In the year 1831 a revolutionary war broke out in the northern
provinces of Siam. The ringleader of this disaffected part of the
country was the Duke P’haya Si P’hifoor, a man who, from his high
position, great warlike talents, and immense wealth, possessed an
unbounded influence over the inhabitants of the northern provinces. It
is said that even from his infancy the demon Ambition had taken such
possession of him that he used to imagine himself a king, and that,
from that time to the fatal termination of his life, he dreamt of
nothing but the sceptre and the supreme sway.
It was one of his first efforts, therefore, to gather from distant
lands all the disaffected and ambitious spirits he could muster
together,–men who would be brave and skilful enough to take the helm
in the storm that must follow his inexorable bidding.
In 1821 he sent secret agents by an Indian merchant ship to Calcutta to
enlist for him a troop of hardy warriors of the Rajpoot tribe. Among
this troop hired in Calcutta and transshipped to Siam was our prisoner,
Rama Singalee,–Rama the lion. He, with the rest of his party, had been
implicated in some incipient rebellion against the British government,
and had fled for concealment to the densely populated city of Calcutta,
where, after several years of hard struggling to obtain some means of
livelihood not derogatory to their high caste, they were induced to
sell their services to the agent of the Duke P’haya Si P’hifoor. This
band of hired mercenaries landed secretly in the Gulf of Martaban, at
the mouth of the Irrawady, whence by night travel they arrived at P’hra
Batt. Here portions of land in the tenure of the duke were allotted to
them, and they were dispersed until a fitting opportunity should offer
for striking the final blow which was to place their master on the
throne of Siam, and themselves in offices of trust in the kingdom.
So things went on for several years, when Rama fell in love with a
Loatian girl of singular beauty, but could not collect money enough to
satisfy the demands of her parents.
It was the custom of the Duke P’haya Si P’hifoor to make an annual
visit to P’hra Batt, ostensibly with varied offerings to the footprint
of Buddha, from which the whole mountainous district is named, but in
reality to muster his retainers, give them presents, and exact fresh
promises of service, or to traverse the entire country gaining fresh
adherents to his cause.
On one occasion a dreadful fever ravaged his party; many of them had
to be left at the different monasteries to be cared for, while Rama
and a few followers only accompanied him. Just as the sun was setting
behind the mountains, Rama, who acted as pioneer, heard the sound of
some animal in the thick underwood. He crept quickly back, motioned his
companions to halt, and advanced alone. A few yards from him he saw a
tiger, immovable, yet stealthily watching his opportunity to make a
spring. Night was fast approaching, and so was death; but Rama drew
near, his eyes fixed steadily and unfalteringly on those of the beast.
At last he took his position, and for a moment or two they glared one
upon the other. Then in the distance the rest of the party, breathless,
their hearts beating quickly, heard the dismal roar of a goaded and
infuriate animal, and the heavy blows of a battle-axe. Their terror was
only equalled by their joy when they saw the huge creature extended
before them in death. The duke came up, and instantly rewarded the
brave warrior with a hundred pieces of gold.
Gold enough to buy Malee, the beautiful Loatian girl!
Next morning he prostrated himself before the duke, and requested
permission to return at once to P’hra Batt, which was granted him. Thus
did the Rajpoot obtain to wife the woman he loved.
Meanwhile the duke, still cherishing his darling ambition, consulted
all the astrologers in the country, who drew auguries from ants,
spiders, and bees, and predicted for him a brilliant career. This so
worked upon the already inflamed imagination of P’haya Si P’hifoor,
that he was led, in an unguarded moment, to throw down the gauntlet and
declare open war against the king of Siam, whom he branded with the
titles of fox and usurper.
Through his secret emissaries he caused edicts to be proclaimed
everywhere, nominating himself in the name of the people and of heaven
as the lawful successor to the throne.
The entire army of the priesthood and the people were on his side.
Hosts of men from all parts of the country flocked to his standard. The
duke, mounted on a white elephant, headed the rabble crowd. Before him,
on horseback, rode the hired Rajpoot band of warriors.
Tidings of this alarming insurrection soon reached the enraged
monarch at Bangkok, who instantly summoned a council of war, and sent
trumpeters all over the land to blast forth a direful malediction,
in the name of all the hosts of heaven, upon the rebel duke and his
The rebel duke and his frenzied legions made rapid progress, however.
They could be seen covering the entire face of the country, rushing on
with shouts and cries and furious bounding of elephants and horses,
with flourish of trumpets and of banners,–a terrible, undisciplined,
myriad-faced monster, being neither burnt up with the scorching rays of
Suriya, nor scattered by the thunder-bolts of Indra. The king, who had
stormed so loud and so lustily from behind the purdah-curtain of his
throne, now trembled and cowered in the midst of his fifteen hundred
wives, and let the duke ride triumphantly, almost to the very gates of
his palace at Ayudia.
In this emergency the prime minister, Somdetch Ong Yai, the father of
the present premier, assumed the command of the army, transshipped all
the guns he could muster into small crafts,–the river at Ayudia being
too shallow for ships of great tonnage,–taking with them an ample
supply of ammunition, and with hardly twelve thousand men sailed up the
river, amid the shouts and prayers of the terrified inhabitants.
On their arrival at Ayudia the guns were conveyed on trucks to the
point whence the attack was expected. Here Somdetch Ong Yai hastily
erected several batteries, and awaited the attack.
Scarcely four hours had elapsed after the completion of these
preparations, when the whole neighborhood was aroused by the war-cry
of the rebel army, which appeared in sight, headed by the duke. The
Rajpoot cavalry, armed with long rifle-guns, bows and arrows, and
poisoned lances, prepared to storm the batteries. There was a moment
of fearful silence, followed by a flash and the thundering roar of
the artillery from the other side. The monster army of the rebel duke
reeled, scattered, and gave way, all but the Rajpoot cavalry, almost
every one of whom lay dead or dying on the field. The prime minister,
Somdetch Ong Yai, rushed forward and captured the rebel duke, wounding,
in the attempt, one gigantic, desperate soldier, who fought with a
recklessness of daring in behalf of his misguided leader that won the
admiration of friend and foe.
[Illustration: PALM-TREES NEAR THE NEW ROAD, BANGKOK.]
Where was the monster army now?
Of the dead and dying there were a thousand or more, of living captives
only two,–the Duke P’haya Si P’hifoor, and one faithful soldier, Rama
Singalee. The rest had, at the first sound of the cannon, fled far
beyond its range. Like a wave of the ocean it had swept out of sight.
P’haya Si P’hifoor was carried to Bangkok, tried, and sentenced to
death. A general amnesty was proclaimed, and the generous premier,
Somdetch Ong Yai, took Rama into his own household, had him cared for
and promoted to a place of trust. As for the wretched duke, on his
arrival at Bangkok he was condemned first to have his eyes put out,
and then to be placed in an iron cage, which was suspended from a
scaffolding in the middle of the river, so that the unfortunate captive
could manage just barely to touch with the tips of his fingers the
waters as they rippled under it.
Here he was left by that most inhuman of the kings of Siam, P’hendin
Klang, without food or raiment, exposed to the burning heat of the
noonday sun, to suffer from the acutest agonies of thirst, within
hearing and touch of the waters that flowed in perpetual eddies beneath
How ardently must that poor, unhappy man have prayed for death; and
that dark angel, at all times too ready to come unbidden to the good
and happy, stood aloof, and seemed to mock at his misery for many and
many a weary day and night, until at length it began to be whispered
among the people–many of whom would gladly have brought him food and
drink, but for the dreadful punishment threatened on all such as should
attempt in any way to mitigate his tortures–that the angels, pitying
his sufferings, brought him nightly portions of the “amreeta,” on which
they feed so plentifully in heaven.
But the truth was, that Rama Singalee was the stout-hearted angel who
battled nightly with the strong currents of the Mèinam, and brought,
at the risk and peril of his life, some boiled rice and water in the
hollow of a bamboo cane, which, as he floated beneath the iron cage,
he held up to his late master’s mouth, who sucked therefrom the scanty
portion of food it contained.
The last night of the unfortunate prisoner’s life, Rama set out as
usual, ignoring the pain of his wounds, and, swimming manfully against
the strong tide that threatened to bear him away with it, he reached
the spot about three o’clock in the morning, stealthily approached the
cage, keeping his head under water, but his heart above the clouds,
with those heroic souls who follow in the path of the Son of Heaven. He
swam right under the cage, and looking up in the darkness towards it,
saw no shadow there. He held up the long bamboo, and rested it against
the iron bars, but no eager, trembling hand grasped it, as it was wont
to do. He called out in hoarse whispers, “P’hakha, p’hakha, soway thô”
(master, master, pray eat). No sound, no movement, reached his anxious
Ah, happy man! the loving voice of his devoted follower reached his
ears, and penetrated far into his sinking heart, as he lay in his last
agonies, coiled up on the floor of his cage, and in the double darkness
of night and sightlessness, he saw the brave, strong face of this one
great soul that loved him in spite of all his sin and misery; and, even
as he caught the vision, a smile such as would have irradiated the
throne of God, passed over that blind, distorted face, and the soul
flitted away rejoicing, leaving behind it an expression of serenity
and peace, as if that proud, turbulent, and ambitious spirit had at
last been taught the meaning of a higher love, and through it had
breasted the waters, and gained the shore “Where the wicked cease from
troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
After some years of service in the army, the premier, Somdetch Ong
Yai, being dead, Rama, having been regularly branded as the vassal
of his eldest son, Chow P’haya Mândtree, obtained permission to
return home to his wife. Just eight years after these events, and
the very year after his return home, there was born to this brave
man a daughter, who, as it sometimes happens, by some singular freak
of nature, or, perhaps, by some higher law of development, was so
wondrously beautiful, that when Rama, faithful to the custom of his
ancestors, handed to his wife, a few hours after her delivery, a ball
of opium to be rubbed on her breasts, she turned up to him a scared
and wondering look, muttering, “She is,–she is the smile of God,” the
deadly ball dropped from her pulseless hands, and her spirit passed
away; and he, broken hearted and baffled, rightly interpreted the
significance of her dying words, not only spared the child’s life, but
named her Devo Smâyâtee (the God smiles). Thus a new life stole into
the heart and the arms of the old warrior of Orissa.
When Rama and his daughter were carried off to prison, poor Smâyâtee
hardly realized what was going to happen. But when a couple of Amazons
forced her away from her father, and she understood the full meaning of
what had befallen them, she began to shout and scream aloud for help.
But none came.
A child of the mountains and hills, she had as yet developed none
but the natural instincts of what civilization would call a savage.
Combined with her fine organization, she inherited a passionate
nature, and an intense love for the mountains and woods, the earth and
sky, which were to her so many beautiful gods. To some she had been
accustomed to offer flowers, to others fruit, oil, wine, honey, water.
She always set apart a portion of every meal for her favorite god
Dâvee, the earth-goddess. To such a nature only to live was worship. To
see, to hear, to gather thoughts and pictures, to feel the throbbing
pulses; to fill the eye with images of beauty, the heart with impulses
of love and joy; to place the mind face to face with the unwritten
mysteries which nature unfolds to it,–is, indeed, the highest sphere
of contemplation and worship, as well for the savage as the child of
The Amazons who guarded the cell chatted together in a low tone, while
Smâyâtee, exhausted by her cries and screams for help, had sunk into
a deep sleep. They remarked on the beauty of her skin, the roundness
of her limbs, the softness of her cheeks, and the superb lashes that
rested so lightly upon them, and wondered who she could be; for though
her dress bespoke her of the peasant class of the Loatians, her form
and face betokened high birth.
“He must have stolen her,” said one of the women; “she cannot be his
daughter, though she calls him father.”
“He has brought her here for sale, of course,” added another; “else why
should he have chosen such a place as this, so near the royal palace,
“Ah, well! whatever be her lot, poor child, let us not add to her
sufferings; she will have enough of them in this life,” rejoined the
kind-hearted chief officer.
The bell above the prison gate, with its brazen tongue, tolled out
twelve (i.e., five in the morning); the girl, aroused as it were by
the voice of an angel, started, rubbed her eyes, and looking around
seemed to recall the events of the last night. She then made several
profound salutations and invocations to a gleam of sunlight that came
straggling into her cell, wrapped her saree over her head and face, and
placed herself near the door, so as to be able to pass out the moment
it should be opened.
“Take something to eat, child,” said the chief of the Amazons on guard,
who was partaking of a breakfast of cold rice and fish, “and wait till
the sun is higher in the heavens, and I will go with you; it is not fit
that one so young and beautiful should go out alone and unprotected.”
She was too kind-hearted to tell her that she was a prisoner, and no
longer free to go in and out.
Smâyâtee had hardly swallowed a few mouthfuls of rice, when the
guardsman of the previous night appeared, with orders to the Amazons to
take her to the Sala of the Grand Duke, Chow P’haya Mândtree; as they,
on discovering from the mark on the old man’s arm that he was a vassal
of that nobleman, had resigned him to the custody of his officers.
The Amazons led the way, and Smâyâtee followed with faltering steps.
Nobody noticed her. Everybody seemed excited and eager. Every one
hurried towards the same spot.
In her uncertainty the girl could see nothing in the world but the
river running strong, yet running calmly on. After a little while she
began to trace the opposite bank; a little way to the left something
hanging midway in the sky, as she supposed, or rather in mid-distance;
there being as yet no sky, no heaven, no earth; nothing but the river.
This was a bridge; they cross the bridge. Where does it lead to?
Whither flows this mysterious stream, of which the coming and the going
are equally full of wonder and dread to her? What mysterious, enchanted
palaces and temples are those looming out yonder on the other side? To
her ignorance they are but infinitude and the unknown. Now they near
the duke’s palace; the odors of orange-flowers and spice-groves reach
them, like airs that breathe from paradise.
Having come to the great hall, the Amazons take their places on one of
the lowest steps, Smâyâtee seated between them; they are contented to
chew their betel and to wait.
The hall is full of men. The work of branding and enrolling goes
briskly on under the orders of a young nobleman, called Nai Dhamaphat,
the grandson of Somdetch Ong Yai. Every now and then some persons are
brought forward to be admonished, fined, or whipped. Sometimes from
among this crowd a boy is dragged out forcibly, and branded.
Through the masses of men, lighted up now by the full blaze of
sunlight, Smâyâtee sought one form and one figure only, and he was
nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the Grand Duke was announced; he entered the hall with
conscious swagger, followed by a long train of attendants and slaves.
No words could express what there was in the face and figure of this
man, as he rolled rather than walked into the centre of the hall.
Work instantly ceased; all around crouched and hid their faces. This
did not rouse his huge, drowsy nature into even a look of recognition;
he growled rather than spoke the orders for the workers to continue,
and turned to his son and said, “Dhamaphat, what is this about Rama
Singalee having attacked the captain of the royal guards?”
“My Lord,” replied the latter, “the captain, as far as I can learn, is
as much to blame as the old soldier, who says he only struck him in
defence of his daughter.”
“A daughter, eh! I did not know the old fellow had a daughter.”
At this point in the conversation Smâyâtee, who had been listening with
deep attention, leaned forward, and fearlessly addressed the duke,
said, “Do you want that I should tell you how it happened, my lord?”
“Well, speak out!” said the duke, turning savagely upon the girl for
having dared to interrupt him unbidden.
He checked himself, however, as his eye fell upon the graceful, veiled
figure, and said rather more gently, “Go on, how was it?”
Smâyâtee threw back her covering, sat up, and repeated the story of
her long journey, her father’s fears to leave her alone at home, their
encampment near the royal palace, her fearful alarm, and how it was to
save her that her father struck the captain of the king’s guard.
The girl never looked so beautiful, so fearless; there was in her look
the innocence and the ignorance of a babe. It was not the words she
uttered, but the face she presented, the look so sad and yet so full
of trust, which served to rouse the drowsy nature of the duke, and to
change his repulsiveness into something more hideous still.
Dhamaphat listened, too, with intense interest; it seemed as if his
whole soul were concentrated into his eyes and ears.
The duke was puzzled what to say. He turned to exchange a few words, in
an undertone, with his son, and then dismissed the Amazons, charging
them, on the peril of their lives, not to lose sight of the girl, and
promising the latter to have the matter investigated on the following
In Siamese life the lights and shadows are equally strong. At once
brilliant and gloomy, smiling and sombre, lighted as by the radiance of
dawn, and at the same time enveloped in the darkness of night.
The branding and enrolling for the day was over. The crowds dispersed
to their various homes.
When the young man, Nai Dhamaphat, went out, he had but one thought; it
was to follow that girl, and try, if possible, to see her face and hear
her voice again.
There was something in that face that had changed the whole current of
his being, and had set him, charged with a new force, in the midst of
a little world all by itself, the horizon of which was bounded by her
He turned his steps towards the grand palace, and gazed upon the place
where she was imprisoned; he was almost at the gate. He wavered in his
mind; custom and his natural reserve forbade him to speak to a strange
woman; with a bewildered air he retraced his steps and went home.
That part of Bangkok in which Chow P’haya Mândtree lived was laid
out in small squares, each walled in by low ramparts, enclosing the
residence and harem of some great noble; but the duke’s palaces were
surrounded by a wall only on three sides, from which ran, parallel to
the river-front, several streets, and among them the gold and silver
streets, so designated from their being inhabited by artists skilled in
the working of those metals.
The sun had set when Dhamaphat reached his home, but it was already
night. Here there is no twilight,–that soft messenger that lingers,
unwilling, as it were, to usher in the darkness of night.
Moonlight, with its silvery touches, rested on the palace roofs and
made even ugliness and decay beautiful. The tall cocoa and betel palms,
moved by the wood-nymphs, fluttered and waved their branches to and
fro, beckoning him nearer and nearer, and presenting a spectacle,
strange, yet lovely in the extreme.
The bright moon was soon lost to view, except where it penetrated the
thick, overhanging foliage. On the gateway the pendent branches of the
bergamot gave forth a rich perfume. The shrill chirping of myriads of
grasshoppers, which seem never to sleep, with the sounds of distant
music, fell upon his ear, as his father’s temples and palaces burst
upon his view, a mingled scene of fairy beauty, artificial elegance,
and savage grandeur,–domes, turrets, enormous trees, and flowers
such as are met with nowhere else beneath the sun. The oldest temples
in Siam stood here, containing strange and wonderful objects, with
stranger and more wonderful recollections attached to them. That one
on the right was once, in the reign of the usurper, P’haya Tak, the
principal stronghold of his ancestors, and where, even after long
years, they were still wont to repair, at a particular moon in every
year, to pray beside the golden pagoda that enshrined the charred
bones of his forefathers. That gray palace had witnessed many a gay
assemblage, held by the old duke, Somdetch Ong Yai, his grandfather.
He entered the temple, beneath the portal of which were some deeply
graven rhymes from the Vedas, to him equally dark as the dark image of
Buddha that had slumbered for centuries at the base of the glittering
altar. Yet, wonderful as were the objects that met the eye of the
young man, he simply prostrated himself before the altar, and turned to
his father’s palace.
A low, open verandah faced the entrance. Choice birds were singing in
their cages, and soft lights of cocoanut-oil were gleaming down upon
them. A number of noblemen were lounging on cool mats, some playing
chess, others engaged in conversation. Slaves were passing round
tempting fruits, and refreshing drinks of spiced wines and cocoanut
Dhamaphat prostrated himself before his father, and took his place
on a low seat. He had no sooner done so, than he was startled by
the entrance of some armed men, who brought in the old Rajpoot, and
stationed him and themselves at the extreme end of the verandah.
There was something particularly interesting about the prisoner. He was
a tall, slender, alert-looking man, about sixty, fair, with aquiline
features, and expressive and determined countenance. There were lines
on his face that told of hardship and suffering, though these seemed
in no degree to have depressed his spirits, or to have impaired his
youthful vigor and activity. He wore a blue cloak, and an ample turban
of blue silk.
The duke at length addressed the prisoner, and said: “Rama, you have
committed a crime which, if you had not been my slave, would have
handed you over to the criminal’s prison for life, or to instant death;
and now, since your daughter has told us with her own lips, that it
was in her defence you struck the captain of the royal guards, I am
going to pay him a heavy fine, and smother this affair. But only on one
The duke paused for a reply, or some expression of thankfulness.
The old soldier turned his head, and looked at him in serious doubt.
After waiting a little while he repeated, “Only on one condition; that
thou sell to us, for our service and pleasure, this daughter of thine,
and we will take better care of her than thou art able to do.”
It was fully half an hour before Rama seemed to comprehend the meaning
of his master’s words. He had never thought of _his_ daughter occupying
such a position; he had hardly realized that she was no longer a child.
Now his feeling of caste and race rose up within him; his strong
nature was moved, as he saw her snatched away from him. All manner of
recollections and reveries full of tenderness came whispering at his
heart, and the words: “My lord, to this I can never consent,” came
slowly, brokenly forth, as if out of a heart struggling for mastery
over some great emotion.
The duke sprang to his feet, staggered–for he had been drinking
heavily–up to the chained prisoner, and, clenching his palsied,
trembling hand, he cried in a thundering voice: “You dare to refuse
me! By the gods, I will neither eat nor drink until I have seized and
given her to my lowest slave! and if you do not quickly repent of your
rash refusal, you shall be cast into prison for the rest of your life.
Do you forget what my father did for you, you ungrateful dog?” and his
dark face became purple with rage and fury.
The old warrior trembled in every limb, not from fear, but from horror.
He knew what to expect from the eldest son of his late master. His
heart burned with indignation. But what could he do? How could he
defend her? He thought bitterly of the weakness that had placed the
honor of his house and race at the mercy of a stranger; that little
ball of opium would have saved her from all possible insult. He groaned
aloud, feeling that this was a just retribution for his innovation upon
the ancient custom of his house, and large tears rolled down his rugged
The drowning man, overtaken by the supreme agony, lives, in an instant,
through all his happy and unhappy past. In a single moment he sees the
whole drama of his life reacted before him. Thus it was with Rama; he
recalled with anguish the scenes of Smâyâtee’s childhood, her youth
and growing womanhood, all her early gladness, all her bright hopes
and illusions, all her gifts of beauty and affection, which made one
picture with her present degradation, and served only to darken the
riddle of her life to him.
The courage that had withstood a hungry tiger now gave way before the
picture of the deeper degradation that might, because of his refusal,
befall his child. He flung himself on the ground, and muttered: “She is
yours, my lord.”
“Sa-baye” (good), said the duke, clapping his hands; “I knew you
would give in; you are no fool, Rama. It is the women whom we find so
difficult to manage, when they take an idea into their heads. Take
him away to his cell now,” said he, addressing the guards, “to-morrow
we will make it all right, and when the girl comes to the Sala, we
shall apprise her of the high honors in store for her. Here,” said
he, throwing some money to the jailers, “go you and make merry till
morning, and be sure and give the prisoner as much as he can eat and
The guards departed, leading away a fierce, revengeful-looking old man.
When they were gone, the duke, addressing Nai Dhamaphat, said: “What
think you of our clemency to our slaves, my son? We would not take
possession of this beautiful girl without the old fellow’s consent.”
He then began to laugh, and added: “Ah, she shall be my cup-bearer, and
my good friends here will have an opportunity of admiring her beauty!”
The son simply bowed his head, in seeming acknowledgment of his
father’s goodness, and after a while retired from the pavilion, passed
over the bridge, and out of the palace gates.
There could not be a greater difference of character than that which
existed between the duke and his eldest son; the one gross, sensual,
cowardly, the other proud and domineering, yet withal brave, generous,
religious, and impulsive.
Every year found them farther apart in education, thought, feelings,
hopes, and aspirations. The one standing, as it were, with his foot on
the first step of a ladder that was to lead him towards the highest
ideal of Christianity, the other sunk beyond all hope in the ignorance
of a savage barbarism.
But now this last scene was too much for the former. It snapped asunder
the fragile cord that still bound him to his father, and placed him in
the position of an antagonist.
Every nation has certain constitutional peculiarities which give rise
to practices and phases of thought very startling to others, who
are, in such points, differently constituted. The most remarkable
peculiarity of this kind is the reverence with which parents are
regarded in Siam. No matter how unjust, capricious, cruel, and
repulsive a parent may be, a child is bound to reverence his or her
slightest wish as a sacred obligation.
For Dhamaphat, therefore, even to question his father’s actions was,
he felt, a moral dereliction. He was full of remorse and regret, and
thought with despair of the fate that awaited him.
He had gained a little wooden bridge, which, thrown across a canal, led
him into a lonely field; here he motioned back the slaves who attempted
to follow him, and strode rapidly out into the open country, where he
no longer heard the sounds of revelry, feasting, and licentious mirth.
Rambling through the many tangled forest-paths, he gradually emerged
into a low, wooded expanse. The air was full of delicious fragrance,
and alive with strange noises. He saw in the distance the calm,
majestic river, all aglow with its myriads of lights and lanterns, yet
it failed to call forth a single reflection; he could picture nothing
but the face of the strange girl, and that haunted him all the way. He
pressed on, tired, feverish, with sad and troubled thoughts; he reached
the wall that skirts the city; throwing some silver to the guards, who
knew him well, he passed out of the gate, and out of the city of the
“Invincible,” to the visible archangel of nature.
Here the solitude was startling; no more streets, no more lights, no
more houses. Even the quiet river seemed to hush on her white and
shining bosom the soft light of the moon, as if it were the face of a
beloved child, until she caught a reflection of its beauty, and was
transfigured down a hundred feet deep, as far as light could penetrate,
into a clear, translucent soul, in its first dreamless sleep.
Moved by some secret purpose, he hurried on through a profusion of
flowering plants and trees; he passed unnoticed the slender betel and
cocoanut palms, and the numerous species of huge convolvuli “that
coiled around their stately stems, and ran e’en to the limit of the
land,” the long lance-leaves of the wild plantains, the rich foliage of
the almonds, the gorgeous oleanders that broke through the green masses
in every variety of tint, from the richest crimson to the lightest
pink. Presently he dashed aside a huge night-blooming cereus, and stood
before a long, low building, a partly ruined monastery, adjoining an
ancient and dilapidated Buddhist temple.
The monastery was a sort of long, low corridor or hall, lined on each
side with chambers, each about ten feet deep, and lighted by a small
aperture in the wall.
It was a gloomy place, old and unhealthy. Poisonous plants, creepers,
and flowers reigned jubilant here, with ruin and desolation for
Yet, dismantled, worm-eaten, and ruined as the building appeared, it
had been the school of young Dhamaphat for nearly ten years, and it
was the home of a solitary old man, who had spent forty years of his
lifetime forgetful of friends, affections, food, sleep, and almost
of existence in his contemplations of the mystery of things beyond,
and that still greater mystery called life; his friends and relations
had endeavored by every artifice, the allurements of beauty and every
other imaginable gratification, to divert him from the resolution he
had adopted. Every attempt to dissuade him had been in vain. And now
he had gained a fame as widespread as the most ambitious heart could
desire. Among the people he was known under the title of P’hra Chow
Sâduman, the sainted priest of heaven. Prodigious stories were afloat
about him. Born of noble parents, he had from his early youth practised
an asceticism so rigorous and severe that it had prepared him, it was
thought, for his supernatural mission. It was not only alleged, but
believed, that at the sound of his inspired voice the dead arose and
walked, the sick were healed; that diseases vanished at the touch of
his hand; sinners were converted by his simple admonition; wild beasts
and serpents were obedient to his word; and that in his moments of
ecstasy he floated in the air before the eyes of his disciples, passed
through stone walls and barred gates, and, in fact, could do whatsoever
The crumbling old door of the cell was partly open; no light was
visible; and, as Dhamaphat stood there hesitating whether he would
enter, a low, faint, tremulous sound came out of the darkness within,
and floated upward on the silence of night like the voice of some
celestial chorister. It was the Buddhist’s evening hymn, or chant, and
the familiar words–
“Nama Buddsa phakava thouraha,
Sama Boodhsa thatsa Phutthang
Purisa thamma sârâthi
Sangkhang saranang ga cha mi,” etc.,
“O thou, who art thyself the light,
Boundless in knowledge, beautiful as day,
Irradiate my heart, my life, my night,
Nor let me ever from thy presence stray!”–
touched his better nature and melted his heart. He stooped forward, and
listened to it lovingly as it rose higher and higher, growing more and
more exultant till it caught his trembling spirit, and bore it away
beyond the confines of this world face to face with a Divine Ineffable
Presence full of harmony and beauty.
His anger and his grief were forgotten.
So Dhamaphat turned his face to the sky. One moment he stood erect in
an absolute halo of light, the next he was combatting darkly with the
blind shadows of love and hate, cause and effect, merit and demerit,
the endless evolutions of the “wheel” of an irresistible law into which
all things are cast.
He felt something cold pass over his hand; he started, and became aware
that the good priest had finished his devotions. He tapped gently, and
was told to enter, which he did hesitatingly.
In the middle of the cell sat the priest, who seemed, even in his old
age, full of the vigor of manhood; his legs were crossed, his arms
folded, and his eyes cast down; he did not even raise them at the
entrance of the young man; he was in that semi-stupor commonly called
contemplation. In one corner a narrow plank, quite bare, and a wooden
pillow served for his bed; beside it an old fan, a pot for water, an
earthen vessel for rice, some rude old instruments and books; beyond
these the cell was bare, damp, cold, slimy, and unhealthy. It was
without any light, save where the moonlight fell in ghastly lights and
shadows through the slits in the wall.
“My father,” said the young man, as he reverently prostrated himself
before the priest, who half opened his dull eyes, and said: “S’amana
phinong” (peace, brother).
“Alas!” replied Dhamaphat; “in this life there is no peace, no rest, no
freedom from suffering; the endless revolutions of the wheel only crush
out life, to reproduce it again in another form.”
“Take the reins, and ride over it, then,” said the priest,
meditatively. “What says the Dharma padam?”
“Stop the chariot valiantly; arrest the horses of desire. When thou
hast comprehended that which is made, thou wilt understand that which
is not made,–the uncreate. Some do not know that we must all come to
an end here; but some do know it, and with them all conflicts cease. He
who lives for pleasure only, his passions uncontrolled, immoderate in
his enjoyments, idle and weak, him will the tempter overcome, as the
wind overcomes a worm-eaten tree.”
“If we could live a thousand years, it would be worth our while to
struggle after the pleasures of this world. Death comes too soon.
There are many beginnings, but no ending to life. Let us practise the
four virtues, my brother; they alone are real, satisfactory, the true
illuminators of the mind; without this inward illumination, what is
life but darkness, storms, wild, unconscious tumult, the ceaseless
tumbling of the fierce tides of passion; and death, but exhaustion?”
“Alas!” cried the young man, in a voice full of emotion; “is life
indeed such an empty void? Is there no compensation anywhere?”
The priest opened wide his half-closed eyes, looked full into
Dhamaphat’s face, and remarked: “Thou art strangely disturbed to-night,
my brother. Is it not well with thee?”
Dhamaphat made no reply.
There was sympathy, and a touch of tender feeling in the voice of the
priest, as he bent close to his young pupil, and said: “What is thy
suffering? Speak freely to me, and I will aid thee to the utmost of my
ability.” Saying this, the priest arose, and passed his hand slowly
over the clefts in the wall. Instantly the moon withdrew her light.
At this moment the night-owl suddenly gave a harsh and prolonged cry.
“That bird answers to thy thoughts,” said the priest.
Dhamaphat shuddered; he believed that in the cry of the bird he heard
an echo of his own wild desire to frustrate his father’s plans.
Then in a few stirring words he told the priest of his love for the
Rajpoot’s daughter, of her present situation, and of his desire to help
her and her father to escape.
At the words, “Rajpoot’s daughter,” the old man started, and there
passed over his face, unseen, an expression of regret mingled with
desire, with which a thirsty man sees afar off, out of his possible
reach, a cup of cold water, for which he is dying, but which is not for
him. Then, as suddenly, he sat down, and resumed his calm exterior.
A full hour passed in complete silence; the old man and the young man
sat in the darkness, with their faces turned to one another, each on
his side thinking over the same things, and feeling the same impulses.
“This is very strange,” said he, at length; “when I made my annual
pilgrimage to P’hra Batt, last year, a lovely girl, Rama the Rajpoot’s
daughter, who called herself Devo Smâyâtee, brought me food every
morning, and washed my feet every evening. She was then hardly a
woman, but she filled my heart with a fragrance which is all-abiding.
But,” added the priest, in an undertone, as if for himself, “death
carries off a man who is gathering flowers, as a flood sweeps away a
sleeping village. He in whom the desire for the Ineffable (Nirwana)
has sprung up, whose thoughts are not bewildered by love, he is the
‘Ordhvamsrotas,’ borne on the stream of immortality; he will stand face
to face with the Infinite.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, repeating
each word as if they conveyed some peculiar meaning to his mind and
some subtle charm to his senses.
“Nay, father,” rejoined the young man, interrupting him, “you do not
tell me how I can help her.”
The good old priest–for good he was in spite of the strong natural
man within him–turned on Dhamaphat a look partly of sorrow and partly
of affection. Then, drawing towards him one of his mysterious books,
he placed it on his head; with his hands spread out to heaven, he
gradually moved his body to and fro, until his gyrations became rapid
and grotesque, uttering strange prayers and incantations. After a short
time he began to prophesy, and said, in fitful spasms: “Thy father’s
days are numbered; the long night for him is at hand; fear not, this
mountain flower will blossom in spring-time on thy bosom.”
For more than an hour a cloud had darkened the sky; the moment the
priest had done prophesying, a ray of moonlight suddenly lighted up
his pale face, and was reflected from his smoothly shaven head like a
After gazing upon it for some ten minutes, Dhamaphat began to tremble,
and turned deadly pale; feeling that he was in the presence of a
supernatural being, he once more prostrated himself, and withdrew. Some
secret influence from the priest had for the moment benumbed into icy
coldness and even indifference his ardent love for Smâyâtee.
It was almost dawn when he sought his couch for rest.
A DREAM OF THE NIGHT.
Meanwhile the prisoner Rama had had a plentiful repast, and was
sleeping heavily, with fatigue and despair for a pillow, on the damp
floor of his cell.
Towards morning a cold sweat broke out on his brow. He felt creeping
over him an indefinable horror, a sort of nightmare, which he struggled
in vain to shake off. He groaned, panted, and at length sat up with a
In a niche in the wall he fancied he saw a pale, blue, misty outline
of a human figure, so indistinct that at first he could only distrust
his own vision, but gradually it began to take form; at length it was
as clear and palpable as a shape of life. It was the face and figure
of the priest P’hra Chow Sâduman, whom he had met a year ago in the
mountains of P’hra Batt. He was dressed in a loose robe of cloudy
yellow; his legs were crossed, his arms folded across his breast, his
eyes cast down; he seemed to be praying. The shadow of the shade in the
background grew darker, and the form grew lurid, as if surrounded by
Rama stared, rubbed his eyes; plainer did the figure of the priest
appear, until it seemed to rise and swell and fill the whole cell. A
dark, heavy mist settled on the prisoner’s face, but the apparition
grew brighter. He could bear it no longer; shuddering with horror, he
cried: “Speak, whoever thou art, and tell me thy commands; they shall
Suddenly he felt a violent shaking of the ground on which he was
seated; each moment he expected to be hurled into an abyss below; he
clung to the earth, and cried again: “Speak! For by the gods Dâvee and
Dhupiyâ I vow to fulfil thy behest, even if it be to offer thee a human
He then perceived a soft cloud filling the cell, and in the centre of
the cloud were luminous characters, which he read thus: “Sell not thy
daughter to the duke.”
The apparition vanished almost as soon as he had deciphered the words.
Rama fell back against the wall of his cell, and awoke.
It was long before he could collect his scattered faculties, and what
were left to him seemed steeped in illusion; he could only wonder, and
bow in mystified adoration before the niche in his cell.