In the beginning of the reign of P’rabat Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha
Chulalonkorn, a new era dawned upon the kingdom of the white elephant.
On the 11th of October, 1868, a royal proclamation of the new
and auspicious reign was made in all parts of the vast kingdom
and provinces of Siam, and a national holiday was appointed. The
multitudinous pagoda bells rang all day, while louder still boomed
the cannon, up went the rockets, and aloft streamed the red and white
banners of the white elephant. Still higher rose the glad hearts of the
princes and chiefs of the people, and low in reverential attitudes,
even in the very dust, were bowed the heads of the millions of the
Classed with the sod, and of as little account as the earth out of
which they obtain so scanty a subsistence, branded as cattle with the
mark of their owner, what have they to do with the glad shouts and the
loud rejoicings that resound on every side?
To them it means only a change of owners, and royalty is the name fixed
to the other end of the enslaving rod of power: “The right divine of
kings to govern wrong.”
There can be no auspicious reign or any happy future for the slave.
[Illustration: KING OF SIAM.]
The royal messages of peace and good-will may find an echo in the
freedman’s heart and in his home, but they must ever come with a
darkening power and as a saddening cloud to the home and the heart of
the slave. An irredeemable beast of burden, what has he to hope from
an auspicious reign, or the enthronement of a promising sovereign?
Yet that these millions of enslaved men and women are not brutes or
wild beasts, or even devoid of noble and generous emotions, is proved
by the most astonishing acts of devotion and self-sacrifice performed
by slaves for the masters and mistresses whom they have learned to love.
Any one who from curiosity or with a higher motive may visit the
prisons in the city of Bangkok will find, to his great surprise, that
nearly one half of the inmates are slaves voluntarily expiating the
crimes and wrong-doings of their masters and mistresses, or, as is
often the case, mothers, daughters, wives, or sisters enduring all the
hardships of a Siamese prison–and words would fail me adequately to
describe the amount of suffering which those two words imply–in the
place and for the sake of sons, husbands, or unworthy relatives. The
strength that is in these slaves to suffer is the strength of love.
Love combined with despair gives them the awful and wonderful power of
The rights which every man should enjoy in his wife, his children,
and his own labor, and which should be the most sacred and inviolable
rights, are here placed at the mercy of a master, and are oft-times to
the slave the very fetters of his galling servitude.
But, since that ever-to-be-remembered 11th of October, 1868, a new
empire has arisen out of the ashes of the old. The traditions and
customs of centuries are as naught. A fresh start has been made, a
young king full of generous impulses and noble purposes reigns; and how
he intends to govern may be gathered from his second royal proclamation
to his people on the subject of religion:–
“In regard to the concern of seeking and holding a religion that will
be a refuge to you in this life: it is a good and noble concern, and
it is exceedingly appropriate and suitable that you, as a nation, and
each man individually, should investigate for himself, and according
to his own wisdom, which is the right and which the wrong; and if you
see any religion whatever, or any body of men professing any religion
whatsoever who seem likely to be an advantage to you,–a true religion
in accordance with your own wisdom,–hold to that religion with all
your heart; hold to it not with a shallow mind, or after slight
investigation, or even because of its tradition, saying this is the
custom held from time immemorial, but from your own deep faith in its
excellence; and do not profess a religion for the truth of which you
have not good evidence, or one which frightens men through their fears
and flatters them through their hopes.
“Do not be either frightened or flattered into doing what is right and
just, and do not follow after fictitious signs and wonders.
“But, when you shall have obtained a firm conviction in any religious
faith that it is true, beautiful, and good, hold to it with great joy,
follow its teachings alone, and it will be a source of happiness to
each one of you.
“It is our will that our subjects of whatever race, nation, or creed,
live freely and happily in our kingdom, no man despising or molesting
another on account of religious difference, or any other difference of
opinions, customs, or manners.”
This is the second important message from the young king, who has just
ascended the throne of his fathers, to his subjects, both bond and free.
The great old dukes and princes and nobles of the realm feel in their
hardened hearts that it is barely gracious, and certainly not at all
graceful, in one so young, to ignore all that magnificent past. But
the young monarch is true to his early promise, and his next step is
quietly to abolish the customary prostrations before a superior, and to
inaugurate a new costume for his people, which will enable the wearer,
whoever he may be, prince, ruler, chieftain, or slave, to stand face to
face with his fellow-men and erect in the presence of his sovereign.
And now let us mark the next step made in the path of progress and
freedom by this noble young Buddhist monarch.
Years ago, in the little study in his beautiful palace called the
“Rose-Planting House,” when a mere boy, on hearing of the death of
President Lincoln, he had declared “that if he ever lived to reign
over Siam, he would reign over a free and not an enslaved nation; that
it would be his pride and joy to restore to his kingdom the original
constitution under which it was first planted by a small colony of
hardy and brave Buddhists, who fled from their native country, Magadah,
to escape the religious persecutions of the Brahminical priests, who
had arrived at Ayudia and there established themselves under one of
their leaders, who was at once priest and king. They called the spot
they occupied “Muang Thai,”–the kingdom of the free,–and this kingdom
now extends from the northern slopes of the mountains of Yuman in China
to the Gulf of Siam.”
Nobly has he striven to keep this aspiration of his early boyhood;
and as he went, day after day, to take his place at the head of his
government, and to the nightly sittings of the Secret Council of the
state, he endeavored to hold unflinchingly to his one great purpose.
On the first opportunity that offered he urged the abolition of slavery
upon the Prince Regent, his uncle, and the Prime Minister; then again
he brought it before the mighty Secret Council, sitting at midnight in
the hall of his ancestors. “I see,” says the brave young king, “no
hope for our country until she is freed from the dark blot of slavery.”
The Prince Regent and the Prime Minister, though almost persuaded by
the vehement pleading of the young and fearless king, replied: “It is
impossible to free a nation of slaves without incurring much risk and
danger to the state and to the slaveholders. Under the existing laws,
Siam could not abolish her system of slavery without undermining at the
same time her whole constitution.”
“Well,” said the young king, “let it be so; but my slaves, my soldiers,
and my debtors are my own, and I will free them at least, whatever my
ministers may see fit to do; for my part, no human being shall ever
again be branded in my name and with my mark.”
What strange words from one so young!
The Secret Council meet again and again to discuss the matter, and at
length they decide–for they too have the good of their country at
heart–to let the young king have his own way.
Then the royal boy king sends another message summoning the heads of
all his people, from every department of his vast kingdom, to appear
together in his audience hall, and to receive the royal message.
Standing on the lowest step of his glittering throne, he greets the
chief rulers and governors and judges of his people, and utters
these remarkable words: “Let this our royal message to our people be
proclaimed, and not as if we were doing a great and lordly thing, but
our simple duty to our fellow-men and subjects, that from the first
day of January, 1872, slavery shall cease to be an institution in
our country, and every man, woman, and child shall hold themselves
free-born citizens; and further let it be made known, that a tax,
according to the circumstances of each and every man, shall be levied
on the nation to remunerate the slaveholders for the loss of their
The effect of this speech upon the listeners can hardly be imagined.
It was like the winged words of an angel from heaven, and the young
monarch descended from the last step of his throne, having firmly laid
the corner-stone on which the greatness of his reign and his nation
will forever rest unshaken. But seeing that his astonished hearers
remained rooted to the spot, still doubting whether they had heard
aright, he added: “We bind ourselves to fulfil our word to our subjects
at large, no matter what the cost to ourselves. Go you and proclaim our
When the wonderful tidings were actually proclaimed, the people
listened as though they heard not; at best they distrusted the good
report, and received the wondrous words as if they were merely the
sounding of brass and the tinkling of cymbals in their ears.
Confidence is a plant of slow growth; but how slow must its revival
have been in the place whence it has once been torn up by the roots!
So the people turned a deaf ear to the loving messages of their young
king, and went on their sad way not a whit happier.
But when the 1st of January, 1872, had actually arrived, and they
absolutely found themselves “free” men and women, their patient, loving
hearts well-nigh burst asunder with joy.
The glad cries of the ransomed millions penetrated the heart of the
universe, and the “Despair” of the nation flapped her dark wings and
fell down dead at the golden feet of the royal ransomer.
The prison doors are open, and all the prisoners by proxy and those
who were slaves by reason of their great poverty or their greater love
find, to their amazement, that the sun of freedom has risen for them,
and who shall fathom the depth of their joy? But the land is full
of flower shows, and unfurled standards, and cool fountain displays,
fireworks, illuminations, and theatrical exhibitions. The music of
thousands of choristers and the glad huzzas of congregated myriads
rend the air. Let them dance and laugh and sing; they have had enough
of slavery and too little of freedom, and the great hymn of the nation
ascends to the Ruler of kings for the “Ransomed One,” “Glory to God in
the highest, and on earth peace and good-will towards men.”
THE END OF THE ROMANCE.
[Illustration: TEMPLE AND RUINS OF KAMPOOT.]
A LEGEND OF THE GOLD AND SILVER MINES OF SIAM.
Vela Chow, or the Beautiful Dawn, was the only daughter of a very
powerful king of Ayudia. She was so wondrously beautiful that the old
Brahmins and astrologers who foretold her birth named her, even before
she was born, the Beautiful Dawn, as the only appropriate name for her.
Now it happened that, at the time of Vela Chow’s birth, there was no
moon to illuminate the fair earth, but the golden sun and the green
earth enjoyed a much closer and more intimate friendship than they now
do, and old age, sickness, and death were unknown to the blessed and
undying people of Ayudia.
But as the mighty king Somdetch P’hra Batt, the duke of the golden
foot, had reigned nearly three thousand five hundred years without
ceasing, he became weary of the cares of state, and thereupon abdicated
in favor of his young son, P’hra Batt Bandethâno, a vigorous youth
of not more than five hundred years of age, who was even from his
childhood an especial favorite of the ruby-faced and warm-hearted
monarch P’hra Athiett, i.e. the Sun.
In the course of time, the friendship between these two, Bandethâno
and P’hra Athiett, sovereigns of the earth and sky, ripened to such
a degree of perfection that the latter was loath to withdraw his
bright beaming face from his young friend’s kingdom, even to seek his
couch for a little rest at night, as had been his custom from time
immemorial; thus he beamed forth both night and day in saffron hues
on the fair mountains and lovely valleys of the invincible city of
Ayudia, and the land flourished in luxuriance and beauty, the fruits
and flowers rivalled those that grew and blossomed in Indra’s own
garden, and countless birds of marvellous plumage winged their flight
from distant worlds to build their nests and warble their exquisite
melodies among the proud forests of this favored land. As for the men
of this region, they were tall and stately and of golden mien, like
the laughter-loving Gandharwas of Indra’s paradise, and the women were
gloriously beautiful, fair as silvery clouds, with eyes of wondrous
hue; so that no mortal man could look upon one of them and not yield
his spirit to the sweet frenzy of inextinguishable love.
Away flew the golden days and nights, and round and round rushed the
radiant chariot-wheels of P’hra Athiett, and thousands and thousands of
years sped away, but he never relaxed the speed of his swift coursers,
nor drew in his rainbow-tinted reins, nor turned away even for an
instant his glowing eyes from this favored kingdom.
Now, things having gone on in this way for several thousands of years,
yet no sweet slumber had ever closed the godlike eyes of P’hra Athiett,
and all the lovely Dowâstrâs, i.e. the stars, finding themselves
totally eclipsed, their brilliancy and beauty marred by this unceasing
sleeplessness on the part of their sovereign, formed the wicked and
cruel design of revolting against him, and of taking possession, by
some means or other, of his golden car.
Accordingly, instead of going to sleep, as had hitherto been their
practice during the day, they all plotted together to hide themselves
behind the many-tinted curtain of their monarch’s chariot, and to
watch his movements, in order to discover the cause of the singular
attraction that drew him forever towards the earth, while he left his
own vaulted and ethereal hemisphere to the tender mercies of stray suns
or wandering comets.
Having ratified with many an oath and many a vow their wicked compact,
the treacherous Dowâstrâs, instead of going to bed like the dutiful
children of a kind and beneficent ruler, only pretended to sleep, but
all the while kept opening and shutting and blinking their bright,
inquisitive little eyes, winking at one another and peering behind the
golden curtains of the royal chariot at their unconscious master, who,
fully believing that all his subjects were sound asleep, grew brighter
and brighter, while over his round, genial face there beamed forth a
smile of ineffable radiance as he approached the earth. At this very
moment the rebellious Dowâstrâs, wondering at the blissful face of
their monarch, peered out from behind the rainbow-hued drapery of the
celestial chariot and turned their penetrating eyes towards the earth,
where, to their astonishment, they beheld the matchless form and the
divinely beautiful face of Vela Chow, who was lulling her wearied
father to rest with the music of her sweet voice.
“Ah! ah!” laughed the wicked Dowâstrâs, “now we have found out the
As soon as she had soothed her father to sleep, the lovely Vela Chow,
all unconscious of what was happening around her, sauntered forth among
the unfrequented woods and dells, making the voiceless hills and rocks
re-echo her merry notes in melodious sounds; now culling rare wild
flowers to wreathe round her lovely brow, now bathing her little feet
in the cool crystal waters of a purling brook that murmured gently
through the mountain caves and caverns, and anon raising her glad heart
in thanksgiving and praise to the great, beneficent, and glorious P’hra
At length she sat herself down in the deep solitude to rest; and as
she listened to the gentle zephyrs that fanned her yellow tresses or
rustled amidst the topmost boughs of the “green-haired” forest trees,
the birds plucked for her the ripest and the sweetest fruits, and some
dropped them at her side, and others, less timid, hovered around her,
holding them in their tender bills, each fluttering against the other
and striving to be the favored one to whom she would open her sweet
mouth to be fed; and while the many-hued birds were thus rivalling each
other in their delicate attentions to the lovely maiden, it chanced
that a gorgeous butterfly, more glorious than any she had ever before
seen, alighted on a neighboring flower. Up sprang Vela Chow, and away
she flew after it, from flower to flower, from shrub to tree, until at
last the tantalizing butterfly flew so high in the air that the eager
damsel could do no more than raise her fair face and sparkling eyes
to follow its airy flight through the bright sky. Just at this moment
P’hra Athiett’s golden chariot was coming over the hill, and he smiled
a smile of such ineffable delight when he caught sight of her, that he
dazzled the eyes of the poor little maiden; and as she could no longer
see the beautiful butterfly, she was obliged to relinquish all idea
of capturing it. So she retraced her disconsolate steps to her lonely
mountain stream, and plunged into its waters, in the hope of finding
therein refreshment and forgetfulness of her cruel disappointment.
But P’hra Athiett was not to be thus baffled; so he noiselessly climbed
higher and higher, and approached nearer and nearer, and smiled so much
more warmly than ever, that he once more quite overpowered the weary
maiden, who suddenly vanished from his sight, sought refuge in her
favorite mountain cavern, and there fell sound asleep.
For a moment poor P’hra Athiett was disconcerted, and a great pain,
like a dark heavy cloud, shot up from his heart and overspread his
bright, happy face, and he knew not what to do; but the next, he broke
forth into a more joyous smile than ever, for he was just as foolish as
he was old, and had been on the lookout all these thousands of years,
night and day, hoping to catch a glimpse of this incomparable maiden;
the moment he did so, he fell desperately in love with her, and he
could not make up his mind to perform his journey without one more
look at her sweet, pure face; therefore, instead of going on his way
through the sky, he changed his course, and drove at a furious rate
down the mountain-side towards the cavern, alighted from his chariot,
and crept softly into the cave where the lovely Vela Chow slumbered,
and smiled upon her with such rapturous tenderness that the sleeping
maiden’s heart was penetrated and completely captivated. She opened
her beautiful eyes with a joyful sense of a new and delicious emotion
upon P’hra Athiett, who beamed upon her so lovingly and with such
irresistible pleadings in his godlike eyes, that she could not refuse
to return his affection, and they there and then exchanged vows of
eternal friendship and love.
But alas! while the all-unconscious and happy lovers were thus fondly
conversing together, and P’hra Athiett was painting in glowing words
the beauty of his heavenly dwelling-place, the wicked Dowâstrâs in all
haste rushed to the mountain-side, drove off the golden chariot, and
unharnessed the swift-winged coursers. Having thus cut off his retreat,
they raised a shout of triumph, deposed their infatuated monarch, and
established a republic among themselves, permitting neither stray suns
nor wandering comets to have anything to do with their government.
Poor P’hra Athiett, who was now about to conduct his sweet happy bride
to his celestial kingdom, found, to his consternation and grief, that
his golden chariot had vanished. He bowed his head, and his great
joyous face became suddenly overcast; all its light and glory departed,
while large tears like mountain torrents rolled from his godlike eyes,
and streamed upon the earth, and were there and then transformed into
nuggets of the purest gold.
Then the mountains, pitying his sufferings, opened their hearts, and
revealed to him a secret passage by which he might regain his heavenly
P’hra Athiett bade a sad adieu to the lovely Vela Chow, and, with
promise of speedy return, set out, shedding golden tears all along the
way, in search of his missing chariot. And as for the unhappy Vela
Chow, the moment she lost sight of her beloved P’hra Athiett, she
drooped her fair head in unspeakable sorrow, and followed him with
aching heart and faltering step all the way, searching for the lost
chariot, and shedding abundantly her bright beautiful tears, which, as
they fell upon the rocky sides of the mountains, changed their flinty
arteries into veins of the purest and most precious silver.
Thus the grief of these two godlike hearts served to enrich the country
with endless wealth.
At the end of twelve hours, however, the wicked stars repented of their
cruel conduct, and a fresh compact was made between the republican
Dowâstrâs and the godlike lover P’hra Athiett, wherein it was expressly
agreed that for a fortnight in every month he should pick up his
beautiful bride at the mouth of the cavern and take her with him to his
celestial home; but that for the rest of the month she should unveil
her matchless face, and reveal her exquisite beauty to the Dowâstrâs,
and rule over them in the sky,–for they all, it seems, had also fallen
desperately in love with her,–and it was distinctly stipulated that
P’hra Athiett should never attempt to approach her while she reigned as
their queen and mistress in the heavens; and to distinguish her in her
new regal character, the Dowâstrâs changed her name from “Vela Chow”
to “Rupea Chandra,”–the Silver Moon.
To all this P’hra Athiett readily assented; for he was impatient to
regain his chariot, and to hear away his lovely bride.
But it is said that even to this day, while Vela Chow is presiding in
queenlike splendor over the jealous Dowâstrâs, P’hra Athiett is foolish
enough at times (for now and then he cannot restrain his affection) to
attempt to kiss her. When all the Siamese, fearing lest he should again
be dethroned, turn out _en masse_, and shout, and fire cannons, and
beat drums, to warn him of the impropriety of his proceedings; which
in the space of two or three hours–this being the time, it is said,
that sound takes to travel to the sun and moon–generally produces the
desired effect of recalling the monarch to himself.
Thus are the gold and silver mines, and the lunar and solar eclipses,
accounted for in the Siamese legends; and annual pilgrimages are still
made to the cavern where the lovely Vela Chow plighted her troth to