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THE RAJPOOT AND HIS DAUGHTER.
BANGKOK is full of people. Every day crowds of men and boys are pouring into the great metropolis from all parts of the country to have their names enrolled on the books of the lords and dukes to whom they belong.
There are no railroads, no steamboats, so the vast companies of serfs travel together, — the rich by means of their boats and gondolas, and the poor on foot, following the course of the great river Mèinam.
Sometimes caravans of whole tribes may be seen encamped during the intense noonday heat by the banks of the stream, under the shade of some neighboring trees. These weary marches are always commenced at sunset, and continued till noon of the next day, when the overpowering heat forces man and beast under shelter.
There existed in Siam under the late king a mixed system of slavery, in part resembling the old system of English feudal service, in part the former serfdom of Russia, and again in part the peonage of Mexico.
In the enrolment, called Sâk, an institution peculiar to the country, every man is obliged to receive an indelible mark on his arm or side, denoting the chief to whom he belongs.
The process is exactly like tattooing. The name of the chief is pricked into the skin with a long slender steel having a lancet-shaped point, just deep enough to draw a little blood; after which the bile of peacock mixed with Chinese ink is rubbed over the scarification.
This leaves an indelible mark.
All the male children of those so marked are obliged at the age of fourteen to appear in person to have their names enrolled on their master's books, and themselves branded on their arms.
The king's men, that is, those who have to attend on royalty as soldiers, guards, or in any other capacity, are marked on the side, a little below the armpit, to distinguish them from the other serfs of the princes, dukes, or lords of the realm.
Among the vast crowds who were pouring through the many gates and avenues into the city in July, 1862, was seen a stately old Rajpoot, weary and travel-stained, leading a low-sized, shaggy pony on which was seated a closely veiled figure of a young woman. A stranger could not but observe the proud, forbidding look of the old man as he urged and stimulated his weary beast through the crowd.
Behind the veiled figure were two leathern bags which contained some wearing apparel and a supply of provisions to serve them during their stay in the capital.
There are no such places as inns or caravansaries to lodge the multitude who are thus forced into Bangkok every year. Those who have boats live in them on the river and its numerous canals, others take refuge in the Buddhist monasteries, while the poorer classes have the bare earth, dry or wet as the weather may be, for their couch.
It was not until they were quite exhausted, and could no longer maintain the pace at which they had been making their way through the crowded city, that the old man began to look around him for some spot where they could encamp. The place at which they had arrived was the southern gate of the citadel, called Patoo Song Khai (Gate of Commerce). Here they came upon the haunts of commerce and traffic, — market and tradeswomen were hurrying to and from the inner city. All around was noise and confusion, and here, beneath the shadow of a projecting porch and wall, the old man suddenly halted, and, lifting the girl lightly to the ground, said in a low, deep, and not unmusical voice, "Let us abide here, my child; and though we can call nothing our own, we shall live like the bright gods, feeding on happiness."
There was something tender in the way he said this, hut the girl did not appear to heed him. Looking about her with a startled and bewildered gaze, she seemed to be haunted by apprehensions of being led captive to some gloomy place, where she would be chained and scourged, and. worse than all, -where she would never see her father but through iron gratings and bars. Her terrors at length became so real that she wrapped her faded "saree" more closely around her, and burst into tears.
"Art thou afraid?" inquired the old man. "Why, thou hast less to fear here by my side than if I had left thee behind in the mountains of Prabat."
He then proceeded to unpack his beast, while the girl timidly made ready to cook their evening meal of boiled rice and fish.
There was a certain sense of safety in the shadow of the grand royal palace that seemed to restore the girl to a state of moderate tranquillity, and the Amazons who loitered round the gate watched the travellers with some degree of interest, which arose partly from curiosity and partly from want of something better to do. The old man seemed a sombre sort of being to them; but the girl \\as an object of wonder and delight, as, though she replied to her father in a language foreign to the listeners, she frequently intermingled her remarks with the Siamese word "cha" (dear), which pleased the stout-hearted guardians of the gate so much that they made no objections to the travellers' resting there.
In such a spot as this there was, indeed, more of danger than of safety both for father and child, if they could but have known it; but the poorer class of strangers clung to the name of the great king Maha Mongkut as a babe clings to its mother's arms, and the old man felt as safe as if lodged in an impregnable castle, surrounded by a million of guardian angels; while the girl, gathering courage from the satisfaction that settled on her father's face, began to take note of what was passing around her, and her fears soon gave place to a variety of happy thoughts.
The freshness of the evening air, the song of the merry birds, the beauty of the wild flowers that grew among the tangled bushes on the banks of the river, and, above all, the constant stream of richly gilded boats and gondolas that glided past on the limpid waters, now glittering in the roseate hues of the setting sun, soothed and gladdened, as with tender, loving words, the heart of the lonely mountain girl.
At sunset the Amazons shut the gates and disappeared. The old man unrolled a small carpet, covered himself with a worn-out old cloth, and, taking his daughter under his stalwart arm, he laid himself down to rest beneath the canopy of the wide sky. The girl, from her place near the corner made by the gate and the wall, could only see one star overhead, and the shadow in which she slept seemed so dark that her heart sunk within her, as she silently prayed to the angel of the sky not to desert them. But, tired and weary, she soon slept as soundly as her father.
Meanwhile the city of the "Invincible and Beautiful Archangel" slumbered, and "the great stars globed themselves in heaven," and seemed to bridge the gulf that separates the infinite from the finite with their tender, loving light. Who can say but that the fond spirit of a dead wife and mother beamed in love and pity over the father and child sleeping thus alone in the heart of a great city I for the girl dreamed a dream which seemed a warning to her. Suddenly she started in her sleep, and saw in the distance a company of men armed with swords and spears, tarrying lanterns in their hands, marching slowly towards the spot where they lay.
These were the night-guards patrolling outside the walls of the inner city.
While she looked they seemed to expand. They were now colossal, — monsters that filled the earth, air, and sky. Full of dismay, she clung closer to the side of her father. Their heavy tramp came nearer, and she could hear them stop. How desperately her heart beat under the covering] What if they should find her out! The captain of the guards approached, passed his lantern slowly over the face of the old man, and perceiving that he was one of the many strangers called into the city at this time of the year, he and his company went on their rounds.
No sooner had the glimmer of their lanterns vanished in the distance, than the girl sprang up, and, casting a cautious glance all round, drew out in the darkness a small image of Indra, which she wore within her vest, and placed it at her lather's head; then, loosening a silk cord from her neck, to which was attached a silver ring inscribed with the mystic triform used by the Hindoo women, she proceeded to implore the protection of the and to describe several weird circles and waves over herself and her father.
This done she slept sweetly, feeling in the presence of that brass image a sense of security that many a Christian might have envied.
Just at this moment, one of the guards in passing on the other side of the city remarked that they ought to have aroused the old khaik (foreigner) and exacted a toll from him for taking up his quarters so near the walls of the royal palace.
"That very thought has just crossed my mind," said the captain, "and mine, and mine," echoed a number of voices. "It is hardly midnight yet; let us turn back and see what we can squeeze out of the old fellow."
No sooner said than done. The chief led the way, and the whole company rapidly retraced their steps to where the travellers slept.
It would be difficult to reproduce the picture that must have presented itself to the captain of the night-guards, who, after having stationed his men at a little distance, advanced noiselessly, approached the old man, and drew off lightly the covering that wrapped the sleeper, in order to make some guess from his dress and appearance as to the amount of money they might demand from him.
The eye turns instinctively to the faintest glimmer of light. So the light reflected from the calm face of the mysteriously beautiful dreamer as she lay beside her father, her head resting on his arm, and her face turned mutely up to the dark sky, staggered the captain, who started back as if he had received a sudden blow, or as if some unexpected event had forced him into the presence of a supernatural being, while the brazen image of Indra gleamed with a lurid brightness that reddened the pale atmosphere around, as if in the vicinity of some conflagration.
Buddhist as he was, he had a sort of ancestral reverence for the gods of the Hindoos. He also believed in the ancient tradition that no one could injure the innocent. The shadow of the shade grew darker, and he thought the eyes of the god were fixed intently upon him. All his unrighteous desires quelled, he stood transfixed reverently to the spot. A serious smile, almost stern in its expression, passed over the girl's face, as he stood contemplating her. That seemingly slumbering statue was conscious of an intruder, and she quietly opened her eyes on him.
The captain's lantern lighted up his face, and, stouthearted, fearless man that he was, he trembled as he met that calm, inquiring look. But before he could retire or bring himself to speak, the girl uttered a sudden cry of terror, so pathetic and terrible that the old man sprang to his feet, and the guards, who heard it in the distance, felt their blood run cold with horror and dismay.
There was a moment of hesitation as the old Rajpoot confronted the guardsman face to face. The next instant the lantern was dashed from his trembling hand, and he lay prostrate on the ground, while his enemy grappled at his throat with the fury of a wild beast. The remainder of the guards rushed to the scene of conflict, but even they stood confounded for a second or two at the sight of the strange, terrified girl. They soon recovered from their astonishment, however, and proceeded to capture the old man, when Smâyâtee sprang to her feet at once, like some spectre rising from the ground, and; pushing back the soldiers with all her might, clasped her father round the neck. Thus clinging to him, she turned a face of defiance mi the guardsmen of the king. The aspect of the girl, who thought to restrain by an electric glance an armed force, excited such derision in the breasts of the soldiers, that they rudely tore her from her father, bound her with the silken bridle-reins that had served for her pony, and carried them both off to separate cells, while a party of them remained behind to restore their fallen chief.