked
admiringly at me, he said not a word. I would have given my eyes if it
had been he who said I was beautiful; for there was a majesty of youth,
strength, and manly beauty about him that made a blinding radiance
around my chariot, and excited an oblivious rapture in my heart. I
panted, I was athirst, for one word of recognition from him. At length
I became so vexed at his silence that I asked him what he was looking
at. He replied more cautiously than his companion, ‘Lady, I thought
that I beheld an angel of light, but thy voice recalls me to the earth
again.’

“I was so enraptured at this speech, that I could hardly contain
myself. A flood of delight swept over me, my breast heaved, my
eyes glowed, my lips parted, my color came and went through the
maize-colored cream that covered my face and concealed my only
deformity.

“When the curtain rose, I, with this new life rushing through my veins,
looked triumphantly at the troop of my companions who did me homage.
This new existence made me so joyous that I must have been beautiful.
Thus inspired I acted my part so wondrously well that a deep murmur
of applause ran throughout the hall. His Majesty’s eyes were riveted
upon me in startled astonishment and evident admiration. I acted my
part with a keen sense of its reality, and gave utterance to the
burning passion of my heart. As if I were really a queen, I commanded
my courtiers to drive away the suitors who wooed me, declaring that
anything beneath royalty would stain my queenly dignity and beauty.

“But when the banished prince, my lover, appeared, I rose hastily from
my gilded and ivory chariot, and with my hair floating round my form
like a deep lustrous veil, through which the gems on my robe shone out
like glorious stars of a dark night, I laid myself, like the lotus-stem
uprooted, prostrate at his feet. I pronounced his name in the most
tender accents. I improvised verses even more passionate than those
contained in the drama:–

‘Instantly I knew my lord, as the heat betrays the fire,
When through the obscuring earth unclouded
Shining out thou didst appear
Worthy of all joy; my soul is wrung with rapture,
And it quivers in thy presence, as the lotus petals before a mighty wind.’

“The courtiers raised me up from the floor, and led me back to the
chariot. The prince, who was no other than ‘Murakote,’ took his, or
more properly her, place beside me, and the curtain fell. The play was
over. With nothing but the memory of a look, I returned to my now still
more dismal rooms. I disrobed myself of all my glittering ornaments
with a sigh, bound up my long, shining hair, and sat down to enjoy
the only happiness left me,–my proud, swelling thoughts. I was just
losing myself in soft, delicious reveries, which illuminated as with a
celestial light the whole world within me, when I observed a couple of
old duennas, who came fawning upon me, caressing and praising me, while
telling me that his Majesty had ordered that I should be in attendance
in his supper-chamber that evening.

“I listened in mute pain. The power of the new passion that now
filled my heart seemed to defy all authority, and the very thing for
which I had so long worked and longed had become valueless and as
nothing to me. But I dared not excuse myself, so I silently followed
my conductresses, and for the first time in my life ascended to his
Majesty’s private supper-chamber.

“How changed I was! that which had been my sole ambition ever since I
was ten years old came down upon me with a gush of woe that I could
hardly have believed myself capable of feeling.

“I sat down to await the coming of the king; but I could have plucked
out the heart that had rushed so madly on, casting its young life
away at the feet of a man whose name even I did not know, whose face
I had not seen till that day, but the tones of whose voice were still
sounding through and through my quivering pulses.

“Well, my forehead, if not my heart, I laid at his Majesty’s feet. ‘I
am your slave, my lord,’ said my voice, the sound of which startled my
own ears, so hollow and deceptive did it seem.

“‘Do you know how fascinating you were this evening?’ said the king.
‘Older by forty years than my father,’ thought I, as, dissembling
still, I replied, ‘Your slave does not know.’ ‘But you were, and I am
sure you deserve to be a queen,’ he added, trying to play the gallant.
‘My lord is too gracious to his slave,’ I murmured.

“‘Why, Thieng!’ he said, speaking to my eldest sister; ‘why have you
hidden this beauty away from me so long? Let her not be called Choy[17]
any longer, but Chorm.'[18] I would weary you if I tried to tell you
how he praised and flattered me, and how before a week was over I was
the proudest woman in the palace.

“I became a stranger to my dismal rooms in the street, to my
slave-women as well as to my companions. I lived entirely in his
Majesty’s apartments, and it was only when he was asleep or in the
council hall that I rushed down to plunge into the lotus-lake or to
ramble in the rose-garden. But I never stopped to think. I would not
give my heart a moment to reflect, not a moment to the past, not a
moment to the future. I was intoxicated with the present. Every day
gifts rare and costly were brought to me from the king; I affected to
despise them, but he never relaxed his endeavors to suit my taste, to
match my hair and my complexion. The late proud, insolent favorite,
who used to order us girls about as if we were dogs, knelt before me,
as half from _ennui_ and half from coquetry I feigned illness and
inability to rise from my master’s couch. I cannot tell you how well I
acted my part; I was more daring than any favorite had yet been.



“In the tumult and excess of the passion I felt for a stranger, I was
able to make the king believe that he was himself its object; and he
was so flattered at my seeming admiration and devotion, that he called
me by the tender name ‘Look’ (child), and indulged me in all my whims
and fancies.

“But at length I grew tired of so much acting, and the intensity of my
manner began to flag. I complained of illness in order to escape to my
own room, where I flung myself down upon my leather pillow, and drove
my teeth through and through it in the after-agony that my falseness
brought upon me. I was worn with woe, more than wasted by want of food.
My sister observed my paleness, and said, half in earnest and half in
jest: ‘Don’t take it so much to heart, child; we have all had our day;
it is yours now, but it can’t last forever. Remember, there are other
dancing-girls growing up, and some of them are handsomer than you are.’

“‘What do you mean?’ I retorted, fiercely; ‘do you suppose I am
sorrowing because of my grandfather? Bah! take him, if you want him.’
‘Hush, child,’ she replied, ‘and don’t forget that you are in a lion’s
den.’

“‘Lion or tiger,’ I said, laughing bitterly, ‘I mean to play with his
fangs, even if they tear my heart, until I am rich as you at least.’
‘Do you, indeed?’ she rejoined. ‘Be quick, then, and give him a p’hra
ong.'[19] With that she left me to my own wild, bitter, maddening,
condemning self.

“Months of triumph, rage, agony, and despair wore away, and my day was
not over I was acknowledged by all to be the wilful favorite ‘Chorm.’
In the mean time I had one ray of comfort. I found out the name of
the man I loved, from a new slave-woman who had just entered into my
service. It was P’haya P’hi Chitt. That very day I took a needleful of
golden thread and worked the name into a scrap of silk which I made
into an amulet and wore round my neck. This greatly solaced me for a
little while, after which I began to crave something more.

“The new slave-woman who had entered my service, just because I was
the favorite, seemed so kind and attentive, and was such a comfort to
me, whenever I rushed to my rooms for a respite, that I determined to
employ her in obtaining information of the outside world for me. ‘Just
to beguile me of my weary hours,’ I said. She seconded the idea with
great alacrity. ‘To whose house shall I go first?’ she inquired. ‘O,
anywhere,’ I replied, carelessly; then, as if suddenly remembering
myself, I said, ‘O Boon, go to P’haya P’hi Chitt, and find out how the
groom of the Queen Thèwâdee lives in his harem.’

“When she returned, which was close upon nightfall, I was impatient
to hear all she had to tell me; but after she had told me all, I
became more impatient and restless still. Her face lighted up as she
expatiated on the manly beauty of P’haya P’hi Chitt, and her voice
trembled slightly–she did it on purpose, I thought–as she went on
to say that ever since the day he had met the lovely Thèwâdee he had
become so changed, and had grown so melancholy, that all his dearest
friends and relatives began to fear some secret distemper, or that
some evil spirit had entered into him. This was ample food for me for
months. It comforted me to think that he shared my misery.

“Then I drooped and languished once more, and began to long for some
more tangible token of his love for me. I grew bolder and bolder, and
the tender-hearted slave-woman sympathized with my passion for him. At
last I sent her out with a message to him. It contained but two words,
Kit-thung,[20] and he returned but two more, Rak-mak.[21]

“All this while I still visited the king, and was often alone with him;
he continued to indulge me, giving me costly rings, betel-boxes, and
diamond pins for my hair. Every petition I made to him was granted.
Every woman in the palace stood in awe of me, not knowing how I might
use my power, and I was proud and wilful. My father was created a duke
of the second rank in the kingdom, my brothers were appointed governors
over lucrative districts. I had nothing left to wish for but a child.
If I had had a child, I might have been saved. A child only could have
subdued my growing passion, and given to my life a fairer blossom and a
richer fruit than it now bears. At last, I don’t know what put it into
my head, but I began to solace myself by writing to P’haya P’hi Chitt
every day, and destroying the letters as soon as they were written.

“My next step was to send one of these letters to him by Boon. He was
very bold, and it makes my heart ache even now to think how brave and
fearless he was. He wrote to me at once, and implored me in a depth
of anguish and in words as if on fire to disguise myself in Boon’s
clothes, to quit the palace, and go out to meet him. I burnt the letter
as soon as I had learned it by heart. My heart was set on fire; and I
pondered over and over the proposition of my lover, until it became too
fascinating for me to resist much longer.

“So I took Boon into greater confidence than ever, put a bag heavy
with silver into her hands, and, moreover, promised her her freedom if
she would assist me to escape. ‘Keep the silver till I ask you for it,
lady,’ she replied, ‘but trust me to help you. I will do it with all my
heart.’

“Her devotion and attachment surprised me. It could not have been
greater had she been my own sister. Poot-tho![22] could I have seen the
end I would have stopped there. I saw nothing but the face that had
kindled a blinding fire in my heart.

“The faithful Boon served me but too well. It was all arranged that I
should go out at the Patoo-din[23] the next evening at sunset, with my
hair cut off, and disguised as Boon. P’haya P’hi Chitt was to be there
with a boat ready to convey us to Ayudia, and Boon was to remain behind
until the whole thing should have blown over. This last was her own
proposition. I tried in vain to urge her to accompany us in our flight.
She said it would be safer for us both to have a friend in the palace,
who could give us information of whatever took place.

“In the agitation in which I wrote these last instructions to my
lover, I made so many blunders that I had to write the letter all over
again. Boon implored me to put no name to it, for we still feared some
discovery. I gave it, sealed with my ring, to Boon, who carried it off
in great delight; and I laid myself down upon my couch to dream of
an overflowing happiness. In the blessedness of the great love that
absorbed every feeling of my heart, I loved even the king, whom I had
most injured and deceived, with the loving devotion of a child.

“In the midst of my ecstatic dreams I fell asleep, and dreamed a dream,
O, so different! As plainly as one sees in broad daylight, I saw myself
bound in chains, and P’haya P’hi Chitt flung down a dreadful precipice.

“My chamber door was thrown rudely open, I was seized by cold hands,
harsh voices bade me rise, and I opened my eyes upon that woman who is
called by us Mai Taie.[24] There was Boon, tied hand and foot, lying
before my door. It was all over with us. ‘If I could only save him,’
was my only thought.

“They were putting chains on my hands, and jostling me about; for
so benumbed and prostrated was I at the sight of Boon that I could
not rise. I did not dare to ask her a single question for fear of
implicating ourselves all the more, when my sister Thieng rushed into
my room screaming, flung herself upon my bed, and clasped me around the
neck.

“‘Hush! sister,’ I said. ‘Make these women wait a little, and tell me
how they came to find it out.’

“‘O Choy, Choy!’ she kept repeating, wringing her hands and moaning
piteously.

“‘Sister Thieng, do you hear me? I don’t care what they do to me. I
only want to know how much you know, how much _he_ knows.’

“‘A copy of a letter you wrote to some nobleman was picked up about
an hour ago, and taken to the chief judge. She has laid it before the
king.’

“Then, if that is all, he does not know the name,’ I said with a sigh
of deep relief.

“‘Ah! But he’ll find it out, sister,’ said Thieng. ‘Throw yourself
upon his mercy and confess all, for he still loves you, Choy. He would
hardly believe you had written the letter.’

“‘Has Boon said anything?’ I next inquired.

“‘No, not a word, she is as silent as death,’ said my sister. ‘But
where did you get her? Who is she? She was taken on her return, because
you had mentioned your slave Boon in your letter. Now I must leave you
and go back to the king,’ said my sister. Then, weeping and abusing
poor Boon, she went away.

“Boon and I were chained and dragged to the same cell you visited the
other day.

“As soon as we were left alone, I asked Boon if she had confessed
anything. ‘No, my lady,’ she replied with great energy, ‘nothing in
this world will make me confess aught against P’haya P’hi Chitt.’ At
the instant it flashed upon me that this woman, whoever she was, also
loved him, and I looked at her in a new light. She was young still, and
well formed, with small hands and feet, that told of gentle nurture.

“‘Boon, cha,'[25] said I, in great distress, ‘who are you? Pray, tell
me, it is of no use to conceal anything from me now. Why are you so
happy to suffer with me? Any one else would have left me to die alone.’

“‘O my lady!’ she began, folding her hands together as well as she
could with the chains on them, and dragging herself close to me,
‘forgive me, O, forgive me! I am P’haya P’hi Chitt’s wife.’

“I was silent in amazement. At length I said, ‘Go on and tell me the
rest, Boon.’

“‘O, forgive me!’ she replied, humbly. ‘I cried bitterly the night he
returned from the grand fête because he told me how beautiful you were,
how passionately he loved you, and that he should never be happy again
until he obtained you for his wife. He refused to eat, to drink, or
to sleep, and I vowed to him by my love that you should be his. But
I found you were the favorite, and that it would be a more difficult
task than I had at first thought; so rather than break my promise to
my husband, nay, lady, rather than meet his cold, estranged look, I
sold myself to you as your slave. Every ray or gleam of sunshine, every
beautiful thought that fell from your lips, I treasured up in my heart
and bore them daily to him, that I might but console my noble husband.
You know the rest. If I deceived you, it was to serve both you and him,
while my heart wept to think that I was no longer beloved. Gifted with
unnumbered virtues is my husband, lady; and my heart, like his shadow,
still follows him everywhere, and will follow him forever.’

“I was so sorry for Boon, I had not the heart to reproach her. I crept
closer to her, and, laying my head on her bosom, we mingled our tears
and prayers together. And I marvelled at the greatness of the woman
before me.

“Next morning–for morning comes even to such wretches as my companion
and me–we were dragged to the hall of justice. The king did not
preside as we had expected. But cruel judges, male and female, headed
by his Lordship P’haya Promè P’hatt and her Ladyship Khoon Thow App.
Not knowing what charge to make, they read the copy of my letter over
and over again, hoping to guess the name of the gentleman to whom
it was sent. Failing to do this, they subjected Boon to a series of
cross-questionings, but succeeded only in eliciting the one uniform
reply, ‘What can a poor slave know, my lords?’

“Her feet were then bastinadoed till the soles were raw and bleeding.
She still said, ‘My lords, be pitiful. What can a poor slave know?’

“After a little while, Khoon Thow App begged Boon to confess all
and save herself from further suffering. Boon remained persistently
silent, and the lash was applied to her bare back till it was ribbed
in long gashes, but she confessed not a word. At last the torture was
applied to her thumbs until the cold sweat stood in great drops on her
contorted and agonized brow; but no word, no cry for mercy, no sound of
confession, escaped her lips. It was terrible to witness the power of
endurance that sustained this woman. The judges and executioners, both
male and female, exhausted their ingenuity in the vain attempt to make
her betray the name of the man to whom she had carried the letter; and
finally, when the lengthening shadows proclaimed the close of day, they
departed, leaving me with poor Boon bleeding and almost senseless, to
be carried back by the attending Amazons to our cell.

“I tried to comfort poor Boon. She hardly needed comfort; her joy that
she had not betrayed her husband was even greater than her sufferings.

“Another day dawned upon us. Boon was borne in a litter, and I crept
trembling by her side, to the same hall of justice. Boon was subjected
once more to the lash, the bastinado, and the thumb-screws, till she
fell all but lifeless on the ground. It was all in vain; that woman
possessed the heart of a lion; if they had torn her to pieces, she
would not by the faintest sound have betrayed the only man she had
loved in her sad life.

“The physicians were sent for to restore her to life again. She was not
permitted the luxury of death. Then, when this was over, they bound up
her wounds with old rags, gave her something to revive her, and laid
her on a cool matting. My turn came, and her eyes fixed themselves upon
me with an intensity that fairly made me shiver. They seemed to cry
aloud to my inmost soul, saying as plainly as lips could speak, ‘What
is suffering, pain, or death, compared to truth? Be true to yourself.
Be true to your love. If you love another, you love not yourself.
Flinch not. Bear bravely all they can inflict.’ I shuddered as the
judges began to question me, but I shuddered more whenever I met Boon’s
eyes, so fixed, so steadfast, so earnest, so appealing. I prevaricated.
I told the judges lies. ‘That letter was written as a joke to frighten
my youngest sister. I was only playing. I know no man in the world but
my father and brothers and my gracious master the king.’

“My sister was summoned. If I could have spoken with her, she might
have helped me in my strait; but the women who were sent to bring her
questioned her before she knew what they were about, and she plainly
exposed my lies to the judges.

“A messenger was despatched to the king. The judges feared to proceed
to extreme measures with me, who had so lately been the plaything of
their sovereign. After half an hour’s delay the instructions were
received, and I was ordered to bare my back. A feeling of shame
prevented me. I would not obey. I resisted with what strength I had.
‘You may lash me with a million thongs,’ I said to them, ‘but you shall
not expose my person.’ My silk vest was torn off, my scarf was flung
aside, my slippers were taken from my feet. My arms were stretched and
tied to a post, and thus I was lashed. Every stroke that descended on
my back maddened me into an obdurate silence. Boon’s eyes searched
into my soul. I understood their meaning. My flesh was laid open in
fine thin stripes, but I do not remember flinching. My feet were then
bastinadoed, and I still preserved, I know not how, my secret. Then
there was a respite, and they gave me something to drink.

“In fifteen minutes I was once more exhorted to confess. The
judges, finding me still unsubdued, ordered the thumb-screws to be
administered. Not all the agonies, not all the horrors I have ever
heard of, can compare with the pain of that torture. It was beyond
human endurance. ‘O Boon, forgive me, forgive me!’ I cried; ‘it is
impossible to bear it.’ With Boon’s eyes burning into my soul, I gasped
out the beloved name. Boon threw up her arms, gave a wild shriek of
terror, and became insensible.

“I was released from further punishment. Two of the pha-koons[26]
were despatched for P’haya P’hi Chitt. He was betrayed to the king’s
officers for a heavy reward, and before noon was undergoing the same
process of the law. When Boon was once more brought to life, she saw
her husband in the hands of the executioners. She started upright, and,
supporting herself on her rigid arms and hands, cried out to the judges
and to Koon Thow App: ‘O my lords! O my lady! listen to me. O, believe
me! It was all my doing. I am P’haya P’hi Chitt’s wife. It was I who
deceived the Lady Choy. It was I who put it into his head. Did I not?
You can bear testimony to my guilt!’ An ineffable smile beamed on her
pale lips and in her dim eyes as they turned towards her husband.

“There was profound silence among the judges. P’haya P’hi Chitt, I,
and even the rabble crowd of slaves, listened to her with astonished
countenances. There was an incontestable grandeur about the woman.
Khoon Thow App, that stern and inflexible woman, had tears in her eyes,
and her voice trembled as she asked, ‘What was thy motive, O Boon?’
There was no reply from Boon. There was no need to torture P’haya P’hi
Chitt. He was chained and conveyed to the criminals’ prison, and we
were carried back to our cell.

“The report of our trial and the confessions elicited were sent to
the king. That very night, at midnight, the sentence of death was
pronounced by the Secret Council upon us three; but the most dreadful
part of all was the nature of the sentence. Boon and I were to be
quartered; P’haya P’hi Chitt hewn to pieces; and our bodies not burned,
but cast to the dogs and vultures at Watt Sah Katè.[27]

“My sister Thieng implored the king in vain to spare my life. My poor
mother and father were prostrated with grief. As for Boon, she never
uttered a single word, except, in answer to my inquiries if she were
suffering much, she said very gently, ‘Chan cha lah pi thort’ (Let me
say farewell, dear). Her pallor had become extreme, but her cheeks
still burned; all the beauty of her spirit trembled on her closed
eyelids. She appeared as one almost divine.

“On Sunday morning at four o’clock the faithful and matchless Boon was
taken from our cell to undergo the sentence pronounced upon her and her
husband. The day appointed for my execution, which was to be private,
arrived, and I had no wish to live, now that P’haya P’hi Chitt and Boon
were gone; but the women who attended me said that no preparations were
as yet made for it. I wondered why I was permitted to live so long.

“After two weeks of cruel waiting to join my beloved Boon, I was
removed to another cell, where my sister visited me, with the good
Princess Somawati, her daughter, at whose earnest request, as I was
told, the British Consul[28] had pleaded so effectually with the king
that my life had been granted to his petition.

“Alas! it was Boon who deserved to live, and not I. I am not grateful
for a life that is little better than a curse to me. God sees that I
speak the truth. Woe still hovers over me. It is the doom of guilt
committed in some former lifetime. I am an outcast here, and in this
world I have no part, while every day only lengthens out my life of
sorrow.”

Here the poor girl broke off, laid her head on the table, and wept, as
I never saw a human being weep, great tears of agony and remorse.

As soon as Choy left me, I hurried home and wrote down her narrative
word for word, as nearly as I could; but I encountered then, as always,
the almost insuperable difficulty of finding a fit clothing for the
fervid Eastern imagery in our colder and more precise English.

We became better friends. I maintained a constant oversight of her,
and persuaded her gradually out of her griefs. She learned in time to
take pleasure in her English studies, and found comfort in the love of
our Father in heaven. Without repining at her lot, hard as it was, or
boasting of her knowledge, but with a loving, humble heart, she read
and blessed the language that brought her nearer to a compassionate
Saviour.

On the evening of the 10th of August, 1866, I found myself suddenly
and unexpectedly, and almost without being aware of it, involved in a
conflict with the king, who thenceforth regarded me with distrust and
suspicion, because I declined to affix my own signature to a certain
letter which he had required me to write for him.

I began heartily to wish myself out of Siam, though still deeply
interested and absorbed in my work of educating the prince,–the
present King of Siam,–for I felt that, with regard to foreigners,
there existed no laws and customs to restrain and limit the capricious
temper and extravagant demands of the king, and I had everything, too,
to fear from the jealousy with which certain royal courtiers and judges
watched my previously growing influence at court. The heat of the day
had been intense, the atmosphere was sultry and oppressive, and every
now and then a low, rumbling sound of distant thunder reached my ears,
while the parched trees and leaves drooped and hung their heads as if
impatient of waiting for the promised rain. Nervous, and undecided what
to do, I returned home, where I remained prostrated with a sense of
approaching danger. From time to time I had had similar conflicts with
the king, which very greatly disturbed my already too much impaired
health. All manner of fears which the mind so prodigally produces on
such occasions came crowding upon me that evening, and I felt, as I had
never before, weighed down by the peculiar sadness and isolation of my
life in Siam.

In this frame of mind I sat and pondered over and over again the
only course remaining open to me,–to withdraw from the court,–when
I was suddenly recalled to what was passing around me by what I at
first imagined must be an apparition or some delusion of my own mind.
I started up from the spot where for hours I had been seated like a
statue, and, looking more attentively, perceived a pair of bright black
eyes watching me with the fixedness of a basilisk, through the leaves
of some flowering shrubs that grew over my window. My first impulse was
to scream for help; but I was soon ashamed of my fears, and, summoning
all my courage, I demanded, “Who is there?”

“It is only me, your ladyship,” said a strange, low voice. “I have been
waiting here a long while, but your servants would not let me in; they
say you have forbidden them to let any Siamese person enter your house
after sunset.”

“It is true,” said I; “I don’t want to see any one this evening; I am
ill and tired. Now go away, and, if you have any business with me, come
to me in the morning.”

“P’hoodth thô!” said the woman, speaking still in the same low tones;
“I am not a Siamese, and you do not know that I have rowed thirty miles
against the tide to come and see you, or else you could not have the
heart to send me away.”

“I don’t want to know anything,” I said a little impatiently; “you must
go now, and you know it is not safe for you to be away from home at
this late hour in the day.”

“O lady! do let me in; I only want to say one word to you in private;
please do let me in,” whispered the woman, more and more pleadingly.

“Then say what you have to tell me at once, and from where you are,”
I replied; “there is no one here to overhear you; for I cannot let you
in.”

“Alas!” said the voice, plaintively, as if speaking to herself, “I
would not have come all this long distance but that I heard she was a
good and brave woman,–some people indeed said she was not so,–still,
I thought I would try her, and now she says she cannot let me in, a
poor fugitive and desolate slave-girl like me! O dear! O dear!”

“But I am afraid I cannot help you, whatever your trouble may be,” I
said more gently, touched by the woman’s despairing tones. “The king is
offended with me, and the judges know it, and I have no more influence
with them now.”

As I said this, the girl sprang through the window and came forward,
and exhibited not only her bright eyes but her full figure and somewhat
singular dress, for she was, as she had stated, not a Siamese, but
a Laotian. She held her head erect, though her hands were clasped
in the attitude of wild supplication. The symmetry of her form was
enhanced by a broad English strap or belt which was buckled round her
waist, and which had the effect of showing off her beautiful figure
to the best advantage. She was unusually tall, and altogether a most
pleasing-looking young woman.

The moment she stood before me she commenced talking with a volubility
and an amount of action which it would be almost impossible to
describe. Her face became so animated, and her tears and sobs flowed
so spontaneously, that I stood bewildered, for, in truth, I had rarely
seen so interesting and so natural a woman in Siam.

She watched my countenance during the whole time she was speaking,
with the quickness of the native character, and I began at length to
suspect that she prolonged her statements for the sole purpose of
forming an idea of her success, so that she might vary her line of
action according as circumstances revealed themselves; and even while
I had a glimmering perception of this, and also that perhaps she was
only acting, my interest in her increased so rapidly that she became
convinced in her own mind, I think, of having gained my entire sympathy.

“Ah! I knew you had a kind heart,” said the woman, as she came forward
with the graceful salutation of her country, and laid a thick Oriental
letter, enveloped in velvet and fastened with silken cords and sealed
with English sealing-wax, at my feet.

She then dropped on her knees, and knelt before me in an attitude of
mute supplication.

I was never more embarrassed in my life, with that mysterious letter,
enveloped in crimson velvet, and written on the outside in characters I
had never before seen, lying at my feet, and this woman kneeling there
with such strange, wild energy in her manner, such vehement pleading in
her dark, passionate eyes, imploring my aid in a secret, daring scheme
which I had neither the courage nor the ability to undertake, nor yet
the stoutness of heart to refuse point-blank.

I therefore told the woman, with as much gentleness as I could summon,
that it was impossible for me to aid her, and almost as much as my life
was worth to become the bearer of her letter to any prisoner in the
palace. “It is not for my own personal safety I fear so much, but for
my son’s, whose young life depends on mine.”

As I was speaking, the woman’s face grew still and cold, her features
became rigid and fixed as stone, large, dewy drops of perspiration
broke out on her forehead, and there fell upon her face such an
expression of blankness and utter desolation that I thought she was
absolutely dying from the pain of her disappointment.

This produced such a revulsion of feeling in me that I started from my
seat in terror, and, taking her chilled, moist hands in mine, said,
anxiously: “Does what I have said distress you so much? Why won’t you
speak? If there is any way by which I can help or comfort you, tell me.
Please tell me, and I’ll try to do my best for you.”

The effect of this promise was immediate, but it was some time before
the woman could recover her voice; then, laying her hand upon my arm,
she spoke hurriedly, but in the same soft, low tones and fervent manner.

“You have not asked me my name and who I am,” she said. “But I’ll tell
you; I am sure you will not betray me, and it may be this is the last
opportunity I shall have of serving my dear foster-sister.”

As she uttered these words the hope and courage which had evidently
been revived by the sympathy she saw in my face now seemed to forsake
her; tears and sobs burst from her afresh, and she crouched at my feet
as if utterly overwhelmed with her grief. At last, by a strong effort,
she turned to me, and said: “My name is May-Peâh; my home is in the
city of Zienmai, i.e. Chiengmai; my father, Manetho, is one of the most
trusted councillors and friends, though a slave, of the Prince P’hra
Chow Soorwang. My mother was a household slave in the family of the
prince when my father obtained her for his wife, and I was only a month
old when she was asked to be the wet-nurse and mother of the little
infant daughter of the prince, whose wife had died in child-birth;
and thus it was that I became the life-long companion and friend and
foster-sister of the young Princess Sunartha Vismita. But alas! dear
lady, she is now, and has been ever since the death of her husband, the
second king, a prisoner in the palace of the supreme king, and neither
does her brother nor any one else know whether she is alive or dead.

“This letter has nothing in it that will bring you into any trouble.
It is only one of greeting from her brother, my master, the Prince
O’Dong Karmatha. O, dear lady, don’t say no! the gods will bless and
reward you, if, sooner or later, you will put it into her hands; but it
must be done with the greatest caution and secrecy, and it may be the
means of saving her life. O, think of that, of saving her life! for, if
alive, she must be dying of grief and pain to think that we have never
yet replied to a letter she sent us almost a year ago.”

“And where is the prince, your master?”

“He is on a visit to the governor of Pak-lat.”

Saying this, she almost instantaneously sprang out of the window, and
fled towards the river, as if conscious of having delayed too long her
return home; as she did so, I noticed that she wore in the folds of her
skirt a small Laotian dagger attached to her English belt.

The storm which had been gathering in strength for hours now burst
forth, and for full three hours the thunder and lightning and rain
were the only things that could be seen or heard; and I sat in the
same spot, lost in anxious fears for the safety of that solitary woman
battling with the tremendous currents of the Mother of Waters.

It was an awful night. Sick at heart, and full of natural and unnatural
fears, I locked up the letter at last in my drawer, and tried to forget
in sleep the disturbing events of the day.