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THE REBEL DUKE P'HAYA SI P'HIFOOR.
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 followers.
The rebel duke and his frenzied legions made rapid progress, however. They could he 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 thunderbolts 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.
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 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 his feet.
How ardently must that poor, unhappy man have prayed for death; and that dark angel, at all times too ready to come unhidden 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 fed 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 Mčinam, 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 tho" (master, master, pray eat). No sound, no movement, reached his anxious ears.
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 in a 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 Smâyátee (the God smiles). Thus a new life stole into the heart and the arms of the old warrior of Orissa.